Military stories from past to present, both wars.

No Bull

August 10th, 2007 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

The trip to Rota Spain was fairly routine, and we had a nice stopover in Lajes, a small Portuguese island in the Azores. Both places hold a special place in my heart, but it was this homeward-bound trip home from Rota that sticks out in my mind. There were four pilots on board trying to eek out as much flight time as we could on this trip so there was a lot of time shooting the bull and reading books.

The Aircraft Commander, a great guy named Mark, who we all called “The Sheik” which is kind of funny because he was an Italian-type guy with an Irish surname. Then there was another guy named “Wedge,” a new Captain, and about ready to upgrade to Aircraft Commander. He was a bit different so we just let him do his own thing. The junior guy on the trip was a brand new copilot named Dave who always had this quiet, complete babe-in-the-woods type innocence. He is now the Commanding Officer for one of the Fleet VMGR Squadrons. Where does the time go?

The flight to Lajes takes about three hours, not considered a long time in the Herk, but when you have eaten something that doesn’t agree with you…it’s a lifetime. “Wedge” got up and started to fumble for the honey bucket on the ramp. Everyone walks by it, but most don’t know how to operate it. It’s basically a round can with a toilet seat that flips down over top so you can relieve yourself. With a typical “Wedge” move, he got it down, but didn’t put a plastic bag in the bucket. When we arrived in Lajes, he had this bucket stuffed into a plastic bag with the remnants of upset stomach inside. At the Billeting Office, I asked him what he was going to do with his present, and he said, “I’ll clean it out in the shower.” That was enough for me so I leaned over to the young Airman at the desk, and told him I wanted a room on the other side of the building from this yo-yo since we all shared bathrooms.

The next day as we were to leave, we got word that both compass systems were not working, and we were a ‘no go’ for the trip across the pond. Now most of the time, our visits to this beautiful island are very short and usually in the middle of the night. So a chance to explore it was too tempting. Being the FAGO or “Fun and Games Officer,” the “Sheik” asked me if I could put together something for the crew to do. I found out that the Running of The Bulls was going on in the town of Angra on the other side of the Mountain. I rounded up a couple of taxis for us, and we were off, minus the “Wedge” since he was tied to his bathroom.

I thought it was funny that we were the only Americans there (sticking out like a sore thumb), but since a local guy named Michael and his buddies who invited us to his house for beer and food adopted us, we fit in with the locals a little better. Now picture this—a small home, very quaint with the women cooking in the back room, and the boys telling large tales of past bull fighting in the dining area. The food was incredible. We all dug in, stuffing our faces and putting some large quantities of the local beer down to boot. They, of course, were impressed that we liked his wife’s recipe for Swedish meatballs. As it turns out, we were eating bull balls or whatever was whacked off the local beef. I have to tell you, though, after all the beer, well, “hell, it didn’t matter.”

Our host pulled us aside to pass on some words of wisdom for the Running of The Bulls. Actually, one is let out of his cage with a thirty-foot rope attached to his neck. If the bull gets wild or kills someone, these little guys in the white shirts and black hats step in to save the day, and pull him off the poor guy. At least that was the plan. Our host, Michael, said in broken English and sign language, “If bull comes at you, no run straight, bull catch you. You must do this,” and he used his fingers to show us how to zigzag. It didn’t make sense at first, but I found out why later. The streets where the bulls were released were cobblestone, and the bulls would slip on the stones if you cut hard to either side as he chased you. I’m sure that this escape maneuver was the last thing on our minds—like we would be crazy enough to be that close to the bull.

The crowd moved outside and up the street to where the bulls were pinned up in these large green wooden boxes. I noticed that the front fences of the houses were all elevated above the street and boarded up with plywood to keep the errant bulls from coming over. Folks were lined up, drinking beer and wine, overlooking the festivities from their yards. We followed Michael and his buddies to the start of the event. Thousands of folks were standing around; a charge of electricity was in the air, more of the fear of the unknown I’d imagine. A loud boom resounded as one rocket exploded over the town center alerting the good folks that a bull was on the loose and to watch out. We kept a safe distance back in the crowd as we watched this three thousand-pound bull trample a few folks right off the bat. I would say that we were pretty buzzed by this time, and laughing hard as we ran up the street, following the crowd. I turned back to say something to Dave who was right behind me, and his laughing stopped as a look of panic came over his face. He turned and started running the other way. I turned back and looked up the hill only to see the bull charging downhill. It was the parting of the red sea as I was now the only person in his line of sight. I forgot everything Michael told me and ran as fast as I could, but the bull was catching up to me. I saw some folks ahead on the right yelling at me from behind their barricaded fence motioning for me to run to them.

I cut right and leapt for the top of the wall they had built. The bull was right behind me. I had both hands on the top of the wall, grunting to pull my winded and drunk butt over, and one guy grabbed my belt loop, and started to pull me over. The bull collided with the plywood, glanced off it, and his forehead smacked my right calf knocking me sideways over the wall. My leg was VERY sore, and it felt broken as I giggled like a little girl having escaped death, but that soon passed as I looked over the wall at Dave running around the corner of the next street with the bull right behind him now. The lady and man next to me were exchanging a fast paced, excited conversation as they pointed in Dave’s direction. His wife asked me in broken English if that was my friend. I said, “yes,” and she then said, “I’m sorry but he just ran down a dead-end street.” I knew it was bad when the little men in the black hats ran down there to pull the rope on the bull. I also knew I was dead meat for taking these guys to the Running of the Bull’s and then letting our most junior 1stLt get killed in Lajes. My career was over!!

Standby for part two of No Bull