THINGS THAT GO BANG IN THE NIGHT

There have been few times in my life when I have been looking the wrong direction down the business end of some sort of firearm.

There was the time during my college days on the Major Degan Expressway in the Bronx at 1:30 AM when somebody pulled alongside my car and fired a shot. I have no idea why. All I do know is that they missed entirely, and for some reason sped off immediately at the exit at hand. I also recall making record time from that point to the Triborough Bridge.

And then there was the time in Pilot Training in Georgia when 3 of us decided to "borrow" some ice from a local motel during the middle of the night (This is pre 7-11. Yes, there were such primitive times.). I was driving the "getaway vehicle" (a Maroon, 1966 Ford Falcon nicknamed "the Cherry Bomb"). My two friends go upstairs for the ice. They're back in a matter of seconds. One of them jumps in and says "Let's get the <expletive deleted> out of here!" The other friend is half in the passenger side, and talking to someone on the second floor. I look out the window and see a man in his skivvies bearing a shotgun down on me. I pull my friend into the car and exited "stage left" as fast as the "Cherry Bomb" could carry us; which was never fast, and in this case not nearly fast enough. However, I was doing about mach 4.8 (or was that warp factor 6?) when I hit the curb, drove over the grass, and bounded out onto Highway 41. I had no time to look for the exit out of the parking lot; it was VFR direct!

The rest of my experiences with being on the wrong end of something that goes "boom" had something to do with flying airplanes.

The first occasion happened in my little old Oscar Deuce. One of our missions as a FAC is visual reconnaissance. Sightseeing, if you will. Some people plotted nudist camps on their maps. Others took things more seriously. The more diligent of the group would have contests with each other. We'd swap "targets". We'd look for something interesting on the ground, plot on the map, give another FAC the coordinates, and ask him to find the target and tell us something about it. I knew every sawdust pile, and abandoned vehicle within 100 miles of Shaw AFB.

My most interesting "target" was in a supposedly uninhabited swamp. I spotted a thin wisp of smoke and went in to investigate. I circled the smoke several times getting a little lower on each pass. The smoke got thicker which allowed me to see exactly under which tree the still was located. At this point, the still's operator appears brandishing some sort of shootin' iron. I wasn't really concerned, after all, I was still at a safe distance, and he was shooting uphill anyway. I made many visits to this site, and after a while, he gave up shooting at me. I guess he figured that I hadn't turned him in yet, and I wasn't about to. He got complacent.

Not ever being one to let well enough alone, I decided to have fun with this gentleman. It so happens, this still was in one of our "free fire zones". These were areas that were supposedly uninhabited, and as long as we stayed 500 feet away from people, and people made things, we could let the A-7s from Myrtle Beach make low passes at treetop level over the simulated targets. So, I ran an airstrike on the still. Here's the poor old gent tending his still, and he's being raked by a flight of A-7s! He was probably thinking that those revinoorers were taking things just a might too serious like. Somehow I got the impression that he wasn't going to turn us in to the FAA. (BTW: I did brief the A-7 drivers about the possibility of hostile fire. There was none. The "stillmaster" ran to his truck and stayed there).


The next event also involves my exploits in the O-2. My friend and I were on an IFR flight plan from White Plains, N.Y. to Shaw AFB, S.C. Somewhere in North Carolina we notice the line of thunderstorms across our intended flight path. We check the weather and find that they are between us and our destination. So we called Pope AFB, our alternate, and asked them for more infromation about the weather. They told us they didn't know as lightening just took out their radar!

I look out the window and right off our left wingtip at about 10 miles is Seymor-Johnson AFB. So we contact air traffic control and ask for clearance to Seymor-Johnson.

They tell us, "Turn left heading 090, squawk 0400, contact GCA controller on 271.9".

By the time I switched the radio I heard, "Well above glide slope, wheels should be down, " and I hastily configured the airplane for landing. Five minutes later, we touch down.

We contact the tower and clear at center field. Tower tells us to hold our position. We didn't have much choice; there was a jeep blocking our path. On the jeep was a .50 caliber machine gun manned my a military policeman who was pointing it at us. There were also several other MPs surrounding our aircraft pointing M-16s in our direction.

It seems that we arrived "unannounced" during the SAC ORI (operational readiness inspection). SAC takes things like this rather seriously.

As a show of good faith, we shut down the front engine. It took us about 10 minutes to convince them that we were indeed an Air Force aircraft, and that we weren't there to blow up the base.


The final event involves my C-141 days. It was April 5th, 19751. We were already on our umpty-umpth shuttle between Tan Son Nhut (Saigon) and who knows where. We were only 2 weeks into what turned into an 8 week road trip. The only thing is, at this point we didn't know when it would end. Eventually all but a handful of the total C-141 force would be involved with the evacuation and the subsequent resettlement, but that's another story.

We were on the ramp at Saigon, and we have just finished loading the last of our scheduled 180 passengers. Along comes a Vietnamese Colonel, with his a Vietnamese Major assistant. The major has an M-16. It was casually pointed at us. From my position, I couldn't see if the safety was on. I really didn't want to find out. The Colonel has a request. "Could we find room for 18 more passengers?" We taxied out with 198* passengers. In the early going, this was a record number of people. As the days got shorter, more and more people were crammed on board until every flight had 200+ passengers.

Me? Bored? Never!


  1. I'm normally not this good with dates, but this was my 26th birthday, my horoscope read "Happy Birthday, Avoid arguments with men carrying automatic weapons".

    A lot of weird things happen on (or near) the anniversary of my birth:
    • For my 22nd it was "Bail a friend out of jail today"
    • My 25th was "Buy your wife $750 worth of jewelry".
    • Number 32 was "Break a nosewheel at Tinian. Lose one turn. Do not pass "GO." Do not collect $200".
    • Number 49 corresponded with a major software upgrade at work, closing on a house, and getting rear-ended on my way to the airport to be with my mother for her heart surgery.
    • Five-oh corresponded with my father's death
    • And 51 was the day I set myself up to get fired.
  Harry Houdini had October 31st, I have April 5th.