Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Cold War Flyers

For me, it began in July, 1956, a typical sultry day in the city by the muddy river. I was seventeen and just a couple of months out of high school.
What was I going to do with my life? I wasn’t sure. Mansfield Jennings, Sr. hired me to work for the Hawkinsville Telephone Company as an assistant to Henry “Buck” Bell climbing on top of houses, underneath the same, pulling wire through corn fields and trying to learn the hardest thing of all. Climbing telephone poles with spikes on my boots! I just couldn’t make it further than a few feet up the poles.
Perhaps what happened next was my unhappiness because of my lack of success as a phone lineman assistant. At any rate, four boys came into Pop Parkerson’s Pool Room in downtown Hawkinsville announcing loudly they had just joined the Navy, and asking me why not come with them? Without a second thought, I said yes! I think I will! Not even a thought of the fact that Mother was going to kill me, I did subsequently find out that she would have to sign paperwork giving me permission to join.
She said, “No! You’re not because I’m not signing for you.”
Having made the very immature decision to join with my buddies, I hit her below the belt. “I will have to spend four whole years if I wait until I turn eighteen. That will be your fault, because I can go in now and get out before I’m twenty-one-years old—only three years and three months. Either way, I’m going in. Do you want to be responsible for making me stay longer than I have to? She reluctantly signed and in a few days I stepped aboard my first airplane which would fly me all the way to San Diego, California.
I could write a book about all the reasons I learned later why I should have listened to my mother, but suffice it to say I got through Boot Camp, six months temporary duty in Pensacola, Florida, three months in Norman, Oklahoma, three months in Brunswick, Georgia, all in the name of educating me to become a radar operator on a flight crew.
Where would I go afterwards? They said they had a dream sheet that we could choose three choices of bases to be stationed. Through the grapevine, I learned that a guy in the class ahead of me put down all three choices for Guam, a small island in the Pacific. They ignored his choices and sent him to Jacksonville, Florida. Smartly, I figured out a way to go to Jacksonville as well. I put down two choices: Guam and Guam, and Jacksonville, just to give them a hint.

Shortly, I shipped out for 18 months on Guam. Did they not understand? Upon my arrival, I learned that Guam was thirty miles long and six miles wide and surrounded by ocean.

After a mandatory three months of mess cooking duty, I was assigned to a crew flying on a Super Constellation Radar Plane. It would become an adventure I will never forget. My responsibility was to operate a radar scope in the middle of the plane where four or five others were doing the same thing. The plane had three tails, two wingtip gas tanks, a round belly radar scope that would a distance of at least 250 miles from where we were flying and show much more detail in a closer proximity.

The connie, as we nicknamed our plane also had a tall height finder radar on top of the plane. At a maximum speed of 250 knots, we were not going to outrun any planes. We were equipped with four propellers on the plane and if needed we could fly for nearly a day, approximately 20 hours.
Our responsibility was to work with the 7th Fleet of ships positioning ourselves between the ships and communist China, not that we were at war, but we were involved in a cold war, and none of our pilots wanted to have us become a statistic. During my year and half on Guam, we deployed to Japan, Okinawa and The Philippine Islands and I logged approximately a thousand hours in the air. Our crew was never in serious trouble, however we came close once when our pilot strayed too close to Red China and our radar informed him that two Migs were closing in on our location. Commander Dickerson got us out of that space in a hurry, if 250 knots could be called a hurry. One crew reportedly had a close call flying in a typhoon, the Far East equivalent to our hurricanes, but they made it safely out of the weather demon.

During Christmas, a connie crashed off the coast of Hawaii and killed all the crew except four who survived in the cold waters. That was a sobering incident to all of us who were frequent flyers on the huge radar plane.
I received my transfer orders to go to Barber’s Pointe, Hawaii to join another crew with different assignments. Every three weeks or so, we would fly to Midway Island where we would join in the task of flying a 24 hour radar barrier from Midway to Alaska, a trip that was seven hours up and seven back without landing. Every three hours a connie took off from Midway to join the barrier. Our mission was to make sure no possible unauthorized plane got past us to get to the American coastline.
The moment of truth happened to me on what was supposed to be my next to last flight when we had an engine die on us after making it to Alaska and heading back toward Midway, an hour down range. Our pilot radioed Alaska to see if we could land at Kodiak, but were told they were socked in with soupy weather. Next he radioed Adak getting the same message. After a harrowing wait, a small civilian airport named Cold Bay said that we could land there, but we had to wait until they chased away a brown bear from the runway.
After three days on the island, we received a replacement engine and after they got it repaired, we headed back to Midway Island. That was the only time I ever felt good about going to Midway.
Upon my arrival, I was shipped back to Hawaii to begin processing out of the Navy, three years, three months and seventeen days after I had enlisted.
Within the last several weeks, I have contacted, through the magic of the Internet, a few of the buddies of whom I served with on Guam and in Hawaii. Many memories of old times in the Navy have been keeping the e-mails hot, along with our current stations in life. That is fifty years later than when we flew the skies during the Cold War as very young men.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Insignificance of Us

The loud burst of thunder came from the sky above our normally tranquil spot on the earth, and my eyes opened wide. It was like a wake-up call from an ancient Greek God tossing a bolt of lightning toward us from the heavens above.

I had not heard Cheif Meteorologist—as he likes to refer to himself—Ben Jones, say anything about thunderstorms on the previous news from Macon. Yet, here it was at 5:00 a.m.
Soon, it began to turn into distance rumblings, sounding much like bowling balls slamming against the pins in a the huge expanse of an active bowling alley, one right after another. Boom, boom, boom until I could no longer refer to myself as having a chance of being numbered amongst the slumbering.
My mind however, did begin to start functioning. I thought, as I lay in bed by the sleeping Sheila, how insignificant we the people are in a world in which we have such an insignificant amount of control over the big picture of our lives. Oh sure, we like to say we control our own destiny, and perhaps in a tiny way we do control it. For instance, we can either get up in the mornings and go to our jobs and perform the tasks that are required of us in order for us to make a living by the sweat of our brow, or in some cases by our fingers on the keyboards of our computers, or not. If not, we will certainly not be able to control our destiny. We will, if we are fortunate enough, fall into the category of living off the dole of others who are assigned to take care of the so-called less fortunate.
Sometimes, I imagine myself going to the mountaintop to converse with the wise old man with the long, white beard to ask the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” But, if I should do that, I may not want to hear the answer.
We find ourselves voting for and electing to offices from the small municipalities to the folks who operate the House of Congress and the Presidency of the nation, and I fear we do so based on personality, just like we did in school when we elected our friends to the class offices. Everyone got together and decided to vote for Betty Sue or James Bob because we perceived them to be the cutest, smartest or most personable.
But, I ask you, is that enough? Should we elect someone because he or she reads a teleprompter almost like a memorized script—words flowing from his/her mouth like water from an artesian well? When a word “change,” for instance takes on a role of importance without significance is enough to sway a majority of voters, we may be in deep trouble before we learn what kind of change was being referred to. Nay! Nay! I say we must become better educated or be ready to face the consequences that surely will follow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All About Power

In case you haven’t noticed, the new president of these United States is running things a little, uh, no a lot different.
He has caused me to have even more doubt about his lack of experience for the office which is referred to as “the most powerful office in the world.” He was cavorting in the lower Americas last week with the likes of Hugo Chavez and talking to Raul Castro about striking up a new relationship with the cigar nation. Raul Castro touched off a whirlwind of speculation last week that the U.S. and Cuba could be headed toward a thaw after nearly a half-century of chilly relations. The speculation began when the Cuban president said leaders would be willing to sit down with their U.S. counterparts and discuss “everything, everything, everything,” including human rights, freedom of the press and expression, and political prisoners.
Obama responded at the Summit of the Americas by saying Washington seeks a new beginning with Cuba. But as he prepared to leave the summit Sunday, Obama also called on Cuba to release political prisoners and reduce taxes on remittances from the U.S. That appeared to enrage Fidel Castro, 82, who wrote in an essay published Wednesday that Obama “without a doubt misinterpreted Raul's declarations.” Castro says President Barack Obama “misinterpreted” his brother's remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on dollars people send to the island.
Well, I guess Raul misinterpreted who really is da boss, and oh by the way, apparently so did our new president! Now if this was a warm-up, let’s just wait until he gets started with the likes of Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia. Whoa Nellie!
Now that ain’t all folks! He has a formidable group who is pulling some mighty powerful strings and according to FOX News Analyst, Bret Hume, President Obama just may not have the stomach for standing up to the Democratic Congress when they say sit down and listen! Nancy, “the dummy” Pelosi, third in line for president, wants a Windfall Tax on Retirement Income. In other words tax what you have made by investing toward your retirement. This woman is a nut case! You aren't going to believe this. Madam speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to put a Windfall Tax on all stock market profits (including Retirement fund, 401K and Mutual Funds!) Alas, it is true, all to help the 12 Million Illegal Immigrants and other unemployed Minorities! “We need to raise the standard of living of our poor, unemployed and minorities. For example, we have an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in our country who need our help along with millions of unemployed minorities. Stock market windfall profits taxes could go a long way to guarantee these people the standard of living they would like to have as ‘Americans.”
Adding a tax to your retirement is simply another way of saying to the American people, you're so stupid that we're going to keep doing this until we drain every cent from you. That's what the Speaker of the House is saying.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cow Killer and the Yankee

In the South, if an insect is called a Cow Killer, we just leave it alone. Those words of wisdom were pronounced by one of our daughters, which is proof that she is one of our children. That proof is better than DNA
On the other hand, we know a transplanted Yankee from Maryland who once spotted an insect with which he was unfamiliar. The bug was orange with black stripes on his carcass. He hurried along his way in an uneven path. Immediately, I recognized it as being a cow killer. This Yankee equivalent to a southern redneck, if there is an equivalent, looked at the colorful insect and said the northern version of the southern redneck’s famous quote, “Hey y’all! Watch’is!” The northern statement is something akin to, “Hey man! Look at dat!”
“That’s a cow killer,” I said. “You don’t want to mess with him.”
In one quick motion, he bent down on one knee, and touched the killer of cows with his forefinger. Immediately, he pulled his finger back and said, “Oww! That sucker stung me!”
My mouth was open. I fully expected the Yankee to drop dead in his tracks. For one reason, he was smaller than a cow, and after all they must be named cow killer for some reason.
I’ve heard it said many times that the Good Lord looks after fools and idiots. That list must have grown to include stupid Yankees too. Remember what my daughter said, “If an insect is called a cow killer, we just leave it alone.”
Somehow, he survived! I still treat the lethal insect the same way I treat snakes. As has been chronicled in past Cotton Patch stories, I kill snakes whenever I see them, and hopefully before they see me. Why? Because they are out to kill me! The same can be said about cow killers. I kill them before they get to me. I also kill mosquitoes, gnats and flies!
Speaking of snakes! This same Yankee spotted a rattlesnake, very small; nevertheless, it was a deadly killer. Who amongst us can say that a baby snake can’t kill you with a bite? Not me! Anyhow, this Yankee saw a small rattlesnake, and was about to pick him up. “Whoa!” I yelled. “Don’t pick up that rattlesnake! He’s poisonous!”
“Ahh, he’s just a baby.” Fortunately for the Yankee, the predator had slithered away into the grass before he could pick him up.
Should my many friends from up North think I am being unfair to them, I should point out that this Yankee—at that time—was a son-in-law. There were a lot of things strange about him, and quite frankly, the day he was pronounced as my former son-in-law was a great day. We all went to the golden arches to get a Big Mac, fries and a big orange to celebrate.
Although the cow killer and the baby rattlesnake didn’t get him, the judge did. In the immortal words of the Roy Clark hit, “Thank God and Greyhound He’s Gone!”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wild Night in the Country

When you live in the deep woods, you expect to hear only the night sounds of animals and insects. When you live in the country, you expect to hear the same thing with an occasional airliner flying way off in the sky—more of a drone—and an occasional car or truck going past.
What you do not expect happened out here in the country, literally in our front yard. A car chase! More correctly a truck chase! Not a slow moving chase as in the white Bronco slow chase that happened during the madness of arresting O. J. Simpson in 1994, rather a fast paced one that almost ended on the front porch of this old house.
We were at home, late at night when I noticed through my blinds some blue flashing lights—lots of them—shades of a drug bust at the wrong residence flashed through my mind! I called Sheila and she came up the hall asking what was going on? We peeked out the door and saw a white truck stopped in the yard with a sheriff’s car behind it, blue lights flashing. More vehicles were scattered behind them all with flashing lights. I asked Sheila if she had forgotten to pay a parking ticket or something? “What!” she exclaimed.
I put my gun in my pocket and cautiously opened the door before walking carefully outside to see what was going on. The pickup truck’s lights were still on—the deputy had reached in to turn the key off and place them in his pocket. “What in the world is happening here?” I asked. One deputy ignored me, and finally another told me they were trying to find the driver of the truck who had run off through either our backyard, or through the woods. Trying to ascertain what he had done, I was told that he wouldn’t stop when they made an attempt to get him to do so, and they suspected that he was drunk. That was a good suspicion, because he chose a bad driveway to pull into. He ran over some large rocks that border our driveway and that stopped his vehicle. Had he been able to go further, he would have driven into the aforementioned woods. Since he got out to run, there is a good chance that he wound up in my neighbor’s cow poop. To say that he got away would only be half accurate. He was seven miles from town, and the po-leece had his truck! They did not find him out here that night, and after a little while, I tired of looking at all the blue flashing lights, returned inside, and checked all of our locks, lest he be an ax murderer.
We do watch a lot of American Justice and 48 Hours Hard Evidence, and we don’t take any chances. Our guns are loaded and pointed at the door. The High Sheriff promised he would scan our area, but the front yard is a little close!