“The Last Full Measure of Devotion…”

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“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”           – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg 19 Nov 1863

From the commons at Lexington and Concord to the gray, forbidding cold of the North Atlantic, the black sand beaches of a Pacific island to a shattered wood near the Marne, this nation has been blessed with generations who have answered the call, who, as Lincoln put it, gave their last full measure of devotion to the cause of Freedom as represented by the nation governed by, for and of  the people.  Some answered willingly, others less so.  For some it was danger so near that they literally dropped their plowshares to catch up their arms for to turn back the enemy.  For others a threat at once less and more defined — ideology that through militant authoritarianism sought or still seeks to spread its darkness across the continents through any means possible.  Many went; most returned while still others found eternal rest across the vast oceans.  For some that rest came in the first moments of an amphibious landing — Omaha, Tarawa and Okinawa come to mind.  To others it came in the freezing skies over Schweinfurt, Berlin, or the Yalu.  Still others in the wine dark deep of the Atlantic, the clear, tropical waters of the Pacific or a yellow brown river delta in Southeast Asia.  Others still it came closer to home — Bunker Hill, Cowpens, or a little known stretch of road in the Maryland countryside.  Sometimes the enemy had a face and a hundred bayonets  – other times it was hidden – a fuel leak, an incomplete weld and never forget the weather.  In hot and cold war, home and abroad, men and women laid down their lives for their fellow countrymen – their last full measure of devotion, and that is what this weekend is all about.  Why we call it “Memorial” Day, and why we should; why we must pause and remember.  Remember and honor not just the dead – but the cause for which they died.  For I fear that daily we let slip a little more that grasp that we must hold on what it means to be free – to enjoy the liberty we have been endowed by our Creator with the understanding that it indeed comes with a price.

Trial by Fire

We have written of that price – offered up corporate and personal remembrances over the years here — and today, collect together those we have a particular, abiding interest with, beginning with that of the trial by fire off the coast of Japan in 1945…the Franklin

Fifth ship of the Essex-class CVs.

Fifth ship named for Benjamin Franklin…

The date – 19 March 1945. Area of operations – fifty miles off the coast of Japan. Flight ops have been underway since before dawn, beginning with a strike against Honshu and another against shipping in Kobe harbor. On the flight deck, aircraft of CVG-5 are being turned around, serviced and armed for another launch and strike; in the ready rooms, the crews are briefing… 

It never takes much — it happens so fast, in the blink of an eye the world turns upside down…

Out of the low-hanging scud-layer a single Japanese aircraft suddenly appears and drops two armor-piercing bombs on the laden flightdeck….Blink. (More Here)

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Shadow Warriors

War can be hot…or cold.  The battle for information, for intelligence to better understand the adversary – their equipment, tactics, thought processes; that battle is never ending.  The price for failure is correspondingly high and recognition for those who labor in the shadows to obtain the needed knowledge is oft miniscule compared to their sacrifice:

The gap between what we know with certainty and what we conjecture (guess) is in constant flux and through time immemorial, efforts have been expended on almost infinite means to close that gap. Indeed, the driving impetus for bringing the airplane (which itself was more of a curiosity than accomplished fact in its early days) into the military were the possibilities implicit in gaining the ultimate “high ground” for scouting and reconnaissance supporting ground and naval forces. Indeed, Naval Aviation was born with the patrol/scout mission in mind.

Information collected was binned as actionable (useful in an immediate or near term sense — i.e., troop movements along the trenches, battleships seeking their opposite numbers for decisive engagements, etc.) or cataloged for longer-range/big picture use – “strategic” information if you will (and yes, we know this is a vast oversimplification). In the beginning, most of the information collected was visual — recorded observations by pilots passed at post-mission debriefs that evolved into still photography with either handheld or airframe mounted cameras.  In time it became the invisible messages and signals tracing the ether over and around the adversary’s territory.  And the adversary’s reaction to attempts to collect it frequently went “kinetic”:

  • 8 April 1950.  Soviet La-11 Fangs, shot down a VP-26 PB4Y-2 Privateer (BuNo 59645″Turbulent Turtle”). Based at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, the Privateer was on a patrol mission launched from Wiesbaden, West Germany. According the to the American account, this incident happened over the Baltic Sea off the coast of Lepija Latvia. The Soviets claimed the aircraft was intercepted over Latvia and fired on the Soviet fighters during the interception. After the fighters engaged the Privateer, the Soviets report that it descended sharply before crashing into the sea 5-10 kilometers off the coast. Wreckage was recovered, and although the Soviet pilots noted 10 parachutes, and the US mounted a search effort that eventually counted over 25 aircraft, the crew went missing and were presumed lost at sea.
  • On July 1, 1960, a Soviet MiG fighter north of Murmansk in the Barents Sea shot down a six-man RB-47 crew.  The planned route of the flight took the plane northward from England over international waters where the plane turned east and entered the Barents Sea northeast of Norway and continued a track in international waters approximately 50 miles from the Soviet Kola Peninsula. While the RB-47H was conducting its reconnaissance mission, a Soviet MiG-19 fighter assigned to the 206th Air Division based at Murmansk paralleled the USAF plane at a distance. The MiG fighter then turned towards the RB-47 on an intercept course, but passed about 3 miles behind it. The radar course plotted by Capt. McKone called for a turn to the northeast at about 50 miles off Holy Nose Cape at the bottom of the Kola Peninsula; however, the Soviet MiG had returned and was now flying in close formation (40 feet) off the right wing of the RB-47. As the RB-47 (flying at 30,000 feet and 425 knots) started its turn to the left, the MiG (piloted by Vasily Polyakov) broke right towards the Soviet shoreline (away from the RB-47), turned back towards the USAF plane and started shooting. Capt. Olmstead immediately returned fire, but the RB-47 was no match for the nimble MiG and after a brief fight, the RB-47 was shot down about 6 P.M. (local time) over international waters in the Barents Sea.  The MiG shot up the left wing, engines and fuselage in its initial firing pass causing the RB-47 to enter a spin which Major Palm and Captain Olmstead were able to pull out of; however, the MiG made a second firing pass at the plane and finished the job. Major Palm and Captain Olmstead attempted to save the plane once again, but the damage was to serious and the bail out order was given.  At least three of the six crewmen managed to eject from the stricken plane – Captains Olmstead & McKone and Major Palm. The three reconnaissance officers (Ravens) seated in the converted bomb bay of the plane were (probably) unable to get out of the spinning plane. Major Palm apparently died of exposure in the frigid water, but Captains Olmstead and McKone were able to climb into their survival rafts and lasted long enough to be picked up by a Soviet fishing vessel after more than six hours in their tiny rafts. The US Air Force, unaware that the plane had been shot down – the Soviets did not release this information for more than a week – conducted a search for the missing plane and crew from July 2nd to the 7th but no trace was found.  The plane was crewed by Major Willard Palm, Aircraft Commander; Captain Freeman Bruce Olmstead, Pilot; Captain John McKone, Navigator; and three reconnaissance officers (Ravens): Major Eugene Posa, Captain Dean Phillips & Captain Oscar Goforth (this was Goforth’s first and only operational mission).  The Soviet Union had a history of shadowing, escorting and occasionally shooting down American planes flying over international waters near its borders; in the 10 years between 1950 and 1960, about 75 US Navy and Air Force air crewmen in 10 separate incidents lost their lives flying routine reconnaissance missions.  (Arlington Cemetery)
  • With the advent of satellite reconnaissance, much of the impetus for overflight of denied territory was removed and with notable exceptions, the practice of shooting down recce aircraft operating off shore and in international waters pretty much abated during the 1960s. The notable exception is that of North Korea. Following its earlier piracy of the USS Pueblo, North Korean fighters shot down a VQ-1 EC-121 over the Sea of Japan on 15 Apr 1969 (see the full story here) with the loss of all 31 crew onboard. No explanation, much less apology or reparation has ever been offered by North Korea.
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(More Here)

War from the Shadows

Sometimes the shadows of war approach either as a harbinger of what is to come:

12 October 2000 . . . When another chapter in the Long War against terror was written in the blood of the free:
The toll – Seventeen American Sailors dead: Hull Maintenance Technician Second Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21, of Mechanicsville, Va.; Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, 35, of Morrisville, Pa.; Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, N.C.; Information Systems Technician Timothy Lee Gauna, 21, of Rice, Texas; Signalman Seaman Cherone Louis Gunn, 22, of Rex, Ga; Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19, of Norfolk, Va.; Engineman Second Class Marc Ian Nieto, 24, of Fond du Lac, Wis.; Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24, of Vero Beach, Fla; Seaman Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22, of San Diego, Calif.; Engineman Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett, 19, of Churchville, Md Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, 19, of Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y.; Electronics Warfare Technician First Class Kevin Shawn Rux, 30, of Portland, N.D.; Mess Management Specialist Third Class Ronchester Manangan Santiago, 22, Kingsville, Texas Operations Specialist Second Class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32, of Ringgold, Va.; Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., 26, Rockport, Texas; Ltjg Andrew Triplett, 31, of Macon, Miss; Seaman Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, Md … Remembering the USS Cole

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Or sometimes it was when there appeared to be no war at all, like on one fall morning when the sky was so blue it burnt your eyes:

  • Here are our shipmates who were lost in the Navy Operations Center (NOC).  Look closely and ponder the slice of America they represent – from every corner of the country, some first generation immigrants who were refugees of war others from a long line that has served this country. None of them anticipated their fate when they left for work that morning from their homes in Virginia, Maryland or the District. From all walks of life they had come to serve and ultimately to unexpectedly die together. E Pluribus Unum. Indeed, out of many, one. Rest in peace… Remembering Fallen Shipmates
  •   Today we focus on those who were from N513 (note, the Branch Chief, CAPT Bob Dolan, will be part of the post for tomorrow, 11 Sept)N513 is the Strategy & Concepts branch, part of the N51 Strategy & Policy Division of N3N5. N513’s personnel were the folks who looked at “the big picture” focusing on warfighting concepts and maritime strategies in defense of the US and our Allied partners. This is the branch that in the past had worked on the Maritime Strategy and provided the basis of the Navy’s input to the National Security Strategy among other vital documents. Husbands, fathers, sons — aviator and SWO; all were shipmates and all are missed. Rest in Peace… Remembering Fallen Shipmates – Part II (N513)
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Heros – Defined

We find ourselves in an age where heroes are declared of those who strive on the athletic field, or do some other ‘noteworthy’ thing that gets captured in the relentless 24/7 news cycle; and after a while, we find ourselves taking a jaundiced view of the word.  If every action is heroic – then none is, for by its very definition, heroic describes action that is having or showing of courage; yet another overused, oft misapplied word which itself points to a “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”  Too frequently we succumb as head-nodding masses to the false courage of someone or group taking an allegedly unpopular stance while in reality, enjoying the full, complicit support of a fawning media and uncritical or cowed public.

Until we are reminded what real heros do, whereupon we are left humbled and amazed…

“Had a lesser pilot been at the controls of Bluetail 601 last Wednesday, there might have been four memorial services this week instead of one. But Lt. Miroslav “Steve” Zilberman was one of two pilots in the cockpit of the E-2C Hawkeye as it returned from a mission over Afghanistan, heading toward the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in the North Arabian Sea. The Ukrainian-born junior officer had distinguished himself during three years with Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121. He knew the plane – and its training manual – inside and out. So after one engine lost oil pressure and then failed completely; after one propeller couldn’t be adjusted to balance the plane; after it was clear that there was no way to safely land, Zilberman ordered his crew to bail out. He manually kept the Hawkeye stable as it plummeted toward the water, which allowed the three other men to escape. Time ran out before he could follow. Zilberman, 31, was declared dead three days later.”Kate Wiltrout, The Virginia Pilot, 10 April 2010

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Close to Home

Anyone who spends any amount of time in Service to the nation makes hardened, long lasting friendships that carry more import because of their shared adversity, danger and bloodshed.  There is a bond forged in the hardest steel – until they are cruelly snatched from our lives.These are the bonds forged in the early years – flight school for example, where you learn to be competitive…and still keep the competition in perspective…

CAPT Scott “Scooter” Lamoreaux, USN

Flight school is an interesting opportunity to study the human psyche in its multitude of facets. Competition is keen, at least for the first 4 or five slots in the class standing as those folks are reasonably sure of getting the community they want (it is also where one is introduced to the phrase “needs of the Service…”). For all the competition – in the classroom, in the simulator, in flight, one also has the opportunity to forge some pretty strong friendships, which years down the pike, are periodically refreshed in a chance encounter at a conference or courtesy the daily COD delivery…

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Your last flight in the mighty T-2 – time is fast approaching for the meat of the syllabus and the T-39, with its dual-personality imbued by the presence of an IP and Instructor NFO awaits. Childhood’s end – adolescence’s start. Still, one more chance is offered for play before the level of seriousness is ratcheted inexorably higher. 1v1 – time to go beak to beak, to turn and burn baby. Hang the fangs out a bit and see how you do in the dynamic environment that is ACM – such as it is in a straight-winged, subsonic jet. Your sparring partner is a good friend. Came from a fighter family, he did – pops having been instrumental in the early life of that worthy steed and snoVerticalrting beast, the F-4 Phantom. Scott was his name, but everyone just called him Scooter. Along with Rich and Briggs, the four of you had torn through AI and VT-10 (and, ahem, truth be told, the environs in and around P-cola, usually with our hair on fire and late into the night, but we digress) clustered together standing-wise with grades broken out to the second decimal. If everything held, and it looked oh-so-tantalizingly so, you each were headed to your community of choice – but that was stuff for the ground. Here, now, it was you vs. Scooter, each with a VF-derived IP manning the front seat and – Fight’s On!

Inbound now, there they are – watch, watch and…call the turn. Damn! Where’d they go? OK, got’ em, but it’s going to be close. Work it – the g’s build, work it – rats, looks like they won this one. Let’s set up for a second run. Outbound we get a quick debrief and suggestions from our IP that they didn’t talk about in class.

Inbound again, visual and coming to the merge – call the turn and … got em all the way this time. A quick knife fight and a guns solution met with a “Knock it off.” One for our “W” column. Quick check of gas in both planes – time for one more run? Absolutely – go for it. More bits of knowledge, experience passed back from the front seat. Seemed pretty standoffish in the brief and the gouge was he wasn’t a screamer – but still a tough grader and not much given to serendipitous talk…are we sure they didn’t switch IP’s on us?

Here we go again – once more into the breech. This time we’re going vertical, big time. And there we are, me looking across to a mirror image pinned against the dark blue as we go vaulting off into the heavens…

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Some number of years later the memory came flooding back as we learned of the terrible news. It had been while flying a low-level anti-ship cruise missile supersonic profile for a destroyer. Just a training hop. He’d taken time off from his post-command staff job to climb back in the cockpit he so dearly loved. The big Tomcat was there one minute – and gone in a cloud of flame, smoke and vapor. Little was found – and a good friend, a husband, father, and fighter NFO beyond compare was gone. CAPT Scott “Scooter” Lamoreaux, USN. Bounty Hunter One. Rest easy Scooter and know that while we all miss you, we each have our memories. Mine forever of an orange and white jet with the countenance not unlike a guppy, suspended against the Florida sky and two young buck aviators, intense on the task at hand and loving every second of it with grins a mile-wide, yet hidden behind an O2 mask, having the time of their life…

And sometimes – when you think it is all done, that you won’t have to face the empty seat, or raise a solemn toast ‘ere again; when you think that all the markers have been paid in full and the baton passed, Fate, the eternal hunter, cruelly reminds you once again of our mortality – returning you to a first person perspective:

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I lost a friend today.

We have lost a friend, a father, husband a comrade in arms. Fellow aviator and blogger-at-arms, Neptunus Lex, was killed earlier today when the F-21 Kfir he was flying in support of TOPGUN’s adversary squadron crashed at NAS Fallon. No word on the cause as yet.  Prayers and thoughts go out to his family please likewise keep them in your prayers in the days/weeks to come.  Lex would be the first to tell you, upon asking (or not), that he was a fighter pilot.  And he was an accomplished one at that having reached the pinnacle with command of a Hornet squadron and XO at TOPGUN (“not two words” he would say) He was a sailor at heart with a love for the sea and those who set forth thereon in grey-hulled ships befitting of one who wore the gold wings of a naval aviator. And he was a patriot in the truest and traditional sense with a deep love for this country and her people.

Indeed, his last work in this life was training a new generation of fighters to defend this nation. Ave Atque Vale 

 

 

Some few years ago, during a quiet, reflective conversation with a wise friend and fellow former-NFO about Lex, he allowed as how we are “…actually, pretty few, and we count our fellows as friends of a different sort. And so when one of us leaves, it is noticed. It is one thing to fade, fade away. It is another to be taken by the mistress, to be here, and then gone. I thought she was done with leaving me to count. So I thought.”

And on reflection I find it somewhat applicable here too.  For let us be honest with one another — this fora, and most of the others like unto it where linkage and readership will find their way onto, are kindred in spirit — we who have served (and I include families here) and have known loss “get it” – we understand and by far and away, we are the ones who observe (not celebrate) the true import of the Day.  The rest of the population — a head nod and a “thanks” during a seventh inning stretch or while reloading the cooler.  It wasn’t always so, to a large degree because so much more of the population had close, personal encounters with war and the dreadful costs it imposes and lessons it teaches about “slam dunks” and operations being run with surgeon-like precision and minimal force.  

When a nation at war was a nation mobilized for war.  

And herein lies the conundrum – because a nation mobilized for war, whose industrial base is churning out the destructive stuff that will be used by the flesh and blood marching out of the training camps, is not what I believed our founders hoped for future generations.  The seeds of incipient authoritarianism are sown in such an atmosphere — where information is tightly controlled and it becomes acceptable, even encouraged to discriminate, isolate and even incarcerate citizens because of their national extraction.

In a nation of immigrants.

Conversely, a nation that fights war on the side, where a sliver of a single digit percentage of the population wears the uniform and goes off to fight; that nation runs the risk of the Praetorian Guard which is antithetical to the citizen-soldier(sailor, airman, etc.) and fosters a sheepdog/sheep, “I Served and You Didn’t” attitude which has within it, the seeds also for destruction of a constitutional republic.  It is at once a selfish, self-centered point of view that is corrosive to the precepts this nation was founded upon.

Which brings me back to the opening lines of this post — Lincoln’s address.  This is the perspective we should — we must have going forward.  That we honor those who have given their last full measure by giving to our last full measure in all aspects of our walk on this Earth and under the flag of this nation, that their sacrifice not be in vain and that the torch of freedom and liberty is passed to succeeding generations.

May your Memorial Day be a blessed and respectfully contemplative one.

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