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Midway 74 Years Later and the Dauntless on My Desk

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In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal —  for what was before is forever changed afterwards.  – SJS

SDB-3Of the 200-some odd models that populate my study and other places around the house, there is but one on my desk. It isn’t a plane that I have flown (though not for a lack of desire), nor is it even one I have had a working relationship with when I was on active duty. Indeed, it is one I have yet to even see in person except in a museum. That plane? It is an SBD-3 Dauntless but not just any Dauntless. It is in the colors and markings of the VB-5 “Black B1″ Dauntless flown by LT Dick Best at Midway. The reasons I have it there are manifold and it serves as a daily reminder thereto, some of which are gathered and summed below.

“As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
– Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, December 2004

The Navy in 1942 was very much that kind of Navy — the one you have (had). Ships and aircraft that were in transition from an earlier age of technology and warfighting that hadn’t quite got the kinks worked out, whose replacements that did were still on the drafting boards or just now beginning construction and were months, if not years away from combat. Tactics that had been developed by “disruptive” innovators that had, as yet, to be fully tested in battle. A command structure that suddenly found itself engaged in worldwide fleet and joint operations. In light of these conditions, several actions had to occur prior to 4 June 1942 to enable the American victory at Midway.

Command and Planning. A theater commander, not a remote staff in Washington, needed to run the war in his theater at the operational level and below. Nimitz understood his forces and his commanders. He knew the thin line by which they hung and yet he trusted his task force commanders and their subordinates to be both aggressive and calculating in carrying the fight to the enemy, as epitomized in his OPORD for the coming battle:

In carrying out the task assigned, you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of our forces without good prospect on inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage on the enemy.

In studied contrast to the run-up for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planning for Midway was poorly thought out, egregiously evaluated, gamed and haphazardly executed (cf: the entire submarine picket plan). Indeed, it was put together and executed in such a toxic atmosphere of arrogance and bluster that even when one of the final wargame sessions showed American forces gaining an upper-hand because of gaps in the air search pattern, referees for the wargame manipulated the environment and other factors to bring about a successful conclusion for Kido Butai. As for dealing with changing factors at sea, commanders were loath to step outside the boundaries of the plan and demonstrate initiative. In studied contrast were the actions of the Americans from Nimitz’s orders based on calculated risk to Dick Best’s last minute change in targets. Curiously, the Japanese in planning a double prong approach with the diversionary strike at the Aleutians also broke one of their founding principles – that of concentration of forces. By diverting forces on a mission of questionable value and success for territory that would prove to be exceptionally harsh on man and machine they gained little, if any strategic value outside of propaganda for an over-wrought plan of entrapment.

One other, not inconsiderable item was the quality of intelligence and analysis provided, especially that of the cryptological staff hand-picked and led by CDR Joe Rochefort and LCDR Ed Layton. Much is made of the means by which they tricked the Japanese into revealing Midway as the intended target, thereby allowing Nimitz and Spruance to position the numerically smaller US forces to gain maximum advantage in the coming fight. Yet, again, one doesn’t just snap the fingers and wish this into existence. Rochefort and Layton were in this position because of recognition by their leaders, early in their respective careers as JOs possessing a particular or unique set of skills that needed to be developed and nurtured; skills that didn’t conform to what passed for the “traditional” career path and so incurred some risk on the part of the two officers in embarking on the same, especially in the fiscally austere climate of the late 20’s and 30’s in a Service not given to iconoclasts (or at least advancig their careers). Key to this discussion was the fact both officers spent time in country learning their Japanese language skills, underscoring the concept of understanding a culture and its nuances in addition to learning a language. In time, this understanding paid dividends as Nimitz encouraged Rochefort to think like the Japanese commander. All too often in the “modern” Navy we find such persons are marginalized and squirreled away in a niche many times as terminal O-4/O-5s because their utility and talents are poorly understood, ineffectually applied and careers haphazardly managed. So much so that when an intelligence gap is revealed, the system goes overboard and fills numerical gaps while papering over the quality ones. I have to wonder, even today, how many “analysts” are given over to a full, deep study of Chinese language, history and culture, to arrive at a fuller appreciation of Chinese strategic thought and execution, not unlike  their Russian cohorts (who, once the Cold War was over, were widely purged as being “unnecessary in the new peace” – Reset anyone? – SJS). My answer of late seems to be — not much as it seems individuals, groups and whole organizations are caught up in the wonderment of bright shiny objects (niche weapons) without an understanding of their purpose, application and the human factors behind them.

Flexibility and Adaptation to Changing Conditions. American plans for coordinated/supporting attacks on the Japanese were quite literally shot to hell with missed rendezvous, difficulty in locating the CVs and key elements (e.g., the torpedo attack) failing, as it was cut to pieces by Kido Butai‘s protective cover offered by fighters and AA. Even for the few that got off an attack before meeting the eternal deep, the torpedoes failed to properly arm and detonate; a reflection in no small measure of pre-war testing precepts and assumptions. Carefully crafted, scripted and geographically limited tests that ensured success in peacetime testing utterly failed the Fleet when it came time to put the weapon to the test in war, and at tremendous cost in lives and equipment.

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In case you passed lightly over that last, let me pause to re-emphasize that point — Carefully crafted, scripted and geographically limited tests that ensured success in peacetime testing utterly failed the Fleet when it came time to put the weapon to the test in war, and at tremendous cost in lives and equipment. By the way, this does cut both ways as adversaries then and now were and are prone to the same shortcoming.

In contrast, the Navy’s carrier-based dive bombers on the decks of Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet represented a challenging, evolutionary process grounded in revolutionary views of naval warfare.

From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 Fleet Problems as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself which, by the 1930s, was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this writer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as the Navy’s leadership, rather, the Navy’s emerging leadership as epitomized by innovators from task force commanders, ship CO’s and down to squadron and section leaders, looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant, namely the battleline.

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12 May 1938 Three Army Air Corps B-17s intercept the Italian liner Rex (inbound to the US).

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June 1942 IJN carrier Hiryu successfully evades high-altitude B-17 bombing attack.

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“Midway – The Turning Point” by Stan Stokes (http://www.stanstokes.net/#!blank/csac)

It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for long-range patrol aircraft and for carrier-based dive bombers, so different from the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Indeed, certain air power advocates in the military and in Congress were of a persuasion that no ship could stand to survive what these long-range, precision strike aircraft could deliver and moved to shift funds and support accordingly (Indeed, today we hear many of those same arguments ressurected against the carrier because of new classes and types of weapons whose unproven technical capabilites similarly trump what carriers could offer in defense. – SJS) Proof, however, would come at Midway when both forces were employed; the B-17s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water because the fixed or cooperative targets they had practiced against in peacetime suddenly “discovered” maneuverabilty. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown ripped the heart out of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi‘s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion.

While the Japanese were the first to employ massed striking power using carriers and the strike at Pearl (and subsequent actions through SE Asia and the IO) validated the philosophy, they also failed to comprehend the inherent flexibility of carrier-based air and thus eschewed opportunities to utilize it in other scenarios, such as armed scouting, which in turn, led to less than robust search plans and reliance on out-dated search aircraft and methodologies.  They failed, in modern parlance, at C2ISR. The American practice of armed scouts for one, developed during the previously mentioned series of war games would prove time and again to be a critical discriminator allowing a quick first strike while alerting and enabling the larger force to disable and destroy as demonstrated in Lexington‘s strike on both Saratoga and Langley during Fleet Problem X (and replicated in Fleet Problem XI the following year), foreshadowing the American strikes on the Japanese CVs at Midway.

Training: The contrast between USN and USMC effectiveness in employing dive bombers at Midway was signatory. Using the same platform (SBD-3s) USN pilots scored major hits while minimizing losses to AA fire and fighters, whereas the Marines suffered significant losses for little, if any gain. The difference? Tactics, training and procedures or TTP. The Navy employed steep, usually greater than 70-degree, dives on the target whereas the Marines used much shallower, gliding approaches. The former minimizes your exposure time and profile to AA and challenges fighters which typically are not equipped for high angle dives, while increasing the likelihood of a hit.  Conversely, the shallower approaches employed by the Marines were more fitting to the requirements of close air support (as would be demonstrated time and again in the next few years in the Pacific island-hopping campaign). However, the anti-shipping approach requires considerable practice at obtaining the proper dive angle, avoiding target fixation and knowing how/when to pull out of the dive while avoiding over-stressing the airframe. Techniques and skills developed over time and encouraged and employed by informed and forward thinking leaders with lots of practice — underscoring the maxim about “training like you are going to fight” isn’t just a nice bulkhead slogan or Facebook meme.

Damage Control: Had the crew of the Yorktown not been so proficient in DC, particularly something as seemingly mundane as draining the avgas lines and filling them with inert gas prior to the battle of Coral Sea, the Yorktown may very well have been lost, leaving CINCPAC with only two carriers facing four, and forcing a different battle plan. Conversely, the almost lackadaisical approach the Japanese took in repairing Shokaku‘s damage or replenishing Zuikaku‘s air wing and repairing her light damage from Coral Sea’s action ensured their unavailability for Midway, keeping the balance of forces on a razor’s edge and enabling the Americans.  Damage control skills would be increasingly called upon as American forces pushed back across the Pacific in  the wake of Midway’s success.Slide1

Over the course of a twenty-six year career in the cockpit, on the bridge and ashore, each of these elements influenced and guided me; whether through self-study and actualization or in the form of guidance, direction and to use an overworked term, mentoring from others more experienced. As I progressed through studying and practicing my trade from the tactical to operational levels of war the lessons of Midway gained traction — more so in my latter years with the availability of new material and perspectives. In that time I have lived the difficulty of mustering and executing long-range war at sea strikes, even when aided by the (relatively) modern enablers of radar, UHF and SATCOM communications and networked datalinks. Of sorting friend from foe and assessing BDA and re-strike requirements. Of the difficulty in turning disparate bits of data into actionable intelligence and at the same time, understanding what we today call “left of launch” and “kill chains” – and how to defeat them through counter-ISR and -targeting efforts through operational and tactical maneuver and schemes.  Of providing reasoned discourse and advice to senior leaders who are bent on a particular agenda. Of building the “whole cloth” picture of a threat (or collection thereof) while eschewing the false certitude of a “slam dunk” in assessing the same and developing counters that may provide short term mitigation and while buying time for more effective measures in the pipeline or emerging on a thousand-plus whiteboards.

And along the way, even today in my present job, I wonder if and from whence the next Dick Best, Wade McClusky. Joe Rochefort, Ray Spruance, Chester Nimitz and Ernest J. King will come.

My earnest hope is that they are out there and when the time comes, when the battle hangs in the balance, when that moment of despair, courage or plain dumb luck offers the opportunity to turn events on their ear and gain the upper hand, that they will seize it with vigor and exploit it in the traditions of our Service.

As was done 74 years ago at Midway.

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“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:

Lex-300x285

 

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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Of Heritage and Advanced Hawkeyes

“Hawkeye, Ball…”

Since the E-2A went to sea in the early 1960’s, “Hawkeye” was the name used for the ball call to the LSOs. Later iterations of the E-2C continued that practice but distinguished the a/c type by markings on the nose (a white “II” for Group 2 E-2s, or a “+” for H2Ks today). The Advanced Hawkeye, however being heavier than the E-2C required something more than just “Hawkeye” but kept to a single word. In doing so, VAW heritage was called upon and just as “Steeljaw” has been used for special evolutions for the new Hawkeye, the E-2’s predecessor, the E-1B Tracer (or WF – ‘Willie Fudd’) was called upon. Now, with an E-2D on the ball, you’ll hear “Tracer, ball…”

heritage

When in the Course of Human Events…

Declaration-of-Independence-1024x681

O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
     – Common Sense, Thomas Paine, January 1776

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Georgia:
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Delaware:
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Massachusetts:
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Connecticut:
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

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(Click on image for full size(Source))

A Memorial Day Compendium – 2015 Edition

 

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You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done  — Ronald Reagan

Through the years we’ve observed Memorial Day on these pages in a variety of ways. Through it all, we’ve sought to instill a sense of perspective and context to an occasion that, unfortunately, most have come to recognize as a mere green light for the frivolous pursuits of the summer season.

We’ve offered a first person perspective:

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… Flightdeck Friday: T-2C Edition

Other times we used the occasion of the return of an MIA from our past wars — like the story of Spectre 13, an AC-130 gunship downed in Vietnam:

 

It is perhaps fitting the day after Memorial Day that we learn of more former MIA’s whose remains have since been identified and returned to their loved ones. Hence, today’s story of some of crew of the AC-130A Spectre named ‘Prometheus’ callsign Spectre 13 – SJS  Airmen Missing In Vietnam War Are Identified: Spectre 13

 

or this one from WW2:

This raid on Ploesti wasn’t the (in)famous one from August of 1943, yet it was representative of the many missions flown against industrial and military targets in Europe and the Pacific by the men of the Army Air Corps. On this mission 438 B-17’s and B-24’s took part with loss of “only” two aircraft. As we pause to give thanks this Memorial Day for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for keeping the Union intact, for our freedoms, to extend that umbrella of freedom to others freeing them from tyranny and oppression, let us give thanks and always remember.
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
Welcome home Lieutenant Kelly, rest easy now that your mission is complete.
Memorial Day Remembrance Ploesti Raid Aircrewman Returns Home

Sometimes they were lost in the shadows of a war that was called Cold, but for one brief, awful instant, had gone hot for them:

 

15 April 1969 (Korean time) marked the final flight of a Navy VQ-1 EC-121/WV-2 callsign Deep Sea 129. Roughly 100 nm off the North Korean peninsular site where the Hermit Kingdom today defies the world with its ballistic missile tests, lies the watery grave of 31 Americans (2 bodies were later recovered).  North Korea not only acknowledged the shoot down, they loudly and boastfully celebrated their action. President Nixon suspended PARPRO flights in the Sea of Japan for three days and then allowed them to resume, only with escorts. No reparations were ever paid to the US or the families of the lost airmen.
And Kim Il-Sung celebrated another birthday (April 15th).
15 April 1969: Deep Sea 129 Shootdown

Or served as a harbinger of what was 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

Sometimes it was when there appeared to be no war at all, like on one fall morning:

Here are our shipmates who were lost in the Navy Operations Center (NOC) {note: N513 will be posted 10 Sept}. 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 Part I (N3N5)
Yesterday, we remembered those we lost in the Navy Operations Center (NOC) who were from within the larger N3N5 organization.  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)

Bob loved to be at sea, but with each offshore assignment he deeply missed his wife and two children. His 20-year career took him to the far-flung corners of the world — Bahrain, the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean — but he still managed to keep in touch with the friends he made in kindergarten. He was a disciplined officer who made it his business to excel at every post, but he also was a “guy’s guy” who enjoyed grabbing a beer with friends. “Bob was a touchstone for many of us because of the person he was, not because of his accomplishments as a leader,” said family friend Mark Wallinger, who was best man at CAPT Dolan’s wedding. “He was a friend to everybody, and a hero to those who knew him.”

“He was a man who viewed service as a privilege,” his wife, Lisa of Alexandria, Va., wrote in an e-mail. “Bob Dolan was the best and the brightest this country had to offer to the altar of freedom.” In addition to his wife, Capt. Dolan is survived by his children, Rebecca, 15, and Beau, 9; his parents, Joan and Robert of Florham Park; two brothers, Christopher of Quakertown, Pa., and Daniel of Bethel, Pa., and several nieces and nephews. (Compiled from various sources, primarily consisting of The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post) The 2996 Project: CAPT Bob Dolan, USN (Pentagon) and Mr. Colin Arthur Bonnett (WTC) The 2996 Project: CAPT Bob Dolan, USN (Pentagon) and Mr. Colin Arthur Bonnett (WTC)

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:

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

Abrek-300x296We find ourselves in an age where heroes are declared of those who strve 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.  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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Be they aviator or ground-pounder; dogface or nurse; Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, Coast Guardsman, Merchantman, Guard or Reserve — at one time or another they answered the call.

And in so doing, all gave some — and some gave all.

So before the burgers and beer, before the green flag drops, and before the tanning lotion is applied for the first time — pause, ponder and give thanks to the Almighty that such as these gave their all so that we may remain free:

Remember

Flightdeck Friday (I): Ave Atque Vale – Three Years On

Today’s Flightdeck Friday is a repost from the day when our extended family here learned of Lex’s passing out at NAS Fallon.  It was a grim day – a hard day and as noted below, one myself and many of us who have hung up our spurs thought we were done with.  In honor and memory therefore – today’s repost.  We’ll return to our regularly scheduled series this weekend. — SJS sends.


Lex

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 the Navy Fighter Weapons School (“TOPGUN”) 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.

Even so, what really set Lex apart was his eloquence, obvious love of the classics and an abilty to turn a phrase that would do his Irish ancestors proud.   Anyone who has spent time in the air or at sea comes to appreciate the change in perspective those alluring mistresses offer and how they come to change you.   It is the rare person, however, who is able to more than adequately express and convey that imagery, that perspective.   Lex was one of those rare individuals and you could readily see it in his work – almost all of which he shared gratis online.   Whether it was a semi-fictional account of a young aviator wrestling with carrier flight ops or surgical disection of a controversial subject, his wit, grace and command of the language marked him as a finely honed rapier in a field cluttered with dull broadswords and broken battle axes.   And it will be missed.

The time will come when we will take position and give our formal farewells with appropriate ceremony.   For now, I’ll leave with this thought from a fellow naval aviator and friend – part of a discourse from last night…

” 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.”

I too thought my counting days finished – alas not so…

Fair winds Lex and God bless and uphold your family.   We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point…on the other side  at the Green.

w/r,

SJS

Christmas 2014 — A New Song

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Christmas comes at a time of year where we, perforce, count our blessings, tally our losses and generally reflect on the year past. We find this action common across national boundaries and racial divides and, all too commonly, it ends there. The accountants’ take of the past year and if the blessings outweigh the losses, then it was a good year and we can celebrate and be joyful.

For that is the spirit of the season, right? We raise a toast, pause (ever so briefly) to recall those less fortunate and get on with the business of unwrapping gifts, breaking our fasts (such as they may be) and settle in for whatever entertainment is provided to us. Some of that may include songs of the season — “carols” as known by some. We dutifully (and at times, atonally) mix Rudolph, Santa and desires for front teeth with angels and a baby while wishing for “peace on earth” whilst holding only the vaguest understanding of the phrase. For most of us, the story behind some of those carols are shrouded in the mists of history, their quaint language, un-afflicted as yet by a modern re-write, twisting our tongues and puzzling our minds over what they mean; but it passes. Soon, we are into the New Year, deep into the distractions of the various sporting events and planning for the months to come. And so it is that another Christmas passes with maybe one or two things remembered until we repeat the cycle at the end of the next year.

My intention here is to hit the stop button, offering some points to ponder and reflect upon this Christmastide. There is a story I would like to share about one of those carols, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Morn” and how something written over 150 years ago may still have relevance today.

The carol is an 1872 adoption of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which itself, was written during a time of deep personal despair and loss on the part of Longfellow,  set against a background of a new nation that was busy going about tearing itself apart from within: 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

December of 1863 found Longfellow a desperately heartsick man. Two years earlier, the love of his life – his wife of 18 years, Francis Appleton and mother of their children, died of severe burns when the dress she was wearing caught fire. Despite his own efforts to extinguish the flames (and suffering burns on his face leading to the now trademark beard), Francis suffered burns over most of her body and died the following morning.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

And in despair I bowed my head;
˜There is no peace on earth, I said;
˜For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Still grieving the loss of his wife two years later, another matter weighed heavily on his heart; the status of his oldest son, Charles. When the Civil War began (the same year Francis died), Charley initially resisted the impulse to join the Army. Henry, a strict abolitionist, had tried to dissuade his son from joining as well, but by early 1863, Charley could resist no more and sought to join the fight.

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Troops crossing at Germanna Ford during the Mine Run campaign (from Harper’s Weekly)

Offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, he accepted and was commissioned on March 27, 1863. Charley entered on his new duties with enthusiasm and was assigned to Company “G” of the 1st Massachusetts. From thence he saw action in Virginia – first at Chancellorsville and then Culpepper (having missed Gettysburg while recovering from typhoid fever and malaria). On November 27, as part of the Mine Run Campaign, while in a skirmish at New Hope Church, Charley was shot through the left shoulder. The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder.

He missed being paralyzed by less than an inch.

Still, grievously wounded, he was carried into the church and then by ambulance to the Rapidan River. On December 1, 1863, word was received at the Longfellow home in Cambridge of Charles serious injury. Henry and his younger son, Ernest, left at once for Washington, D.C. where they finally met up with Charley and brought him home. They reached Cambridge on December 8 and Charles Appleton Longfellow began the slow process of recovering. In fact, so serious were his injuries that this Christmas morn, his recovery was still very much in doubt. Indeed, throughout the land, the course of the war and fate of the nation was still believed to be in doubt, despite turning back Lee’s forces at Gettysburg.

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Thomas Cole: The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833–34 (Oil on canvas) From the Chrysler Museum of Art

And so it was, this New England Christmas morning, when in the depths of despair that he heard the bells ringing through the Bostonian streets hearkening to that glorious proclamation in Luke:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2: 13-14, KJV)

churchBut each peal of the bells only seemed to highlight the disparity between the biblical proclamation of joy and the ever grim news on earth of no peace, no joy.

Taking up pen and paper, his last refuge in a world of despairingly ill news, he began to write. And when he wrote challengingly of the mockery of peace by hate; of the power of the canon over the carol.  Then, he answered with heaven-sent grace, of hope born on the knowledge of a future certainty:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
˜God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Despite his despair, despite all the trappings of gloom and fear, Henry’s faith in the power of God and man to join and transcend the horrors of war gave birth to this song, inspired by his hearing the ringing out of the Christmas bells.

Now on this Christmas Eve I ask do you hear the bells? The promise of peace, real peace the Savior s birth portends? That in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, of earthquakes and pestilence and the evil man is able to heap upon man that there is one whose birth, life and yes, death and ultimate resurrection was as a sacrifice for you and I that we might come to know peace — real peace? A peace that is not just the absence of tumult and strife, but the peace (εἰρήνη) sung by the angels in their new song to the shepherds outside Bethlehem wherein mankind is rejoined with God?  Why not take a break from the hustle and flow of the secular part of the holiday and ponder for a while on the spirit? John 3:1-21 is a good place to start.

Stop, pause, ponder, and marvel at the real gift of the season it was offered, after all, free for you and I.  And sing a new song.

 

Submitted with All Our Wishes for a Blessed Christmas.

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Note: I would be remiss not to recognize Pastor Greg Corcoran of Battlefield Baptist Church for his series “Rediscover Christmas”  and Bro. Bryan Wise, our worship pastor who will be departing for the missionary field in Nicaragua this coming year, both of whom provided inspiration in writing this post.  As Bro. Bryan would say — “Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord!” this Christmas.

Generations

Generations

Call this one – “Generations.” From the left — my Grandpa (father’s side), first generation American of German descent who left his home in Illinois to join the Army and head off to the War to End All Wars, serving in France with the AEF. Next my Grandpa Jack – Army, Signal Corps who served from Alaska to the beaches and cliffs at Normandy, on the cutting edge of radar and long-haul communications.  Then my Dad, Bill, Army, Coastal Artillery and Signal Corps, Pacific Theater, also working in radar and other leading edge technology.  And me, Navy, Hawkeye NFO (there’s that radar link again, must be in the genes) and CO, VAW-122; Pentagon/9-11.  All volunteers.  Some served longer than others – some continued to serve in other ways.  Proud of ’em all and what they did.  

And across the width and breadth of this great land, let’s crack open the old photo albums, dust off the VCRs, load up the DVDs and for those vets still among us, let’s talk to them about their service.  Because there are many a family with history like this in the land of the citizen soldier, and the memories need to be preserved.  So on this forthcoming Veteran’s Day, to all who have served and those still serving – God Bless and thank you for your service.

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