Cold War Stories-Story 2

Posted on 09/24/2020. Filed under: Alfred Wellnitz Books, Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871, For the Cause; Risks & Rewards, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

US Naval Air
Routine Patrol

Picture by R.A. Scholefield

Prologue

This short story, “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol,” although fictional, is a rendition of a number of interesting experiences actually encountered by flight crews during Electronic Reconnaissance patrol flights along the Asian coast from Vladivostok to Saigon during a two-year period between 1951 and 1953. The author flew as a crewman on the P4M-1Q planes utilized for this mission. He completed ninety-five patrols. Patrol flights originated from the Sangley Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines, the Naha Naval Air Station and Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, and the Atsugi and Iwakuni Naval Air Stations in Japan. The original members of the flight crews who volunteered for the special mission did not know what the mission would be except that it would be overseas, and they were obligated to two years of service. Once accepted, they were cleared for access to top secret information and were not allowed to divulge information about this activity until fifty years later.

US Naval Air: Routine Patrol

Sangley Point Naval Air Station

The crew scheduled to take off from Sangley Point Naval Air Station at 2200 that night each packed a bag; they would end the patrol at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. They would then fly an out-and-back patrol from Kadena along the China coast north of Shanghai and back along the west coast of Korea before returning to Sangley Point on a third patrol.

The enlisted flight crew made their way on foot through the dark night to the flight line less than half a mile from their Quonset hut. Wellman, first radio, and MacBee, second radio, walked together. They had become good friends and spent many of their liberty hours together during the year the crews trained and prepared for this overseas assignment. They attended classes on the new equipment they would be using and maintaining after they picked up a still new-smelling P4M-1Q aircraft, retrofitted for the Electronic Reconnaissance mission, at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft factory located in Baltimore, Maryland.

The aircraft used for the airborne Electronic Reconnaissance mission was designated as a P4M-1Q. The “1Q” indicated that the plane had been configured for Electronic Reconnaissance operations. The P4M featured a compromise design in which two conventional reciprocating engines provided the long-range capability needed in a patrol aircraft. Its two jet engines could deliver speed if the plane was attacked, plus provide backup power during takeoff and landings or in an emergency. The conventional engines, two P&W 4360s, were the most powerful reciprocating engines ever put into use by the United States armed forces. The jets were J33 turbo jets. The plane had been designed to fight if necessary, with gun turrets placed topside, fore, and aft. Nine officers and enlisted men made up a normal P4M crew, but the personnel on board grew to fourteen for reconnaissance missions.

A total of eight P4M-1Q planes were initially assigned to the program. Four planes would be sent to North Africa to patrol areas in Europe and four sent to Sangley Point in the Philippines to patrol areas in the Far East. The four planes assigned to the Philippines were flown from the Martin factory in Baltimore to Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego, California, where the crews and ground personnel spent several months getting acquainted with using and maintaining the new planes and equipment.

Finally, the four-plane contingent was ready to deploy, taking a roundabout northern route to Sangley Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines. The route included stops at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Seattle, where the crews spent several days practicing ground control approach (GCA) landings. The four planes then hopped to Kodiak Naval Air Station in Alaska, followed by another stop at Shemya Air Force Base at the end of the Aleutian Chain. The final stop along the way was made at Atsugi Navy Air Station in Japan, where the flight crews were briefed on the P4M-1Q mission. They were also given a scary briefing by a survival expert on what to expect and do if caught behind enemy lines. Wellman—and probably most of the crewmen—thought, Interesting, but this won’t be happening to me.

MacBee, the older of the two, served in the navy reserves and was called back into active duty when the Korean War started in 1950. Wellman’s enlistment would have ended in 1950 if the Korean War hadn’t come along. He was given the choice of having his current enlistment extended or reenlisting. If he reenlisted, he would be paid a two-hundred-dollar bonus. Wellman considered that a no-brainer and reenlisted. He bought a 12-gauge Remington semi-automatic shotgun with the bonus and used it to hunt quail in California.

When they reached the three aircraft parked on the hardstand that night, Wellman and MacBee greeted the special project member who had drawn guard duty. There were four planes in the special project contingent, but one had flown a patrol to Japan and would be gone for a week, temporarily flying patrols from that location.

The man on guard duty worked as an aviation mechanic during the day. “Glad to see you guys,” he said. “Not much going on otherwise.” The guard carried a sidearm and a sawed-off 12-gauge Winchester pump shotgun. The guard was notorious because he had carried his shotgun into the enlisted club to buy a drink on New Year’s Eve.

The squadron posted its own guards, the idea being to keep anyone not in the special project from knowing what the special project was about. Good luck with that. People around the base started calling the special project team the “fifty-footers.” If you got within fifty feet of the aircraft, they’d shoot you.

Wellman noticed the new bureau six-digit number painted on their plane’s tail, big numbers that could be seen from another aircraft or even from the ground when flying low. Every month a new fictitious number would be painted on the tail. Wellman figured this was supposed to confuse the people they were spying on, and maybe it did, but he didn’t understand how it kept the Chinese or Russians from figuring out what they were really doing.

The crewmen heading out on patrol stopped at a Quonset hut office, where a yeoman was distributing survival gear. They each received a 38-caliber revolver and a bag of survival goodies.

MacBee mumbled something about having to carry the heavy revolver. “I couldn’t hit the side of a barn with it if my life depended on it.”

Johnson, the ordnance man on their crew, explained, “That’s to shoot yourself if all else fails.”

“Oh,” MacBee replied. “You must have a different instruction book than I have.”

Johnson was enjoying bringing MacBee up to date. “You must have an outdated revision. Better get the latest version or you could get in trouble for not following the rules, particularly about shooting yourself.”

Johnson was a lifer, a World War II vet not looking for another job. Reliable, balding, of average height, with a sparse frame, he knew his job.

Wellman checked out the contents of his survival bag before signing it out. Some of the items in the bag made more sense than the revolver, including a small piece of gold bullion. Always welcome everywhere. Probably the most valuable item in the package would be the waterproof parchment carrying the message in several different languages that it would pay the holder ten thousand American dollars if the holder delivered the parchment along with a live American airman. Other miscellaneous items included a tube of morphine, pocketknife, compass, and mirror.

The yeoman handed Johnson a small mailbag. “Some mail for the Okinawa contingent,” he said. Patrol flights terminating at Okinawa normally carried any mail addressed to members of a temporarily assigned Okinawa special project contingent. Johnson accepted the bag. “The only reason those malcontents would want to see us,” he replied.

The crew then went out to the flight line to prepare the plane for the night’s mission. Their plane sat first in the line-up of the three on the hardstand.

P4M-1Q

Author photograph

Sharman, the plane captain, and a member of the ground crew hooked up the auxiliary power unit, and the onboard equipment came alive. Sharman had a stocky build and seldom smiled. He knew his business and had the respect of the rest of the crew. Like most plane captains, his skill rating included aviation mechanic. He knew the plane’s physical condition better than anyone, including the pilots. He, like Johnson, was a lifer, and the two of them hung out together.

Two crew members, Scarma, mechanic, and Bailey, radar man, pulled the props through a cycle. Scarma and Bailey were the youngest crew members. Bailey, blond crew cut, with eyes that always looked surprised, was a technical whiz who had two years of college and couldn’t wait to get out of the service so he could finish school. Scarma was the opposite, probably a lifer, competent, down to earth.

A jeep pulled up, and Wellman helped Johnson unload boxes of rations for the flight.

“Hey, what’re we going to eat tonight?” Sharman asked Johnson.

Johnson, in addition to his usual duties of maintaining the plane’s ordnance, had taken on the role of chef. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you open the box,” he replied.

In earlier days, Johnson had been a little more daring in the culinary department, often preparing hot meals in a small galley stove at the rear of the plane. That changed when the plane experienced some negative Gs while a pot of peas was heating up on the stove. Suddenly there were peas all over the back of the plane. Since then, box lunches from the enlisted mess or K-rations had become the norm.

Sharman wanted to know if they had packed any more coffee. “We ran out up front during the last flight.”

Johnson replied that he had a full two-pound can in back to share.

Wellman drank the coffee perked at ten thousand feet during patrols despite it being only lukewarm. He liked it hot, but coffee in any form helped keep him awake, and he would need it tonight because he hadn’t gotten much sleep earlier that evening.

Night patrols were pretty much the rule lately; keeping alert could be a challenge. The boredom factor didn’t help the situation. Most patrol flights were over ten hours long and not very exciting. Military experience has been described as “years of boredom interrupted by moments of excitement.” That seemed an apt description of these patrols to Wellman.

The crew officers—pilot, co-pilot, and navigator—arrived and started going through the aircraft checkout procedures.

Lieutenant Kelly, the navigator on this flight, dropped a chronometer on the radio desk. Wellman got a time check and set the chronometer to Greenwich Mean Time. He then tuned the transmitter and checked his receivers.

The preflight chores were nearly finished when Lieutenant Peterson and four enlisted Electronic Reconnaissance spooks emerged from the darkness. They didn’t participate in the preflight checkout. They picked up their survival kits and were ready to go. The ER people didn’t have anything to do with flying the airplane. They were the payload. They all rode in the back section of the plane that was jammed full of electronic surveillance equipment. The enlisted ER people were mostly electronic technicians with special surveillance training. They bunked with the rest of the squadron’s enlisted personnel but seemed a little distant. Like they knew something you didn’t know, and they weren’t going to tell you what that was.

One of the last things each crew member did was don an inflatable life jacket and strap on his front-carry parachute harness. The chutes were hung in various places about the plane and could be hooked onto the harness with two buckles.

The plane crew had finished their preflight chores and were on board and ready to go at 2130. It was dark and clear, no moon, although storms were expected along the China coast where they would be flying that night. The two reciprocating engines were started, the auxiliary power unit unhooked. A tow tractor pushed the plane back onto a taxiway where it could move under its own power. Lieutenant Colby sat in the right-hand seat of the cockpit as it taxied to the end of the runway and went through the pre-takeoff check list. Until recently, he had been the commander of this plane. He had piloted it since the navy accepted delivery from the factory two years earlier. It had been his plane, his crew. Tonight, he would be flying co-pilot.

Lieutenant Colby’s ambition wasn’t to be a hotshot navy pilot. He had no desire to be catapulted off a carrier or to land on a moving, pitching deck. His appearance reflected his modest demeanor. He was a little overweight, not the sharpest-looking officer around, but an excellent pilot and plane crew commander.

Lieutenant Colby gravitated toward patrol aircraft out of flight school. He liked the planes’ multiple engines, slow and steady. As an ensign, he spent time in a PBM seaplane squadron before moving on to the navy’s latest land-based patrol plane, the P2V. He had qualified as a P2V commander and soon was promoted to lieutenant junior grade.

Not long after becoming a plane commander, Colby became aware that a US Navy “special project” was looking for volunteers. There weren’t many details available, but it would be an overseas assignment requiring a two-year commitment, and applicants would have to qualify for high-level security clearance. The navy also favored volunteers who weren’t married. Lieutenant Colby fit all the requirements and volunteered.

Lieutenant Colby and the other volunteers soon learned what the special project mission was. They would be part of an effort to assemble and deploy the navy’s first dedicated airborne Electronic Reconnaissance capability. Two contingents were to be formed, with four planes each. One contingent would be stationed in North Africa and the other in the Philippines. Lieutenant Colby ended up in the Philippine four-plane contingent, which had the task of locating, monitoring, and categorizing electronic emissions along the Asian coastline from Saigon to Vladivostok.

It had turned out to be a good career move for the lieutenant. At a relatively young age, he was in command of an aircraft, the largest and most capable plane he had ever flown and was part of a mission that had a high priority in the post-World War II US Navy.

The crew had been pulled together two years earlier from various parts of the navy. They had become a cohesive unit that included a real hotshot co-pilot, who greased the plane in for landings so smooth they made Lieutenant Colby envious, and a smooth-faced ensign navigator who couldn’t fly a plane for beans but got them to and from where they were going without getting lost.

The enlisted crew members were competent and reliable, and the group had remained pretty much intact while Lieutenant Colby was plane commander. However, changes were taking place, the inevitable result of the navy’s rotation system, as well as personnel being released from service after fulfilling their obligations. Certain changes in the plane’s officer complement had been devastating to Lieutenant Colby. His super-capable co-pilot left to return to civilian life as an airline pilot, and his baby-faced ensign navigator had also left the navy to pursue an advanced degree at Berkeley. At about the same time, the commanding officer of the special project was promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant commander and reassigned. He had been key in putting together the four planes, crews, and support personnel for the Philippine-based special project contingent. He had been a flying commanding officer and was probably the best pilot in the special project. His replacement, Lieutenant Commander Higgins, had a patrol plane background, but he had been flying a desk during his most recent assignments. Higgins needed some operational experience to advance his career, and the way the special project was set up also required him to be a plane commander. But for reasons that became obvious, Commander Higgins needed an experienced and able co-pilot. This was how Lieutenant Colby found himself in the right-hand seat of the cockpit he had been commanding for the past two years.

The pilots completed the pre-takeoff procedure, started the jets, lined up on the runway, and set the brakes. The two prop engines and jets were turned up to take-off power. When the brakes were released, the plane jumped forward and, even though fully loaded, lifted off quickly. It began climbing at a steep angle. The plane could out-climb and fly faster than most prop-driven fighters.

When the plane cleared Philippine air control boundaries, it went silent. No emissions would emanate except hourly encrypted Morse code position reports. Occasionally a nervous navigator might ask for a radar position check, but only as a last resort. The plane’s mission was to receive and evaluate signals, not to emit them.

All crewmen actively involved in the plane’s operation were tied into the plane’s intercom system. Pilot radio voice communications could also be monitored on the intercom. At times the intercom was active with back-and-forth chatter, but in the middle of a night patrol it was most often quiet.

Shortly before the flight entered the on-station portion of the patrol, the navigator handed Wellman the first encrypted hourly position report to be sent to the navy patrol aircraft network in Morse code. Once the on-station point was reached, the external running lights were turned off and the gun turrets manned. The two radiomen and radar rotated in two-hour shifts to man the bow turret. The mechanic Scarma and the plane captain took turns in the top turret. Johnson, the ordnance man, handled the tail turret by himself.

The baby-faced, neat-as-a-pin navigator had been replaced by Lieutenant Junior Grade Kelly. Lieutenant Kelly had a slightly bulging midriff, and his clothes often looked as if they’d been slept in. The navigator’s workspace, one of the roomier spaces in the plane, began to accumulate maps, scraps of paper, navigation instruments, coffee cups, and food droppings soon after Kelly settled in. However, so far, he’d always managed to find the way to where they were going and get them back again.

As the plane approached the China coast, the weather began deteriorating. Towering cumulus thunderheads outlined by flashing lightning filled the horizon. The air seemed to be filled with electricity; the plane became enveloped in Saint Elmo’s fire, a spectacular phenomenon but not dangerous. Before Wellman ever witnessed Saint Elmo’s fire, he had read about it occurring on sailing ships, when the rigging might be enveloped in the spectacle. However, Wellman had never seen a display of Saint Elmo’s fire such as he was seeing now, and from the chatter on the intercom, it seemed that neither had anyone else. The electrically charged blue-tinted Saint Elmo’s fire streamed off the wings. The plane’s propellers looked like blue pinwheels. The navigator reported that the long-range LORAN navigation system had gone goofy, most likely due to the same phenomenon that was causing the Saint Elmo’s fire.

A dark night, the darker the better, had become the favorite operational wish for the ER mission. This had not always been the case. When special project operations first started in 1951, flying the coastline from Shanghai south had been like a Sunday afternoon drive. Patrols flew around and inside the coastal islands on sunny afternoons. More care had to be taken around the Korean Peninsula and Vladivostok, but south of Shanghai had been a free-fly zone. That changed over time as more assets, in the form of MiG jets and radar detection systems, started appearing, particularly around Shanghai. Recently, all flights in the Shanghai area were scheduled for nighttime hours, as was this one.

North of Hong Kong, the patrol plane approached land and turned north to follow the coast in a driving rainstorm. The flight conditions were ideal for a plane that wanted to be inconspicuous, but a little tricky for the navigator. The plane’s projected track ran twenty miles offshore. Making that turn using dead reckoning in a turbulent rainstorm required a lot of faith in dumb luck. A quick shot with the radar could have verified where they were located relative to the coast. But it could also announce their presence to the Chinese and pinpoint their location. Turning on the radar would indicate to the crew that the navigator didn’t have a good handle on their location, which would have been accurate, but he would rather not admit it. Being a new kid on the block, Lieutenant Kelly didn’t want to appear incompetent. For all those reasons, he did not ask for radar. He used dead reckoning plus a poor LORAN fix and hoped his guesses about wind speed and other variables were correct.

Kelly caught a break when they broke out of the storm and could see the surface about half an hour after making the turn. Bobbing lights indicated junks. There were other lights, too—not many, but enough to define the coastline’s outer islands. The outer islands were close, too close; they were almost on top of them. Lieutenant Kelly made a correction to shift their track out to twenty miles, the intended distance offshore. That established the hourly position report that was transmitted back to naval operations in a coded message.

The break in the turbulent weather lasted a short time. Commander Higgins soon announced over the intercom that they were approaching another batch of storms. Sharman was in the process of handing Bailey, the radar man, coffee in a paper cup when the next turbulence hit, and he spilled half the cup on some papers on Bailey’s desk. Bailey gave Sharman more than his normal surprised look, but since Sharman had his earphones on, which, combined with the plane’s noise, made normal conversation difficult, he let it go at that. Bailey slurped down the remaining coffee and went forward to relieve MacBee, who was manning the bow turret.

The crew continued to be jostled for another hour as the plane plowed through storm after storm. They had flown halfway through the Formosa Strait before the storms abated. They found clear sky above and low clouds below. Lieutenant Kelly continued the struggle to pinpoint their location. He had managed to get a couple of low-quality LORAN fixes from transmitters located in Taiwan but questioned their reliability. He decided to do a celestial fix, not a common practice in the flying navy and not his strong suit in any case, but it could be a way to authenticate his LORAN fixes. Unfortunately, the celestial fixes didn’t match the LORAN fixes. Lieutenant Kelly had to make a choice between two bad options and went with the LORAN fixes, based primarily on his lack of confidence in his celestial skills. Although different, both fixes shared one thing in common: they were running half an hour behind their expected schedule, which made the predawn schedule to clear the Shanghai area a little iffy.

Relieved that they had gotten through the turbulent weather, everyone fell into the rhythms of a routine patrol. Scarma, the flight mechanic, distributed box lunches and then relieved Sharman in the top turret. Sharman made yet another pot of coffee. Wellman swapped with Bailey in the bow turret, and MacBee took over the radio chores. The plane was controlled by auto pilot while the pilot and co-pilot worked on their box lunches and sipped on cups of the freshly made coffee. The navigator, still not happy with the plane’s track, continued to fuss over his maps.

Low clouds persisted as the flight approached the Shanghai area. They would break away from the coast and head for Okinawa soon after passing Shanghai, but not before they cut through the edge of the waters designated as part of the Korean War zone. Flying over water in a war zone allowed each crew member to earn a chit that added to the twenty-five needed to earn an air medal for such activities. Medals were important to career officers.

It had been a quiet night for Lieutenant Peterson, who oversaw the electronic eavesdropping activities in the back of the plane. Normally the patrol wouldn’t expect a lot of traffic in the ground they had covered, but things began picking up considerably as they approached Shanghai. The four technicians had been staring at mostly blank screens, kept alert in part by the rough weather they had been flying through. Now the screens were lighting up, as expected, and the barrage of electronic data had their full attention. In fact, the activity had picked up dramatically, and Lieutenant Peterson began to question what they were seeing. Something seemed strange. Lieutenant Peterson observed that a lot of the transmissions were coming from the east, which would be in the ocean. That wasn’t impossible. They had learned early on that among the clutter of junks that filled the sea along the China coast, some that at first looked like one of the many were upon closer inspection bristling with antennas and emitting like mad. But what Lieutenant Peterson was seeing now seemed too persistent and too widespread to be attributed entirely to junk noise.

Lieutenant Peterson got on the intercom. “Navigator, this is ER. We seem to be getting some unusual activity, and it doesn’t correlate with our position very well. Can you verify our position?”

Lieutenant Kelly saw this as an opportunity to get a radar fix and queried the pilot. “Commander Higgins, this is the navigator. Permission to turn on radar for quick verification of our position.”

Higgins replied, “Can’t you verify the position without radar?”

Lieutenant Kelly felt a need for further help from ER.

“ER, how important is your need for an accurate position right now?”

“This is ER. If you could see what we are seeing, you would want to know exactly where you are.”

Some people would describe Commander Higgins as a nervous Nelly. The tone of Lieutenant Peterson’s voice convinced him that turning on the radar would be a good idea.

Bailey fired up the radar. What Lieutenant Kelly observed took his breath away. The radar was set to read the surface below them for a range of fifty miles; Lieutenant Kelly could see nothing but land beneath the plane. They were at least fifty miles off track, somewhere northwest of Shanghai.

Lieutenant Kelly reported in an excited voice, “Pilot, we are off course and over land somewhere northwest of Shanghai!”

Commander Higgins had been tensing, but he wasn’t ready for what he heard. He instinctively pulled back on the yoke, like he wanted to gain some altitude fast. The plane grabbed for altitude but with the low power settings flopped into a shallow stall. The engines surged as the propellers sought more resistance.

Plane captain Sharman and second radio MacBee, who had been listening to the conversation, looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Sharman leaned over and poked MacBee. “Bet we are waking up a bunch of villagers down there.”

MacBee laughed. “Hope that’s all we are waking up.”

Commander Higgins came back on the intercom. “Navigator, give us a heading to get out of here, fast!” The navigator had apparently been thinking the same thing and immediately came back with a new heading. The plane banked sharply and headed toward the ocean and safety.

Another problem had become apparent. The flight was running behind schedule, and a hint of light toward the east announced the dawn of a new day.

Johnson, sitting in the tail turret listening to the intercom conversations, assessed the situation as he ate some chocolate he had saved from his box lunch. He checked to see that his twin twenty-millimeter cannons were ready if needed.

During the previous month one of the contingent’s four planes had been jumped while flying a ligament track near Shanghai, off the coast. Two MiGs had made a firing pass. The pilot put the plane into a power-off diving turn. The MiGs made two more firing passes, but the turning plane made a difficult target, and the MiG pilots were likely inexperienced. The plane did not suffer any damage. The tail gunner used up most of his twenty-millimeter stores, also with no apparent effect. That attack had occurred in the morning, near daybreak.

Johnson considered the circumstances. The Chinese didn’t have night fighter capabilities, but it had become light enough to launch daylight-capable fighter planes. Obviously, there were MiGs in the area; obviously radar had been tracking their lost flight. The chances of something bad happening were high. He began scanning the sky intently as visibility increased in the morning light. He told himself not to worry too much. If MiGs were around, they would make their presence known with guns blazing. Johnson’s thoughts were interrupted by something moving high almost directly behind the him. He shouted into the intercom, “Tail to crew, I have something twelve o’clock high! They are closing. Two MiGs!”

Points of light erupted from the lead plane. Johnson pointed his sight at the flashes and fired a long burst from his twin twenty-millimeter cannons. The MiGs swept by. None of the other turrets got a fix on them.

Commander Higgins seemed frozen in place. He had been getting acquainted with the P4M flight procedures, including the unique circumstances associated with the mission. Higgins had flown several orientation flights, but this was his first experience as pilot and commanding officer during an operational patrol flight.

Before Lieutenant Colby requested permission to take control of the aircraft; he had already begun to act. He put the plane into a shallow dive and cranked up the jets. Under normal circumstances the procedure would be to drop down low over the water, but because the plane wasn’t over water, Lieutenant Colby chose to dive into the cloud cover below them.

Radio always had an encoded attack message in a folder ready to send, and Lieutenant Colby ordered it sent. This would be followed by a position report supplied by the navigator. In this case, their position was slightly fudged to put them over water since they would be over water in a few minutes.

The cloud cover started breaking up about the time they reached the Yellow Sea. Lieutenant Colby took the plane down to three hundred feet above the surface to continue evasive action. The attackers hadn’t returned after the first pass, probably discouraged when the P4M dove into the clouds.

After half an hour with the jets and military power on, the plane was taken back to its normal altitude and normal flight settings. It proceeded toward the Okinawa destination. They didn’t have a choice—they couldn’t continue burning fuel at the current rate and make it to Okinawa.

Apparently, the attack hadn’t damaged the plane. Everything seemed to be working normally.

The plane’s conventional prop engines had been operating faithfully all night, and the stress of being under full military power hadn’t seemed to faze them. These engines were the most powerful and complex conventional engines the United States armed forces had ever put into service. Four banks of seven cylinders were ganged together to make a very powerful aircraft power plant that was also prone to reliability problems. A common problem with the engine involved the back-row cylinders fouling up. Once one of the cylinders stopped functioning it could become contagious and spread. These symptoms began to appear in the port engine. Power started to drop, and it became progressively worse. The crew members had experienced this kind of problem several times and so weren’t particularly concerned. Lieutenant Colby consulted with Sharman, and they agreed the engine had to be shut down and the prop feathered. The crew made the necessary adjustments. The port jet was put into service to help the starboard engine carry the load.

The weather system they had been flying through all night now dominated Okinawa. As they approached the Okinawa air traffic control boundaries, the starboard engine blew. It wasn’t the fouling problem experienced by the port engine. It was unexpected and unexplainable sudden failure. There hadn’t been a decision to shut it down; it had shut down with no permission from anyone. The condition of the aircraft became perilous as it started losing altitude. Colby still had control of the plane, and Commander Higgins gave no hint that he would be resuming command. For all intents and purposes, Commander Higgins had become a passenger sitting in the pilot’s seat. This was no longer an in-training patrol for Higgins.

The plane stabilized after the starboard jet came online. The crew’s faces reflected the change from easygoing camaraderie to serious concern about the plane’s survival. Wellman confirmed the location of his parachute, although bailing out over the ocean during a storm didn’t seem like a good idea. Ditching a plane in a body of water was a perilous undertaking in any case; ditching in an agitated ocean offered a nearly zero chance of success. Better that Lieutenant Colby land this thing on terra firma.

Once the plane had lost both conventional engines, it had no generators. It now depended on batteries for electrical power. Fuel was another major concern. They were nearing the end of the flight. Most of their fuel would normally have been consumed by this time. However, they had used the jets over China, and they were burning even more fuel now by using the jets. The navigator calculated that the fuel remaining left no margin for circling or staying in the air above the airport. They had to go straight in.

The crew turned off everything electrical not needed to fly the plane or communicate. They used Morse code to inform Okinawa air traffic control of their predicament. They were cleared for a straight-in approach to a Kadena airport runway. Weather conditions were described as deteriorating, and they would be using a ground control approach (GCA) for the landing. That meant that a person on the ground would talk the plane in for the landing. As they approached the Kadena airport, very high frequency (VHF) communications were established with the control tower and GCA.

They lined up for the approach and moved into the glide path. Because of the driving rain and heavy wind squalls, visibility varied from insignificant to zero. The crew could hear the GCA voice directions on the intercom. The voice started off calm and reassuring, but as they descended, the corrections—were they right or left, above or below the glide path? —came faster and more urgently. The plane bobbed like a cork on an agitated pond. The GCA controller talked fast and sounded frantic when he shouted that they were 350 feet below the glide path and ordered them to pull up and go around. The crew listened to all of this on the intercom. There was a lot of puckering. They knew their fate depended on the skill of Lieutenant Colby. Lieutenant Colby ignored the GCA voice and somehow brought the plane back to the glide path before he smacked the plane down hard on the runway. Lieutenant Colby’s usual landings weren’t noted for their smoothness, so the landing could be classified as near normal.

When the plane rolled to a stop, the jet engines idled for a few minutes before the starboard engine stopped running, followed shortly by the port jet. They had burned the last fuel on board the aircraft and were blocking the main Kadena runway.

The storm continued to rage with heavy wind, rain, and flashing lighting. Emergency vehicles and fire trucks filled the runway, but there were no tow tractors among them. Lieutenant Colby informed the control tower that the plane had no power and couldn’t taxi; it wouldn’t be moving off the runway until a tow tractor showed up.

After the rough but safe landing on Mother Earth, the crew’s anxiety dissipated. Abundant smiles and back slapping were occurring. They didn’t mind one bit that they were temporarily stranded on Kadena’s main runway in a rainstorm. Bailey, the radar man, asked Sharman what had happened to make the starboard engine quit the way it did. Sharman shrugged. “I hope everyone brought extra clothes, because if we have to change an engine, we’ll be here for a while.”

Finally, a tow tractor appeared. The driver and his helper, clothed in heavy rain gear, attached the tow bar and pulled the plane and crew to the parking spot where the local special project contingent waited in the pouring rain to greet them. Sharman dropped out of the plane, ducked under a wing to avoid the rain as much as possible, and supervised the chucking and tying-down process.

The contingent petty officer in charge approached him. He wore a poncho, and his face peeked out from under the hood. He asked the question that most concerned the men at the Okinawa outpost: “Hey, did you guys bring any mail?”

“You bet,” Sharman replied. “We have your mail.”

A year later Wellman, now a civilian making use of the GI Bill, checked his mail and found a letter from the US Navy.

It seemed that the navy had reviewed the events of the flight that got lost, was attacked by MiGs, and landed in a rainstorm with two engines out. The crew members had been awarded letters of commendation for meritorious achievement during aerial flight. In addition, Commander Higgins had been awarded a cluster to add to his air medal.

The way Wellman remembered it; their meritorious achievement involved surviving their own ineptitude. Somebody was sure gilding the lily, but he had to admit it had been one patrol that turned out to be less routine than most.

Photos shown on this page were taken by the author.

There was time for a little socializing

Wake me up when we get there

Addendum
The P4M-1Q, A Cold War Warrior

The P4M Mercator was a rare bird. There were two prototypes and nineteen production models. One of the production models, BuNo 121452, was lost in an accident in Chesapeake Bay on March 8, 1951. The other eighteen production models were converted to the P4M-1Q configuration to be used for the Electronic Reconnaissance mission.

From the 1950s through the 1970s when the Korean and Vietnam wars took place, the Cold War was at its peak. The peripheries of the communist nations were continually patrolled by United States Navy and Air Force aircraft. Sometimes these flights were intercepted, resulting in the deaths of two hundred navy and air force airmen in hostile actions. The public knew very little of this activity. As far as the United States government was concerned, it wasn’t happening, so it couldn’t protest if one of the reconnaissance aircraft that officially didn’t exist was attacked or shot down.

The website Intrusions, overflight, shoot downs and defections during the Cold War (http://myplace.frontier.com/~anneled/ColdWar.html) attempts to list all the documented intercepts. The author of “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol” has found the website’s list of intercepted intrusions and shoot downs voluminous but not complete. However, the site includes many pages and likely has listed most significant incidents. During 1952 and 1953, the period in which “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol” took place, there were thirty-two incidents of reported intercepts of aircraft flown by the United States and its allies near or within the borders of communist nations. Not many of these activities made the news; they were treated as top secret by the United States.

These numbers need to be put into perspective. During a two-year period starting in 1951 and ending in 1953, the author of “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol” flew on ninety-five patrols lasting approximately ten hours each. That is approximately fifty patrols a year. The four-plane contingent the author was associated with operated at about the same level and flew around two hundred patrols a year. That four-plane contingent was only a small portion of the overall reconnaissance activities occurring around the periphery of the communist nations at the time. In other words, the Electronic Reconnaissance experience was more boring than exciting. The most excitement occurred because of the weather or mechanical problems.

The author was aware of two intercepts involving the four-plane contingent while he was associated with it. One of the incidents has been listed in the Intrusions, overflight, shootdowns and defections website; the other one was not.

The one mentioned occurred April 23, 1953. US Navy plane BuNo 124369 was attacked by two MiG-15 Fagots while flying off the Chinese coast near Shanghai. The MiGs made several firing runs, and the crew of the P4M returned fire. The P4M was not hit, and as far as the crew could tell their return fire did not damage the MiGs.

A second incident is based on the excited talk of enlisted crew members who said they had been attacked by MiGs off Shanghai. The incident can’t be found in any literature the author has seen, nor did the author see or hear anything confirming the attack at the time it occurred. The only source of information the author had at the time was the word of enlisted crew members.

These two incidents occurred within a month or two of each other. What were other P4M crew’s reactions to this aggressive activity by the Chinese? The author can only speak for himself. One odd reaction, as he remembers it, was jealousy or envy of the crews that had experienced the attacks. “Why can’t our crew have a little excitement once in a while?” Of course, the ideal scenario would have MiGs making multiple passes and never hitting a thing. The reality was that a lone patrol plane attacked by MiGs far from any assistance would have the odds stacked against it.

The author did have an opportunity to send an “under attack” message while on a patrol along the west coast of Korea. It was a dark night, and the ether was filled with a barrage of electronic activity. Things can get spooky under those kinds of conditions. The officer overseeing the Electronic Reconnaissance surveillance in the back of the plane suddenly excitedly reported that fire control radar had locked onto the plane. The pilot ordered the author to send the “under attack” message by Morse code and diverted the plane from its planned route. Nothing came of the incident except a debriefing when we returned to Atsugi Naval Air Station in Japan. The crew wasn’t spouting off to anyone about how they had been attacked by a mysterious enemy on a dark night.

The author left the Sangley Point P4M contingent at the end of 1953, by which time it had been given the VQ1 squadron designation. In June 1955, VQ1 moved its operation to Iwakuni, Japan. While flying out of Iwakuni and Atsugi, VQ1 P4M-1Q aircraft were involved in two deadly intercept incidents. The first occurred August 22, 1956, when BuNo 124362 was attacked off Shanghai by Chinese MiG fighters. A Morse code message that they were under attack by enemy aircraft was received from the plane. That was the last message received from the plane. The crew of sixteen, four officers and twelve enlisted men, were lost. Search and rescue efforts recovered one body, and three more bodies were recovered later. The author saw a list of the crew members lost and knew one of the ER specialists who rode in the back of the plane. He had been part of the original P4M-1Q crews operating out of Sangley Point.

BuNo 124362 had also been involved in an attack a year earlier, as described by Jim Edison, the pilot. “I was the pilot of 124362 in the spring of 1955 when we were attacked about ten miles off Tsing Tau by two MiGs. It was a dark, clear night, and we were close enough to the airport to observe them take off and come straight at us. We did a power-off tight spiral to 300 feet while they fired 30 mm shells over the cockpit. Our tail gunner fired several hundred rounds in return. We kept turning under the MiGs and they appeared to lose track of us, and we departed at max speed, which was 385 knots. At the time, the Chinese were training in the MiGs, so that might explain their inability to press the attack. My aircraft, 124362, was later downed by the Chinese in 1956. I left the squadron a few months before that happened, and most of those lost were my crew. At that time, during those types of missions, we flew ten miles off the coast.”

Another incident occurred on June 16, 1959, when two North Korean MiG-17 Frescos attacked P4M-1Q BuNo 122209, patrolling at seven thousand feet thirty miles off the east coast of North Korea. Pilot of the P4M-1Q was Commander Don Mayer, and Lieutenant Commander Vincent Anania was co-pilot. The tail gunner, PO2/c Corder, manned the pair of twenty-millimeter cannons. The MiG-17s closed rapidly and showed astonishingly good aim on their first pass. PO2/c Corder never had a chance to defend the plane; the first attack scored extensive hits across the Mercator’s fuselage and wing. PO2/c Corder was hit badly, injured by over forty pieces of shrapnel that left him incapacitated. The P4M-1Q Mercator dropped down to just above the ocean. The MiGs came around, making more firing passes on the crippled plane. The engines on the starboard side were both disabled, and the rudder was badly damaged. The two port engines running at maximum power caused an asymmetric thrust, and the plane began to roll over. The mechanical controls were ill-suited to counteract the imbalance, and it took all the strength of the pilots keep the plane level. The MiGs made three firing passes before pulling up and turning back toward North Korea. The MiGs only had enough fuel capacity for short flights and likely broke off the attack in order to be able to return to their base.

The P4M-1Q had two engines out, a badly damaged rudder, and a fuselage and wing peppered with cannon rounds, but was still flying. It headed for the nearest friendly air facility in Japan, the Miho Air Force maintenance base. The plane made a successful landing at Miho. The wounded tail gunner survived. The P4M-1Q BuNo 122209 was determined to be unrepairable and was scrapped.

At the about the same time that the P4M-1Q contingent deployed to Sangley Point, another contingent of four P4M-1Q planes and their crews were deployed to NAS Port Lyautey, French Morocco. They patrolled European, Russian, and Iron Curtain borders to monitor electronic emissions.

As with the Far East contingent, there were likely many interesting unreported incidents during patrols of the Russian borders and countries under their control. However, none of the P4Ms were lost to adversarial actions. Two P4Ms were lost to other causes during the period they performed electronic monitoring in the European theater, one due to mechanical problems and the other to an accident.

On February 6, 1952, P4M-1Q BuNo 124371, staging out of Nicosia, Cyprus, was flying a track that took it to the Black Sea and along the coast of Ukraine. While over the Black Sea, the crew experienced a reciprocating engine failure and aborted the patrol. A jet was utilized to compensate for the lost engine as the plane headed back to Cyprus. Mountains over eight thousand feet high lay ahead. The jet couldn’t provide enough power to top the mountains, and the plane had to fly between the mountains on its return trip. The jet had also consumed more fuel than would normally be used. As they approached Cyprus, they ran out of fuel and made a dead-stick landing in high-sea conditions east of Cyprus. Fourteen of the fifteen men on board managed to launch a raft and get free of the plane. After the raft was launched, the aircraft commander returned to the plane for some reason and was lost. The other crew members were rescued by the British HMS Chevron after floating for several hours in the heavy sea that made it difficult to locate them.

On January 6, 1958, a VQ-2 P4M-1Q was being flown from Port Lyautey, Morocco, to Norfolk, Virginia, for the complete checkup required after accumulating a certain number of hours. Nearing its destination, the P4M crashed at Ocean View, Virginia. Four crewmen were killed and two survived. Three civilians were injured. The cause of the accident was never determined.

The P4M-1Q planes were withdrawn from service in 1960. Though their service life was short, they had contributed much to the nation in the early days of the Cold War. A total of eighteen P4Ms had been converted to the 1Q version for use in electronic surveillance warfare. Four of the P4M-1Q planes were lost, two after being attacked, one to mechanical problems, and the fourth to an accident.

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From Here and Back

Posted on 10/27/2019. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

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The story is told as seen through the eyes of a young man who grew up on a South Dakota farm and becomes a navigator on a B47 bomber. The story revolves around a mission being flown by the crew, a mission they are trained for but are reluctant to do. This story is fictional and created by the author. The description of the B47 operations and functions during a mission are fictional.

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From Here and Back

I’m the only son, only child of Issador and Janice Ilson. I heard my Pa wanted to give me a decent Swedish name like Gotfre, but my Ma insisted on naming me Erick. I’m glad she prevailed.

I cranked up the home-made tractor that my Pa “Issador had cobbled together and would use its power to drive a feed grinder that would grind a mixture of corn and oats to be used for feeding our chickens and pigs.  I started calling the homemade tractor the Ilson. The name stuck. The Ilson used a flat head 60 HP V8 Ford motor and a car chassis with a modified transmission geared down to give more traction and slower forward speed. The two back wheels were spaced seventy-two inches apart in order to straddle two rows of corn. There was a single front wheel.  The body of the Ilson was jacked up so a cultivator my Pa designed that fit between the front wheel and the back wheels could be used to cultivate hip high corn.

However, today I would be using the Ilson to grind grain. In order to have a means to transfer power to the grinder, the left rear wheel of the Ilson had a belt pulley attached to it. I drove the Ilson to a well-marked spot, rolled out a belt from the granary where one end of the belt was attached to the grinder pulley. I then loosened a sort of a kickstand attached to the axle near the left wheel. I started moving the Ilson forward and the left wheel raised off the ground, held up by the kickstand. The belt tightened and the Ilison’s left hind wheel turned freely. All Ilsons power was transferred to the spinning wheel and the grinder started turning. Grain began running out of two spouts from two overhead grain bins feeding corn and oats into the grinder. After the grain mixture reached a certain level in the grinder a prod sensor shut down the spouts down until the grain fell to a level in the grinder where the grain would flow again.

Meanwell the grain that had been ground fell out the bottom of the grinder where a conveyer carried it into a box of another machine my Pa had cobbled together. It was three wheeled also, with the front end being the front half a motorcycle my dad rescued from a junk yard to which he welded it to the back half of a car chassis and used an extended chain and clever gear box to get power to the rear wheels. This was our yard tractor. I called it the Runabout.

You may be getting the idea that my Pa was a tinkerer.  I always considered him something between that and a misplaced genius. He had immigrated from Sweden while in his teens. He was not the oldest son so there wouldn’t be a place for him on the Ilson ancestral farm and saw the United States as an opportunity to better his prospects. Issador worked as a farm hand in eastern South Dakota near Milbank and ended up marrying the farmer’s daughter, my Ma Janice. They inherited the farm at a fairly young age. 

Issadore learned to read and write in the Swedish language and had a propensity for numbers and was a tinkerer, always taking things apart and finding new uses for them. He picked up English quickly. He was eager to learn about all the new mechanical things he was seeing either in person or in pictures and so quickly learned to read as well as speak English. I knew he was not a particularly good farmer. He would get off on some project, taking something apart and making it into something different and loss track of what needed to be done on the farm.

A good example of that was when farmers started converting to using combines after World War Two. He found a farmer moving up to a large self-propelled combine and anxious to have someone take his small combine off his hands. It needed some work and Pa acquired it for fixing some problems the farmer had with a tractor.

The combine needed a tractor with a power take off to drive the combines operations. The Ilson didn’t have a power take off or the power to use it if it had one. That didn’t deter Pa. He had a VW air cooled motor in his junk yard that he had picked up somewhere. He would use it to power the combine. He would mount the motor on the combine and use the Ilison to pull the combine with its own motor through the fields.  

A problem with Pa’s plan was that both his oats and wheat were ready to harvest when he started this project. Pa had me swath the grain crops while he toiled with integrating the motor with the combine. Well, the grain lay swathed for a long time. It rained. By the time he got the combine and motor working most of the grain had spoiled. I didn’t say anything about it, neither did Ma. We both knew Pa had an incurable urge to tinker.

I was usually amazed with some to the things that Pa came up with, not that they worked well or worked better than anything out there, rather that they worked at all. I do have to admit he had more successes than outright failures.   

I went to the Milbank high school. At the time most farm kids didn’t go to high school. Not that the parents were against education. It was expensive. There was no busing for farm kids. The farmers were recovering from the Great Depression and a historic drought. During World War Two they were making money, finally, but they had a lot of catching up to do. However, Pa and Ma were both big fans of education. You wouldn’t think Pa would think like that since he had only spent four years inside a school room, but I think he was even more set on me going to high school than Ma was.   

So, I used to the Runabout to commute. A benefit from this was I would take the milk we accumulated in ten-gallon milk cans and drop them at the small cheese factory in Milbank before classes started. Pa hated those cows, but they provided a steady income our family needed. 

I did ok in high school, especially math. My math teacher, Miss Schwandt, said I should continue my education, go to college. Ma and Pa saw my grades, liked them but didn’t mention college for a good reason. Our family didn’t have the means to send me to college. Farmers had been doing well doing the war and since; but my Pa really wasn’t a farmer, he was a tinkerer. In the best of times we were just getting by.

Miss Schwandt wasn’t ready to concede. She came up with an idea. “At Brookings they have a ROTC, if you qualify you could have most of your expenses paid. I can get the forms you need.”

By Brookings she meant South Dakota State College, a college sixty miles south of Milbank. It was a popular college for students from the Milbank area to attend.  I knew they had an engineering major, which is what I would want so the idea appealed to me.  I thought it was nice of Miss Schwandt to want to help me and I told her so and that I would appreciate having her obtain the forms.

When I got the forms, I found they had both an army and air force ROTC at Brookings. I talked to my folks about the idea. Ma was in favor of the idea right away. Pa seemed to a little hesitant. I suppose he was hoping I would be helping on the farm after high school. It would allow him more time to tinker if I was around to do the work involved with farming. I had thought about that subject myself. What is my long-term goal? Did I have one? I pretty much knew I could partner with my Pa. If I really wanted to be a farmer that might not be a bad idea. I would have pretty much a free hand to do what I wanted with regards to farming if Pa was left with his tinkering. Did I want to be a farmer? That was a question I hadn’t figured out the answer to.

Pa, had listened without comment when I told them about the idea. “It’s not a sure thing,” I explained. “Not everyone that applies is accepted, there is a physical.”  Ma was sure I would be accepted and left no doubt and that she thought I should go for it. Finally, Pa opened with a little cough, “Erick,” he said, “If I had da chance you got, I vould yomp all over it. Can’t get too much education,  Dat much I know.

What would be the best to apply for, the army, the air force? In the army they mostly shoot people. In the air force they fly airplanes. The idea of flying airplanes seemed to fit studying engineering better than shooting people. I filled out the application for the Airforce ROTC.  

I received an acceptance before it was time to register for the fall quarter at South Dakota State. The physical was administered by our regular family doctor and was kind of a joke. The doctor said the main thing he checked is to see if you were too fat. “Your real physical will happen when you go on active duty.”

I had decided that I would go for a degree in mechanical engineering. It was the kind of engineering somewhat related to what Pa did when he was tinkering and something I could relate to since Pa would have me helping sometimes, like when he needed help moving heavy things like car motors from one place to another.

I found myself studying harder that I had ever studied before. I did get
“A’s” in my math courses but they were hard “A’s.” Fortunately the extra classes I had to take for ROTC were easy and the physical training and activity involved were good otherwise I would likely have been going downhill in those categories.  In the summer we would have two weeks of training at some air force facility. It got us familiar with some of the things the air force was doing. Upon graduating in June of 1961, I was commissioned as 2ndL in the United States Airforce with orders directing me to report to Offutt Airforce Base near Omaha Nebraska. 

When at Offutt I got a real physical checkup. I guess your physical would determine what kinds of things you would be able to do in the air force. If I got into something involving engineering, I would be happy.

After the physicals and a bunch of tests I was interviewed and was informed what I would be qualified to do. Physically I was qualified to take pilot training and was encouraged to go in that direction. I also learned that if I took pilot training it would be like signing up for a career. Most other skills paths only required two years active and two years in the reserves. Pilot training itself could be more than two years so you were obligated to serve more active time. I told the interviewer I wasn’t interested in being a pilot or a career in the air force and preferred to do engineering work with a contractor or in a lab, something like that.  

The interviewer seemed surprised, said most people he interviewed would give their left arm to be a pilot. He went on to mention they were looking for more than just pilots to be airmen. The active duty requirements for most non-pilot airmen required only two years of active duty. 

 “We are looking for men like yourself to man large numbers of SAC aircraft  coming off the line.” the interviewer said.

He almost made it sound like it would be my patriotic duty to do this. The interviewer identified a position he described and encouraged me to consider. It was a navigator/bombardier on a B47.  “As a navigator/bombardier on a B47 you would only have the two-year active duty obligation and you also would be getting flight pay.” 

The interviewer showed me pictures of the B47.  In one picture the plane was sitting in a flight line and another one of it flying. I had heard about the B47 but really knew little about the plane. The idea that I would be riding in one of them sharpened my interest and I really studied the pictures. When flying it was a beautiful looking flying machine, like a big fighter plane with six jet engines. Although beautiful, in another way it appeared ominous to me, like something evil.  

However, as a farm boy always wanting to please, I relented and agreed to take the training needed to be a navigator on a B47.  

Soon it seemed I was in a world of quick time. I was ordered to report to the Mather AFB, located near Sacramento California and six months later I was deemed able to perform the duties of a B47 navigator/bombardier and ordered back to Offutt Field and assigned to a wing stationed there.

When I reported back to Offutt after completing navigation training, I saw my first real life B47. It was more imposing than they looked in the photos. It looked unlike anything I had ever seen before, swept back wings that drooped when parked on the ground and flexed up seventeen feet at the wing tips when airborne. It was a fearsome looking, delicate flying machine designed to fly higher and faster than any anything that would oppose it in the air and high enough to be safe from ground-based weapons. It was developed to penetrate Russian airspace and deliver nuclear bombs during the early days of the Cold War.  Those goals, faster and higher than Russian fighters and out of the range of ground-based weapons had priority over durability, crew comfort, survivability or anything else you could think of. 

There only three crew members, pilot, copilot and navigator, a departure from World War Two when heavy bombers would often have nine or more crew members. The difference was a lack of armament. The B47 had two fifty caliber machine guns in the tail which was operated remotely by the copilot. The B47 depended on flying high and fast rather than armament in order to reach targets. The pilot and co-pilot sat in tandem and under a bubble type canopy. They had a good view of the surroundings, but the space was little cramped and reminiscent of a fighter plane cockpit.  My accommodations in the nose cone were more ample but there were no windows. I had a viewing screen which could monitor the outside world, but that is not the same an unrestricted view. Not that I needed to look out a window to navigate, but it would have been nice.

One thing that unnerved me at first was that in case of a bailout the navigator would be ejected down, not up. This required that the plane had to be at an altitude of at least five hundred feet before a downward ejection would work. Worse yet, in practice the downward ejection seemed to have problems at any altitude. After a while I got over worrying about it because I figured I would never have a reason to eject from the plane. That might have been illogical thinking, but it worked.

The crews were a team and would remain a team of three until some event like retirement from active duty or reassignment would cause changes. The crews tended to be young 1st and 2nd Lieutenants. The pilot on our plane was First Lieutenant Richard Douglas. He loved flying, and the air force, and planned to make a career out of it. He was young, not much older than I am, and this was his first aircraft. He thought he was the luckiest man alive to get to fly the B47. Second Lieutenant Bill VanVeen,  was the copilot and waiting to complete his air force active duty commitment so he could fly commercial. The B47 was not an ideal aircraft for commercial training because it was so different. I hoped his plans would work for him.  I was also a Second Lieutenant and the navigator.

When I reported for duty in the spring of 1961 the Strategic Air Force was on a high alert and had planes loaded and ready to take off on a mission to attack Russia.

Every third week the crews of the planes in section I was assigned to would spend the week in a building and area near where our plane sat on a hardstand. Three crews shared a building and it had everything needed accommodate the nine crew members for a week. A contractor furnished people to cook meals, wash cloths, make beds, clean. The crew members had training and information sessions and would fly one mission during the week. Otherwise did pretty much what we wanted except leave the building or immediate area for a week. I started reading and read more books than I ever had before. There was an exercise room, a hobby room with wood working, metal working which I messed around with, also ceramics, painting.

During that week our section of three planes would fly a mission. Soon after being alerted to take off on a mission the crews would sprint to their planes which were already being run up by ground crew members. Our three-man crew hardly had time to settle into our positions before we joined a line of nine planes fully loaded with fuel and nuclear weapons moving toward the runway. There was no hesitation, no calling the tower for permission to take off. When the first plane in the line reached the take off point on the runway it immediately started its takeoff run and with the assistance of JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) rockets was soon airborne. The following eight B47’s lined up and took off at sixteen second intervals after the first plane. We would be in the middle of the pack, that meant we would be taking off in the wake of the plane ahead of us and a lot of rough air. 

The mission would normally include a refueling over Alaska or north of Greenland. It would be considered a for-real mission to bomb some Russian target. We would have on board the orders to be opened after reaching a point of no return. If we weren’t recalled and ordered back to base and crossed the point of no return we would be on a for real mission with sealed orders to bomb a target designated in our orders.  We never had to open those orders and never expected to have to open them.

When not on alert we would get extended time off to make up for the one-week confinement in alert quarters and after that participate in training exercises and honing job skills. Things had changed since the since the B47 introduction into the air force in 1951. This included a Russian fighter plane and a ground missile that could reach the B47 when it flew at its service ceiling. So, we were being trained to fly low instead of high in order to limit RADAR detection and use a variable track in place of a strait in approach to the target.  When the target area was reached the plane would regain enough altitude to allow the nuclear weapon to detonate at its intended altitude and for plane to escape from being blown up. This change put a strain on the aircraft and on the pilot and navigator due a zig-zag approach and terrain avoidance maneuvers. These kind of activities kept us more than busy most of the time.

In the October of 1962 we started hearing about Russia establishing missile launch sites in Cuba. Airmen that I associated with didn’t get too excited about this news. We were always hearing about the Russia doing this or that and it sounded like another one of those cold war events that came up and then would fade away.

However, this time it seemed to be different. Soon after hearing about the missile launch sites the whole wing at Offutt went into alert status and everyone was confined to the base until further notice. All the aircraft rated ready to fly were loaded with nuclear weapons. Our three-plane section received orders to be ready to take off at 2:00 AM on October 22nd. This was also unusual. Normally there would be no warning, the klaxon would go off and we would race to get to the airplane and take off as fast as we could, like firemen responding to a fire.

Our three plane section joined six other aircraft and took off as scheduled at 2:00 AM and headed north. Normally we would be heading for Alaska or Greenland where we would rendezvous with tankers to refuel. However, this time we would fly almost straight north, north of Canadian territory and a little west of Ellesmere Island, almost to the north pole where we would refuel.  

Once we reached the Arctic region on these flights, I didn’t spend much time thinking of bailing out, or if the downward ejection system would work; it would be a fruitless type of thinking.

Navigating the leg from Offutt to the refueling destination wasn’t much of a challenging. I had LORAN (Long Range Navigation), radio direction finders, gyro compass and unlimited use of RADAR.

The crew was supplied with two C rations each and a thermos of coffee. On this mission the first C ration was breakfast. I usually didn’t eat the second ration but if I did it would be on the return to Offutt. There was very little variety in the C rations so if you ate one you knew what to expect after that.

Refueling was always an exciting part of a mission. No matter how many times it is done it never became routine. The flying boom method was used where we would fly a little lower and in back of the tanker. A combination lights and the tanker boom operator communicating with our pilot would get us in position where the flying probe would mate with our planes refueling coupling. During the refueling our plane had to maintain a position where the probe would stay connected.  Two planes flying hundreds of miles an hour connected together with a fueling prob and restricted freedom to maneuver can be a cause for anxiety. After the connection is made it didn’t take long for the refueling to be completed.

After the refueling was completed on the October 1962 flight we continued on course to complete the mission. I relaxed and waited for the recall that always occurred before we reached the point of no return

Richard, the plane’s pilot was also getting nervous. His voice came on the intercom, “How far to point of no return?”

“Twenty minutes,” I replied. Our track to the point of no return had taken us over the North Pole and we were heading south toward Russia.

Bill, the copilot chimed in, “This story isn’t following the script.”

The pilot agreed, “I have no desire to visit Russia this time of the year.” 

“Ten minutes to go,” I said.

“We could abort, engine problem,” the copilot suggested.  

“Everything Is purring,” the pilot replied.

“I Know, just suggesting,” the co-pilot replied, “Or just hoping.”

“Five Minutes,” I said.

By this time, I knew what would never happen was happening. School children were being taught what to do when this thing that would never happen, happened. People had become used to knowing that a nuclear war would likely be the end of human existence, but they also knew it would never happen. But this crew in this B47 knew it was about to happen.   

“Ok,” I said, “We’ve passed the point of no return. Time to check out our itinerary.” I had a package and the pilot had an identical package. It identified the target, the route to the target, procedure for flying the route to the target and releasing the device. The target was Moscow. It was our directions of how to end life on earth as we knew it. Strange how my mind started working on the details of how we would accomplish this.  

It would be up to our crew to follow the package directions and complete the mission. Everything was in our hands and our B47, a dot in the sky that could destroy a city. My first task would be to navigate the course to the target, no small task when flying low on a zig-zag course at night with only a gyro compass. We would be running silent, no radar, no radio transmissions, no running lights.

The pilot noted that the forecast was for clear sky when we hit the coastline of Russia.

“I appreciate the help” I replied to the pilot’s comment, “It will be dark but with a nearly full moon we will be able to navigate visually.” This would work well since we would be approaching the coast at five hundred feet above sea level and there was a range of low mountains along the coast.

The forecast was clear when we reach the Russian coastline, partial clouds two hundred miles in, rain, light drizzle over Moscow. We will reach Moscow at midnight.

We were at 35,000 feet but dropped to 500 feet as we entered the Barents Sea and approached the Russian mainland about a hundred miles east of Murmansk where an estuary joined the Barents and White Seas.  As predicted there was a  near full moon and we could visually navigate the narrow body of water connecting the Barents and White Seas.

“Man,” I exclaimed, “I don’t know how you could navigate that with instruments!

The co-pilot agreed, “Some of those hills on either side that narrow bit of water were more than five hundred feet by a quiet a bit.”

 The White Sea was a relatively small body of water but provided a path through a low mountains range near the coast to a flat terrain that bordered its southern shore.  We were told snoops continually search for and identify cracks in Russian border RADAR coverage and it seemed to work for us since we had easily penetrated Russian territory. When considering the immensity of the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republic) it would seem likely there could be some holes in the borders.

We were able to maintain our five-hundred-foot altitude over the flat dark terrain south of the White Sea. We took south westerly track after leaving the White Sea. This pointed us toward Leningrad. We would see a flickering light occasionally, but they were not massed lights like one would see in a village or city. Although it was dark, It was obvious that we weree flying over a lightly inhabited forest.  

There were no swarms of Mig fighters rising to intercept us. We seemed to be alone and unnoticed as we moved through Russian air space. There had to be other SAC bombers attacking but everything seemed peaceful and quiet.

We were flying under scattered clouds when we reached the coordinates where we changed our heading to a southeasterly direction. Those coordinates were based on my best estimates of wind direction and velocity, accuracy of our gyro compass and not much else. It would be nice to have a firm fix on our position before making the turn, but it was not necessary. Finding a bright shiny target as large as Moscow wouldn’t be difficult.

Our track now ran parallel to and about sixty miles to east of a busy highway that connected Leningrad and Moscow. The terrain continued to be flat and ideal for low altitude terrain avoiding flight. gave the mission planners a good grade for selecting ideal conditions for a terrain hugging flight.

There were now more scattered lights and the glow of numerous lights from villages and small towns. We were flying low without running lights so people might think we were a ghost ship in the ski when we flashed by.  Still know obvious defensive activity. This seemed to be easier than it should be.

We started encountering light rain and mist which would make our approach to Moscow more difficult to detect. I alerted the crew to the next course change to happen in half an hour, at 2245 Greenwich Meantime. At that time, we would   turn ninety degrees, a heading that would and put us over the Moscow in fifteen minutes. After the turn we climbed to twenty thousand feet, our drop altitude. As we climbed the copilot and I turned on interlocking switches that needed to be set to arm the nuclear device. After going through the sequence successfully, a red “ready” light lite up on both the copilots and my panel. After this was done only two things remained in order to complete the final arming of the nuclear device. When the device is dropped out of the bomb bay a small propeller device would begin rotating and satisfy one of the remaining arming requirements, the last one would be satisfied when the devise had reached the altitude it was supposed to detonate. The nuclear devise in the bomb bay was set to detonate at one thousand feet above the Moscow surface.

I pulled on my eye protection googles. The cloud cover provided no protection against the intense light and gamma rays that would be emitted when the weapon exploded. All this seemed so surreal.  

 We were above the cloud cover when we reached twenty thousand feet, but Moscow could be seen as a pale glow of light through the clouds, a big bullseye,  adequate since close is good enough when dealing with nuclear devices.  I gave the pilot a heading that would put us over the glow, opened the bomb bay doors, released the bomb to fall approximately in the middle of Moscow. I didn’t feel the lift experienced when an item that weighs ten thousand pounds is dropped from the plane.  

Neither did the pilot, whose voice came on the intercom, “What happened? I didn’t feel a release.”

I looked at my panel and could see the bomb-bay-door-open light was on. The bomb-bay-door should have closed after the devise was released. “Something is wrong” I answered. “Looks like the weapon didn’t release.”

I felt what seemed to be a tremendous load being lifted from my shoulders. We had followed our orders, carried them out successfully until the moment the bomb didn’t release and hundreds of thousands of humans were still alive. If there is a God, thank you.

“What to hell,” the pilot exclaimed, “We have a hot nuke on board,”

The co-pilot asked, “What’s the plan?”

During this conversation the plane continued the heading it had been on when the weapon was to be released. That was ok since that is what was planned, however not with the weapon still in the bomb bay. Further evidence that something was amiss, we had not experienced the bright light emitted when the weapon detonated and being buffeted by the shock waves being emitted. .

There had been a long pause after co-pilots question.  I was thinking, what would my Pa do. This was Pa’s kind of problem and he would have a solution, and one he could fix with the tools he had.

I attempted to set the altitude the nuclear weapon would activate from my weapon control panel, but it didn’t respond. The only thing now needed fully activate the nuclear weapon once it reached a thousand feet above the surface was a small rotating propeller that would complete the activation when the weapon fell away from the aircraft. I told the pilot to drop us down ten thousand feet and gave him a new heading.

 The pilot asked , “Heading to where, what about the lock and loaded nuke in the bomb bay?”

“We will have to take care of the bomb problem on the way to our destination, Incirlic Air Base in Turkey. W will drop down to ten thousand feet so we don’t have to work on our problem when pressurized, but not so far that the weapon could be activated. 

Anybody have a Swiss Army knife?” I asked.

The co-pilot replied, “Wouldn’t ever leave the house without one. Why?”

“Throw it down here,” I replied, “I want to cut a hole in the bulkhead between me and the bomb bay.”

I noted on my nav panel altimeter that Richard had started dropping down from twenty thousand feet. I could start working on breaking into the bomb bay without worrying about cabin pressure when or if I could do it.

I soon determined that the Swiss Army Knife saw couldn’t do the job. The gauge of the Aluminium was too heavy.  

I looked around my space. There was a bombsight mounted next to the navigators table. I noticed it was mounted on a base consisting of two aluminum bars about a foot long, four inches wide and half an inch thick. Philips head screws held the bombsight to Aluminum bars and the bars were held to the plane deck with more Philips head screws. The Swiss Army Knife had a Philips head screwdriver in its repertoire but that looked like a lot of screws for the fragile Swiss Army Knife to handle.  The bombsight was raised on a pedestal about a foot and a half high. Without giving it too much thought I sat down on the plane deck, braced my feet against the navigation table, put my arms around the bombsight and leaned back. One of the Aluminum bars pulled lose, still attached to the bombsight and while the other one stayed attached to the plane deck but detached from the bombsight. I found the screws attaching to the deck and to the bombsight had been loosened up and could be removed using the Swiss Army Knife. I had two heavy pieces of metal to work with.

I used one bar as a wedge and the other one as a hammer. I placed the end of the wedge bar next to a row of rivets and began pounding on the bar used as a wedge with the other bar being used as a hammer.

When I started pounding the pilot wanted to know what in hell I was doing. if I was destroying the aircraft.

I replied that I was trying to break a hole in the bulkhead to get a look at the weapon and then resumed my pounding. After pounding on the wedge bar for a long time I began to wonder if my arm or the aluminum bulkhead would give out first. Finally, a small crack opened in the bulkhead. Then by working on the small crack with the wedge bar I opened a hole large enough to push the wedge bar into it. I then used the wedge bar as a lever to peel back the aluminum far enough to put a hand through or see into the bomb-bay.

I reported to the crew that I had broken a hole large enough to see into the bomb-bay with a flashlight.

Using the flashlight I could see that the weapon tail end hung loose while the front end was being firmly held by the front hanger. Also the hanging tail kept the bomb-bay doors from closing.

The pilot asked what I was seeing, and I described the situation to him.

“How stable does the situation look?” The pilot asked.

“Hard to tell,” I replied. “If the nuke doesn’t fall free before I can reach it with one of my bar and mash the propeller it will be safe. I’m reaching with my bar now. OK, its well mashed up we should be safe. Drop us down to five hundred feet.”  

We were over the Ukraine’s nice flat terrain with few obstacles cruising at five hundred feet.  It continued to puzzle me why there was no  response from Soviet defense forces after flying thousands of miles through Russian airspace.  I mentioned this to the crew.

“Suits me” the co-pilot answered. “I had considered bombing Russia a suicide mission. “

“It is” I answered. “Assuming other planes are successful.”

The pilot agreed,  “Everything seems so quiet and peaceful, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

“Peace on earth, good will to all,” the co-pilot replied.

They reached the Black Sea and continued flying at five hundred feet over the water until they reached a position over international waters where they climbed to ten thousand feet and attempted to make contact on the air force communications network.  

The co-pilot handled the communications. He wasn’t getting any response to his calls to the Airforce base at Incirlic. He went to different frequencies. He tried Turkish airways.  Same result.

Finally he called me on the intercom. “Nav, could you look at our radios. We should be able to communicate with somebody. I’m not getting anyone. Something must be wrong.”  

I had gotten the reputation as the fix it guy in our crew. I could usually fix problems or figure out a way to work around them. Must have inherited some of my Pa’s tinkering ways.

The communications equipment rack was in a un-pressurized portion of the plane but accessible through a access cover which when removed put the planes transmitters and receivers within reach.

After removing the cover I asked the co-pilot to transmit something. There is a power output indicator on front of the transmitter, and it indicated a strong signal when the co-pilot was transmitting. There were two receivers that provided dual redundancy. One receiver had an obvious problem. It was cold, no power, the other one had power. There was a phone jack to connect directly into the receiver. I plugged my earphones into the receiver that had power. A functional receiver would have background noise, this one did not. Back to the other receiver, an obvious problem, a circuit breaker had been tripped. I reset the circuit breaker and I heard background noise. So much for dual redundancy. Both receivers were down for different reasons.

I called up the co-pilot on the intercom, “OK you should be able to communicate” I said.

The co-pilot was soon able to communicate with the Incirlic Airforce base and identified our plane. All of us in the plane were monitoring the conversation. There seemed to be some confusion at the other end, then a voice requested our planes identification again. Then asked for the origin of the of the plane’s  flight. Then it asked for the names of the crewmen.

The co-pilot supplied the information needed and then added that we had a hung nuclear device in the plane.  

There was a long pause in the communications and the pilot came on the intercom, “Do you think?”

I replied, “I do, we might have been recalled and never got the message”

“Damn,” the pilot replied.

Meanwhile the co-pilot who wore many hats, including fuel monitoring, had more good news and informed the pilot that we don’t have enough fuel to make Incerlic.”

About this time two F86 fighter plans appeared on our wing and were looking us over.

Incirlic finally came back and ask for more information.

The co-pilot described the nuclear device hang up and that we couldn’t close the bomb bay because one end of the device was hanging down and preventing closing and that we were running low on fuel and would not be able to reach Incerlic.

There was another long pause and then the voice said the plane could not land at Incirlic with a nuclear device hanging out of the bomb bay.

“Don’t worry,” the co-pilot replied, “We don’t have enough fuel to reach Incerlic, where in Turkey do you want to crash this thing. ” Erich appreciated the sarcasm, They had been flying for twenty hours and being reasonable was becoming difficult.

Incerlic must have gotten the message that the B47 with the hung nuclear device would be coming down in one form or another soon and it would be best if it didn’t happen in a random way. A message was received from Incerlic that a refueling plane was in the air and would soon be in contact with them.

We were approaching the northern coast of Turkey and Turkish airways asking for information. Incirlic interceded and got us cleared for an overfly. We soon made contact with the refueling aircraft and took on fuel.

As we were refueling, I was thinking I hadn’t eaten the second C ration, we had been flying for twenty hours and I wasn’t hungry or tired. We had been surviving on adrenaline for a long time.  It also occurred to me that I was a long way from that farm in South Dakota, in a different world about which I couldn’t talk about and probably wouldn’t want to talk about. Strange, I thought, things happen in one’s life for which you don’t expect, don’t plan for, are not prepared for but you go along with whatever it is , like pulling a lever to releases a nuclear weapon that would have killed hundreds of thousands of people, but for the grace of God who causes it to hang up. Humans are capable of pulling that lever as if it were normal part of a job.  I’m capable of doing that, why, how?  

After refueling Incirlic came up with directions on what to do about the bomb. They instructed us to drop the nuclear weapon off the coast in the Mediterranean near Incirlin in shallow water. .

The co-pilot’s voice sounded exasperated, “We can’t drop it, it is hung up.”

Incerlic said the other option was to ditch the plane in the the Mediterranean near the shore.

The pilot announced on the intercom that we would try the throw the bomb maneuver, something the Airforce had determined should not be done with the B47 because of the strain on its fragile wings. In this maneuver the plane would make a low approach to the target, then pull up steeply and release the bomb when there was a strong gravitation force that would throw the bomb clear of the aircraft. It might work if the plane didn’t fall apart.

We made fast decent to near sea level, picked a lot of airspeed, the pilot pulled back sharply and we shot up pulling a lot G’s which if that didn’t break the nuke lose nothing would. Suddenly the plane began to role, the pilot screamed into the intercom, bail out, we’ve lost a wing!

 I had no choice but to use the unreliable downward ejecting system. I didn’t hesitate, pulled the lever and found myself thrown from the spinning aircraft We were over a thousand feet when the plane broke apart, plenty of time for my chute to open before I hit the water. I saw two other chutes floating down and we all hit the water at about the same time. I got my life jacket inflated and untangled from my chute by the time I was picked up by one of several boats that had been dispatched to the area to respond to whatever occurred.

It took about half an hour for the boat to get us back to a landing where an ambulance met us. By this time, I was feeling the effects of not sleeping for twenty-four hours, having only eaten one C ration during that time and spending over twenty of those hours flying under stressful conditions. A meal and a bed were at the top of my list of things to do. It was not to be. We had our clothing removed, showered, found to be tired, but healthy by the medics. We were given clean uniforms, then we were interviewed by three serious looking Airforce officers. Yes, we had flown through the full width of Russia, prevented from nuking Moscow by a malfunctioning bomb release. We were following Airforce procedures. We had not been recalled from completing the mission, opened our on-board sealed orders and proceeded to carry out those orders. And yes, we had determined that neither of the redundant receivers were functioning when we tried to contact Incirlic Airforce Base.

After completing the interview one of the officers doing the interview, a colonel, reminded us that we all had top secret clearances and that we were aware that we did not divulge information about our missions to anyone unauthorized to know about them and particularly this mission you have just completed.

It seems that two counter balancing failures May have prevented an all-out nuclear war from occurring.  

As far as I know, the Russians may never have known about the almost nuking of Moscow.  If they had they may have suppressed the information, not wanting to admit to the Russian people that a US military aircraft had penetrated Russian airspace and flew undetected across the breath of the country.  

As for myself I returned to Pa’s farm after completing my active duty obligation. We built a state-of-the-art machine shop, and started a company called Original Design. We did custom design work mostly for the agricultural machine manufacturers but also the auto industry. We didn’t do manufacturing but did do protypes and proofing and testing of concepts. We trained some South Dakota farm kids to be become skilled mechanical craftsmen who built and tested prototypes. We also hired an electrical engineer and a couple of technicians as we incorporated electrical and electronic features into our designs. I introduced my Pa to the concept of patents, and we had  a lawyer that spent most of his time in researching, filing and protecting patents we generated.

I never talked to anyone about the missions I flew in the Airforce, and particularly not about where a receiver failure caused the crew to overfly Russia and would have dropped a nuclear bomb on Moscow except that another failure caused the bomb to hang up. I look around our neighborhood which has not changed much during my entire life and think, thank God for failures.

Copyright © 2019 by Alfred Wellnitz

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

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A Short Story: Making the Numbers Work

Posted on 08/01/2018. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

I have written many short stories and now plan to put some of them together to publish a printed and eBook version of a book of short stories. Below is a short story to be included in a book of cold war short stories. This is considered to be a draft and any comments, note of errors would be appreciated.

Jim Fowler settled down in his corner office with his first vendor machine cup of coffee. The coffee was pretty bad but the only alternative would be bringing a thermos. The corner office with a door represented a measure of his success as a longtime employee of the Data Control Corporation, commonly known as DCC. It took a while, over twenty years to reach this position. Fowler started out as a mechanical design engineer and was finally put in charge of all program management for all space systems programs. DCC had a reputation for highly reliable, light weight, miniature sized yet capable computers for use in space for its government customers. Business had been good with President Reagan promoting his Star Wars missile defense system but that could change since the Berlin Wall had come down a month previously.

There had been a lot of pressure with the job and Jim attributed the stress to his overweight condition and loss of hair. Jim had thought about doing some exercise, maybe jogging. Trouble is he should lose some weight before he tried jogging. It was one of those chicken and egg things. There wasn’t much that could be done about the growing bald spot on the crown of his head. Combing what hair he had over the bald spot wasn’t much of an improvement.

Despite the pressure Jim liked his position, head of program management in Space Systems programs with staff of a half a dozen working on proposals, program budgets, scheduling and four program managers in charge of seven multimillion dollar programs between them. He was making more money and wielded more power than he ever would have had as a design engineer and thought he had a talent for the job. He had a reputation as a good negotiator, was liked by customers who were prime contractors for the most part like Lockheed and Boeing. He also became known as a demanding kick ass type by his program and department managers that supplied the engineers, technicians, assemblers and support people that worked on the programs. Like most of the DCC management, his background and training had been technical, not people oriented. As a result the company depended on self-trained or gifts from God type managers for the most part. Jim suspected he had been born with above average management skills.

Jim’s phone rang. He hesitated to answer it. He suspected it might be Gerald Blackstone, director of the Government Systems Division calling about an overrun on the Eagle One program that showed up in the last monthly financial report.

Gerald growled “Good morning Jim.” To Jim, Gerald’s voice didn’t sound like it was going to be a good morning.

Gerald continued, “Say Jim, that Eagle One program is over budget, behind schedule. What are you doing to fix it?”

What Jim heard wasn’t any news to him and shouldn’t be any news to Gerald Blackstone. Alex Jorden, the program manager that prepared the Eagle One proposal had instructed all of the departments doing the estimating to bid it skinny. The procurement would be fixed price and competitive. A potential for follow on programs added value to the current procurement.  The systems use would be for surveillance, something not likely to be cut during defense spending cuts. Last but not least, the division backlog had been shrinking and without new business there would be headcount reductions.

Alex had negotiated and cajoled the department managers to cut the bid to the bone and then division management cut the low ball estimates by twenty percent. They were rolling the dice, betting that other division programs could make up any Eagle One losses so the division would be able to post an acceptable profit and level of business during the coming year. Now division management wanted to know why the program was running over budget. This was likely due in part because other programs weren’t taking up the slake and division profit margins were suffering. As a result, division management was under critical scrutiny by corporate management. Jim hesitated to answer, he didn’t want to say what he was thinking; which was, you dumb asses, what were you expecting?

“Hello, anybody there?” Gerald asked after waiting a while for an answer.

Jim faked a small cough to let Gerald know he was still on the line. He was trying to think of ways to stall or dodge the question. No doubt Gerald Blackstone was under pressure from corporate to show a division year end profit to be rolled into the corporate annual report. Jim began fabricating an answer to Gerald’s question. “We are working the problem,” he said without going into any detail. “I’ll have a work around plan on your desk Monday morning.”

After discussing a number of issues on other programs Gerald signed off reminding Jim he looked forward to seeing the work around plan on Monday.

Jim rocked back in his desk chair and stared at the ceiling after hanging up the phone. He didn’t want to work this weekend on the “Plan.” For one thing it seemed to be an exercise in futility and the other thing is that he had better things planned for the week end.  He dialed Alex Jorden’s office located several doors down the hall. “Alex, you got a minute or an hour or so to talk about the Eagle One program?”

At the time Jim called, Alex Jorden manager of the Eagle One program, was in the middle of preparing the customer Eagle One monthly progress report. It was good timing for him and he grabbed a couple Eagle One binders and headed for Jim’s office.

Alex had a boyish face with a full head of hair that made him look young for a man about to turn fifty. A lot of activities with his two sons, nine and eleven, helped him stay in shape. Alex like most managers in the company had technical backgrounds. Trained as an electrical engineer, he loved design and was good at it. Like many good design engineers, he had been awarded by making him a manager of other engineers. It took Alex some time to realize he didn’t like managing people, particularly egotistical engineers.

The problem with leaving management and going back to computer design was that technology evolved at a fast pace at the design level and a person away for couple of years could become obsolete. Transistors were packaged individually in cans when he was designing, now they put thousands on a microchip. Instead of doing logic at the transistor level they were doing it at the microchip level. Sure, he could do it but it would be like starting over.  He worked around the problem by going into program management where he had to understand the nature of the technology changes but not the nitty gritty of implementing them. In program management he didn’t manage people, he managed things, like proposals, budgets, schedules and was the primary interface with the customer. He could handle that.

Jim waved Alex to sit at a side table where they could spread out program data. “Here’s the problem,” Jim said as an introduction to what they had to do today. “Division management wants to know why Eagle One is overrunning its budget. Apparently, they don’t want us to tell them what they already know. We bought the program, an investment that will pay off someday in the murky future. Apparently corporate wants the division contracts to pay off today, to hell with the murky future. So, all we have to do is come up with a plan to show how we can make a profit from a contract we bought with a bid that we estimated would twenty percent less than cost. How do we do that?

Alex looked at Jim, “Are they serious?”

“We are supposed to come up with a work around plan by Monday morning.”

“We can give them the plan this afternoon,” Alex replied. “It’ll be a note that says it can’t be done. We have technical problems we don’t even know how to solve. A twenty percent overrun could be a low-ball estimate. I’m hardly charging the program. I keep haggling the department managers to keep the cost down. We have put as much pressure on the vendors as the law allows. Some of the vendors are betting on the follow on, just like us.”

Jim, who had been scanning a print out of charges on the Eagle One program looked up, “That’s interesting,” He said.

Alex wanted to know what’s interesting.

“Are you doing any work on Eagle One?” Jim replied. “Don’t look like you are charging hardly any time to it.”

“You know time is charged to what you are working on, a program, a proposal, overhead if you are on vacation, sick-leave.”

“So you don’t spend much time on Eagle One?”

Alex didn’t like where the conversation had gone. Mischarging on government contracts was a no no which could result in heavy penalties for the company and individuals. Alex managed two phases of the Eagle One program; one phase a fixed price contract to develop of a new computer, and a related but separate cost-plus program to manufacture a dozen satellite computers of previous design for use in a NSA program. The production program had been negotiated a year earlier as a none-competitive cost-plus contract. The government had little leverage as no other suppliers had the technology or the interest in competing for the business. As a result, DCC Space Systems loaded up the contract which the prime contractor was only able to negotiate out some the most egregious charges. The result had been a contract with a lot of padding and Jim knew damn well what Alex had been doing.

Alex didn’t answer the question but Jim answered it for him. “Hey,” Jim said, “It’s no big deal; we all fudge project funds given an opportunity and need. Maybe that’s a solution, doing something like this on a bigger scale.

What Jim had just said scared Alex. “What are you saying?” Alex asked, hoping maybe he had misunderstood Jim.

“Well you have two programs, one that is starving and the other one is fat. Same prime customer, same government agency, you just balance things out between the two of them.”

Alex was aware of those kinds of shenanigans went on with cost plus programs where there were two contracts within the same program and two buckets of money and how you filled them didn’t make much difference in the big picture as long as they didn’t overflow. Two programs, one program cost plus and the other fixed price is a different story. People get fired, companies get fined and get a black mark when those kinds of things are mixed together. Alex had over twenty years invested in DCC and didn’t want to risk it in order to make management happy. He pointed out these obvious problems to Jim.

Jim wasn’t impressed. “There’s more than one way to get fired,” he replied. “The quickest way is to mismanage your programs. If you are given an impossible program to manage you have to figure out how to manage it. I’m in the same line of fire as you are. I see a way to fix the problem and everyone will be happy and none the wiser.”

Ales felt the pressure. Jim evaluated Alex’s performance in the annual reviews and made salary recommendations. These evaluations went into his file and stayed there forever. A bad evaluation in his record could affect his future in DCC in a bad way. Besides Alex was not sure how they could accomplish what Jim implied. How could they manage the time card information?  Alex couldn’t think of a shuttle way to ask Jim how the manipulation of time card information would be accomplished so laid it out on the table. “How do you intend to modify the time cards?” He asked.

“Hey Alex, as far as we are concerned, this conversation never took place. I expect you will work out the details and I don’t want to know how it’s done.” He said they had accomplished what they needed to do in the meeting and Alex should get busy working on the plan to be completed by Monday.

Alex felt a migraine headache coming on after leaving Jim’s office. Alex had been looking forward to a weekend of canoeing with his two sons. They would be canoeing on a nearby river, leaving Saturday, camping overnight and returning Sunday evening. Now he had this problem hanging over his head, an impossible problem to be solved in any legitimate way.

Alex hadn’t been asked if he agreed with the scheme Jim had come up with. Jim had decided what to do and told Alex to do it. This was Jim’s style. So, Alex knew he would be in trouble with Jim if he didn’t do as directed, and he would be in trouble with the customer if they found out what was going on. There were no good scenarios.

Alex  went on the canoe trip with his two boys as planned and he decided he wouldn’t let his work problems spoil the canoe trip for the boys. The first day they were going down river with the current helping them. They stopped often observed the rivers wildlife. They caught a couple nice walleyes that they roasted on a fire for a shore dinner that evening. They did some more fishing from shore that night and caught a few small sunfish that they returned to the river. They got into their sleeping bags early because they would be paddling upstream to return to their put in spot the following day. The following day they didn’t take many breaks as they worked against the current. It was a day devoted to rowing. The boys took turns rowing the bow position. It was evening by the time they had made it back and tied the canoe onto the cars luggage rack. While driving home Alex felt exhausted but felt that he had done a good days work. The boys were also exhausted and were soon sleeping in odd positions in the car.

 

In addition to having a fun weekend with his boys, Alex had worked out a plan in his mind to satisfy Jim’s order to fix the Eagle One program.

The scheme Alex concocted involved collecting time cards on Friday that would be turned in by noon. He would then close the door to his office and select cards to be modified and replace them with time cards that had been altered. He would forge the employee’s signature on the altered card by looking at the real signature and duplicating it as best he could. He had tried to think of better ways to do it but using white out or cross outs would obviously be spotted.

In addition, Alex decided during the canoe trip that he would begin looking for a new job. The twenty plus years he had invested in DCC had lost its importance after the time card meeting with Jim.

He found the defense business job market had tightened. The USSR was collapsing, the cold war ending and technology people exiting the defense business were crowding the rest of the technology world. Alex spent a month chasing leads, contacting every local business that might need his skills. He didn’t want to move out of the area. He and his family had put down roots that would be hard to extract.

A month went by and the next Eagle One budget report showed remarkable improvement. Jim congratulated Alex on how he had managed to improve the program performance

Alex began calling former associates who had left DCC recently to find out what they were doing and if they knew of any opportunities.

He called Frank Dawkins, a sharper than average engineer who had been lured away from DCC by a startup. Alex found that Frank had left the start up after three months.

“They didn’t know what to hell they were doing,” Frank said. “So, I decided to start my own company. Have you heard about a thing called the internet? It’s starting to go commercial. I’m looking for C ++ coders. Know any?”

Alex said he didn’t know C ++ but was looking for work.

“What happened with DCC?” Frank asked.

“Short story,” Alex replied, “Still working but looking to leave.”

“Hell Alex, you used to do Fortran, you can learn C++ like nothing. But you know I can’t pay you like a Program Manager at DCC and you will be digging in the nitty gritty.”

Frank went on to describe what they were doing with the internet and seemed to get more excited as he talked. The idea began to appeal to Alex, and he liked the nitty gritty. It wouldn’t be hardware but programming was the same kind of thing. “The idea is appealing,” Alex admitted. “I can handle a pay cut as long as it doesn’t last forever. How about some stock in your little enterprise in lieu of a big salary?”

Frank laughed, “All our professional people have gotten stock, don’t cost the bottom line anything and we can all get rich together.”

They agreed to meet the next day and talk some more. As a result, Alex signed on for a substantial cut in the salary he made at DCC and twenty thousand shares of the new company’s stock.

The next morning Alex gave Jim the required two week notice that he would be leaving the company. Jim looked shocked. “You can’t do that,” he yelled. “You know damn well you can’t do that.”

“I did it,” Alex admitted.

“Stay another year; you’ll get the best raise you ever had.”

“If you’re worried about the time cards I’ll brief you on the process. I’ll help you with it for the next two weeks.”

“Dammit, you know I can’t assign another manager to either program. I’ll have to manage them myself. That’s not going to work. I’ll get you a promotion.”

Alex had been focused on his own problems associated with leaving DCC and hadn’t lost much sleep worrying about the problems he might be causing Jim. But being made aware of some of Jim’s problems wasn’t giving him any heart burn either. He made his best effort to sound sympathetic to Jim’s concerns while suppressing a satisfied smile.

 

Alex soon became immersed in his work in Franks new company and it didn’t take him long to realize the thing called the internet would be transforming the communications world. Franks little company was growing as fast as it could hire engineers, programmers and staff. The stock that had no value when Alex joined the company six months previously now traded on the local market at ten dollars a share.

Through contacts Alex maintained with former DCC associates he learned the government was doing an audit of the Eagle One program, an event that only occurred when something really caught the government’s attention. A couple of months later Alex had lunch with an engineer he had worked with at DCC. The engineer said Jim had suddenly left the company and whole division had been shaken up with a number of directors being replaced. He heard that Jim had been manipulating time cards. “Can you imagine anyone being so dumb?”

Alex shook his head, “Ya, I can imagine it.”

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

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A DIVERSION

Posted on 02/16/2016. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

PMB Mariner - WWII American flying boat

Martin Mariner flying boat in flight. U.S. Government photo.

A Diversion is a fictional short story that describes an incident where two marines assigned to the security contingent for the Sangley Point Navy Air Station were involved. It happened during the time the United States Marines in Korea were heavily engaged with the enemy in a number of crucial battles. The story describes what some marines far from the battlefields were doing while the war went on in Korea.

A Diversion

 By

Alfred Wellnitz

 

 

Pete  and Tony, two PFC Marines, had been part of a base security contingent stationed at the US Navy Air Station Sangley Point in the Philippines for the past five months. Pete and Tony had completed boot camp in San Diego two weeks before the North Korans had invaded South Korea and the Cold War suddenly turned hot. Soon after that the United States Marines hastily putting together the First Provisional Brigade to send to Korea. By the fickle finger of fate Pete and Tony ended up at Sangley Point doing guard duty rather than shipping off to Korea as part of the First Provisional Brigade.

Pete and Tony was an odd pair; Pete a six foot two, blond, blue eyed farm boy from South Dakota and Tony, a ruddy first generation Mexican American who called San Diego California his home town. Both had just turned twenty and full of testosterone. They weren’t friends in boot camp but became close friends after arriving together in the Philippines. For Pete, Tony’s Spanish was a plus because it gave them an in with the mestiza women in Manila.

Pete and Tony followed news about the Marines in Korea who fought battles to hold the Pusan parameter, then led the landings at Inchon and were now in the mountains in North Korea fighting the Chinese.

Pete had mixed fillings about their situation as part of the security at the Sangley Point Air Station. He had enlisted in the marines with a neighbor farm boy, Chris, who ended up in the First Provisional Brigade. He had told Tony that sometimes he wished he was with Chris, fighting in Korea like a real Marine.

“Are you crazy?” Tony wanted to know. “Got maybe the best job in the Marines and you want to be in Korea.”

“Ya, doing things like real marines do.”

“Well real marines do guard duty, drink lots cold beer and get hustled by women in Cavity and Manila” Tony argued. “I like what we’re doing, we get back to the states and they aren’t going to know if you been to Korea or doing guard duty at Sangley Point.”

“Ya, but I’ll know”

“Hey, you’ll get over it.”

“Besides it gets kinda boring,” Pete added, “after a month or two.”

“Better to be bored than shot at.”

 

A couple of weeks later Pete and Tony had agreed to meet that afternoon in the  enlisted men’s club when Pete finished his main gate watch. They decided to go to the patio at the back of the club where they would be in the shade that time of the day and drink a cool frosted mug of San Michaels beer.

The patio projected out over the bay and provided a view of the workings of the sea plane base that was part of the Sangley Point Navy Air Station. Sangley Point also had a runway to handle land based planes. Land based and seaplane patrol planes based in the west coast of the United States rotated in and out of Sangley point on six month tours. There were four other land-based patrol planes parked in a restricted area at Sangley that didn’t rotate. They had their own guards and were involved in some secret activity. Base personnel had started calling the secret outfit the 50-footers because of a rumor that if you got closer than within fifty feet of their area, they would shoot you.

While Pete and Tony drank their beer a lumbering seaplane moved to a takeoff position. They watched the seaplane for a while as it sat in the bay like a half-submerged turtle. Pete said that the navy called it a PBM.

“Bet that thing can’t fly,” Tony surmised.

“We see them flying all the time.”

Tony agreed, “I know.”

The plane finally got itself lined up for takeoff.

Pete and Tony could hear the two engines roar and half submerged plane started moving slowly through the water. It gathered speed and the plane rose up and started planing through the water like a high speed motor boat and the ugly duckling was soon flying.

“I’ll be dammed, it does fly,” Tony admitted.

Two days later a rumor circulated that a PBM had run into a mountain on Bataan Peninsula during a rain storm. A few days later at muster they were asking for volunteers to go up the mountain and pick up the remains. Anyone interested, let your platoon sergeant know.

As soon as muster had finished Pete collard Tony and said he was going to volunteer and wanted to know if Tony wanted to go.

“Are you nuts,” Tony asked. “The remains will have lain in the tropic heat over a week by the time we get there. Don’t think so.”

“It’ll be a break from the old routine.”

“And then some. OK,” Tony replied, “I’m easy, let’s get it out or your system.”

Pete and Tony learned that their platoon sergeant, Sergeant Klowoski would be the senior non-commissioned marine on the crash site team going to Bataan and would be in charge of the marine contingent. He gave the marine contingent the details of their task. “Officer in charge of the operation will be LTCD Richards, the PBM squadron executive officer. Two navy crash site investigators will be part of the team and two navy corpsmen. The corpsmen will help identify victims and put the pieces together. This won’t be a picnic. Six Philippine army soldiers that know the terrain and environment will also come with us. The Philippine soldiers will carry their weapons. Everyone else will carry a sidearm. Don’t expect to run into any Huks, but could run into some aggressive scavengers. We’ll sail on a LCU, Landing Craft Utility,  to get close to the site. There’re no roads. It’s estimated we will have to cut through a couple of miles of jungle from the nearest good beaching site. We’ll use the LCU as a command center. There is a lot of room on the LCU but limited accommodations. It can haul tanks and over a hundred men, but it isn’t a hotel. Any questions?”

Tony asked, “How long is this going to take?”

“Getting ready, the job itself, and then cleaning up is expected to take about a week.”

“Will we be spending nights in the jungle or on the boat?” someone asked.

“Both,” the sergeant replied. “We won’t be returning to the LCU to sleep. If we are at the boat at the end of the day, we’ll sleep there. If we are in the jungle, we’ll sleep there.”

“How do we get the remains out?” someone else asked.

“In body bags carried by two men on a stretcher.”

“Won’t that be kinda heavy, down the mountain?”

“The doctors say most of the body fluids will be gone, animals will most likely have consumed some of the remains, shouldn’t be too heavy.”

Pete began to feel queasy just thinking about it.

 

The crash site team boarded the LCU on Friday. While they waited to get underway, Pete and Tony visited with Sergeant Klowoski.

“My normal tour for this place is up in three months,” Klowoski said. “The way things are going up north, could be sooner. The First Division is getting pretty beat up in the Chosin Reservoir. Can you imagine fighting when the temperature is minus forty degrees? Jesus. War is hell in decent weather. You can thank your lucky asses you are in the Philippines living the good life.”

The conversation steered Pete’s mind to Chris, his South Dakota buddy. Very likely Chris was in the middle of those hellish conditions. God, Pete thought, boredom is my biggest problem.

After two hours of cruising, the LCU reached the entrance to Manila Bay and passed between the tip of the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island. They cruised along the west coast of the Bataan Peninsula for another two hours until they reached a place near the crash site. They pushed up to the beach and prepared to spend the night on the landing craft. It had started to rain, so the team rigged up a tarpaulin on the back half of the open deck to shelter their sleeping cots.

In the morning Pete, Tony, and the rest of the team headed into the jungle to make their way to the crash site. They were loaded down with everything they would need to live in the jungle while they worked at the site. Their gear included shelters, rain wear, and water and food for three days in addition to eleven body bags, six rolled-up stretchers, and gear to be used for extracting body parts from the wreckage.

The two-tiered jungle consisted of a high canopy which grew above thick, almost impenetrable undergrowth. Five marines at a time were set to work with machetes in half-hour shifts to hack a path through the undergrowth. When a team started a shift, they slipped off their heavy packs and took the machetes from the marines who had the previous shift. Pete, familiar with hard work, had no doubts that he could handle cutting a path through the jungle with a machete. Since age sixteen, he had been throwing around feed sacks weighing a hundred pounds and pitching heavy bundles of grain during threshing season in the hottest part of the South Dakota summer.

After only a short time of chopping the undergrowth, Pete’s T-shirt became soaked with sweat. Every whack of the machete raised a swarm of biting insects. The thickness of the jungle prevented any breeze that might help relieve the stifling heat. Pete and Tony weren’t doing much talking, saving their energy for the work at hand. About halfway through their shift, they came upon some unnatural mounds and holes in their path. “You know what?” Pete said between deep breaths as he worked. “These must be World War II earthworks. The Americans and Filipinos fought the Japanese in this stinking jungle for about three months at the start of the war.”

“You think so?” Tony answered. “Can you imagine fighting in a place like this? Didn’t take long for the jungle to cover it up.”

Pete did the math. “’Bout nine years,” he said.

After finishing their shift the team walked back down the path they had cleared to retrieve their packs. Tony recounted all of the reasons it had been such a mean job, including that they were working on a steep incline.

Pete agreed. “The hills I know go up and down, not up and up. How high you think this hill is?”

“Mountain,” Tony replied. “This is a mountain, not one of those South Dakota hills you’re used to. I think I heard its two thousand feet high. I’ve been on mountains higher than this in Mexico that were a lot easier to climb. No jungle, just rock and sagebrush. The plane crashed about halfway up the side of this mountain.”

Pete speculated that the plane didn’t know where they were. “They should have known they were flying lower than some of the hills around here.”

“Mountains,” Tony corrected. “I heard they had lost an engine and were flying in a rainstorm. I talked to an airman at the EM Club, said a mountain can make a big shadow on radar, looks like water. They could have thought the mountain was the entry to Manila Bay.”

“Could be” Pete acknowledged. “Could have died before they knew they had a problem.”

By the time the team took a noon break, they were more than half the distance to the crash site. The party opened C-rations for lunch but had little time to relax. After half an hour, Sergeant Klowoski put the next team of trail-breakers to work. “We need to get to the site in time to set up camp before dark,” he said. “Tomorrow we’ll get started on the job we’re here to do.” That afternoon the usual tropical shower developed, and the men donned rain gear and kept going. They arrived at the site of the crash in the early evening. The plane had flown straight into a mountainside that inclined about forty-five degrees so the area of impact was relatively small. The navy investigators established a perimeter around the site and the team set up camp just outside the perimeter.

The investigators spoke to the team members who would be removing the bodies, described the plans for the following day. The investigators would first do a walk-around with the marines and navy medics to find the downed airmen’s bodies and identify things the investigators didn’t want to be disturbed during the bodies’ removal. During the walk-around, the marines would hack down any foliage that might impede the work. The walk-around would take most of the following morning.

It had grown dark by the time the team ate their C-rations, and many of them turned in early. It had been a long day, and the following day would be no exception.

The marines and medics spent the next morning walking the crash site with the investigators to flag all of the visible bodies and body parts. It was not a pleasant experience for Pete. He had seen dead people before: a cousin who died young of leukemia, his grandmother on his mother’s side. They were laid out in fancy coffins, dressed in their best, looked like they were sleeping. These bodies didn’t look anything like that. He had tried to prepare himself for what he expected to be a difficult experience, but reality overpowered his imagination. The crash had occurred almost a week before, and the bodies were infested with maggots and insects and had been mutilated by feeding animals. An appalling odor pervaded the site.

At lunch time, Pete couldn’t eat. He lay in his hot pup tent and tried to prepare himself for the afternoon ahead. After the mid-day break, the medics and marines split into two teams. They donned face masks, rubber gloves, and aprons and went to work. Each five-man team worked with a body until they were satisfied they had identified the crewman and had bagged the body and all of its parts. Pete and Tony were on the same team. The first body they worked on had been torn apart at the torso. There were dog tags identifying the upper torso, and the medics identified a lower torso with a missing leg to go with it. A partially eaten leg was linked to the one-legged torso by shoes on the two feet which matched in size, type, and amount of wear.

Pete found the actual bagging of the bodies didn’t bother him as much as the walk-around had that morning. The initial shock must have prepared him for what had to be done in the afternoon. By evening, eleven body bags were laid out along one side of the crash site. The next morning, the marines and medics teamed up to carry six of the bodies to the LCU. Each pair of men would carry a body on a stretcher two miles down the jungle path the team had cut two days earlier. Pete and Tony found the two-man carry possible though difficult. Ten-minute breaks every half hour made the task bearable. The route that had taken a day to cover when they were cutting the path to the crash site took only two and a half hours to navigate when they were carrying out the crewmen’s bodies. After reaching the LCU and placing the bodies below deck, the marines returned to the crash site and picked up the last five body bags. When these had been placed aboard the LCU, the marines returned a third time to collect any gear they had left at the campsite. The navy crash investigators, who had spent the day at the crash site, returned to the LCU with the marines on the last trip.

It had become dark by the time the LCU backed off the beach and started the four-hour trip back to Sangley Point. Pete and Tony relaxed and rested their aching muscles as the landing craft pushed its way through a calm sea. Pete, although tired after the day of taxing physical effort, felt satisfied. He tried to communicate his feelings to Tony. “I think we did something important the last few days,” he said.

“What’s that?” Tony asked.

“Well, you know. We identified and retrieved the remains. The families will get the remains, have a decent funeral. That’s important.”

“I suppose,” Tony replied. “I wonder if the families will see the mutilated, decaying flesh we picked up. More than one marine lost their cookies picking them up.”

“So you think we should just leave them up there?” Pete asked.

“I’m sure the dead airmen wouldn’t care one way or the other. If the families saw what we picked up, maybe just covering them up for sanitary reasons would be preferable. We confirmed that they died, that’s good, but beyond that, I guess I don’t understand the need to haul the remains back to Tim Buck Too or wherever.”

Pete didn’t buy it. “That seems immoral, against Marine tradition.”

“The wounded, sure,” Tony replied. “The dead, what’s the point?”

“You’re a real hard ass.”

“I just don’t get too excited about human remains, but haveta admit it hasn’t been boring.”

“We agree on that,” Pete replied.

“And better than being shot at” Tony added.

They dropped the subject and talked about getting together with a couple of mestiza sisters living in Manila the following weekend.

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Copyright © 2016 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

 

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Making the Numbers Work

Posted on 01/02/2016. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

I have written short stories and novels related to my ancestors, my time in the Navy, growing up in South Dakota during the depression and even a novel about the future but never anything related to the thirty three years I worked as an engineer. The short story “Making the Numbers Work” breaks the pattern since it is about a fictional incident that takes place in a technology company during the time I worked as an engineer.

 

Making the Numbers Work

 

Jim Fowler settled down in his corner office with his first vendor cup of coffee. The vendor machine coffee tasted pretty bad but the only alternative to bringing a thermos. Something that Jim didn’t care to do.

The corner office with a door represented a measure of his success as a long term employee of the Data Control Corporation, commonly known as DCC. It took a while, over twenty years. Fowler started out as a mechanical design engineer and finally as the Manager of program management for all space computer programs. DCC had a reputation for miniaturizing highly reliable computers for use in space for its government customers. Business had been good with President Reagan promoting his Star Wars missile defense system but that could change since the Berlin Wall had come down a month previously.

There had been a lot of pressure with the job and Jim attributed the stress to his overweight condition and loss of hair. Jim had thought about doing some exercise, maybe jogging. Trouble is he should lose some weight before he tried jogging. It was the chicken and egg thing. There wasn’t much that could be done about the growing bald spot on the crown of his head. Combing what hair he had over the bald spot wasn’t much of an improvement. Despite the pressure Jim liked his position, head of program management in the Space Systems Division with staff of a dozen working on proposals, program budgets, scheduling and four program managers managing seven multimillion dollar programs between them. He wielded more power than he ever had in engineering and he found he was a tough negotiator and known as a kick ass by department managers working on his programs.

Jim’s phone rang. He hesitated to answer it. He suspected it might be Gerald Blackstone, director of the Space Systems division calling about an overrun on the Eagle One program that showed up in the lasted programs financial report.

Gerald growled “Good morning Jim.” To Jim, Gerald’s voice didn’t sound like it was going to be a good morning.

Gerald continued, “Say Jim, that Eagle One program is over budget, behind schedule again this month. What are you doing to fix it?”

What Jim heard wasn’t any news to him and shouldn’t be any news to Gerald Blackstone. Alex Jorden, the manager that prepared the Eagle One proposal had instructed all of the departments doing the estimating to bid it skinny. The procurement would be fixed price and competitive. A potential for follow on programs added value to the current procurement.  The systems use would be for surveillance, something not likely to be cut during defense spending cuts.  Last but not least, the division backlog had been shrinking and without new business there would be headcount reductions.

Alex had negotiated and cajoled the department managers to cut the bid to the bone and then upper management cut the low ball estimates by twenty percent. Now upper management wanted to know why the program was running over budget. Jim hesitated to answer, he didn’t want to say what he was thinking; like you dumb asses, what were you expecting?

“Hello, anybody there?” Gerald asked after waiting a while for an answer.

Jim faked a small cough to let Gerald know he was still on the line and started to fabricate an answer to Gerald’s question. “We are working the problem,” he said without going into any detail. “I’ll have a work around plan on your desk Monday morning.”

After discussing a number of issues on other programs Gerald signed off reminding Jim he looked forward to seeing the work around plan on Monday.

Jim rocked back in his desk chair and stared at the ceiling after hanging up the phone. He didn’t want to work this weekend on the “Plan.” For one thing it seemed to be an exercise in futility and the other thing is that he had better things planned for the week end.  He dialed Alex Jorden’s office located several doors down the hall. “Alex, you got a minute or an hour or so to talk about the Eagle One program?”

At the time Jim called Alex was in the middle of preparing the customer monthly Eagle One progress report so it was good timing for him and he grabbed a couple Eagle One binders and headed for Jims office.

Alex had boyish face with a full head of hair that made him look young for a man about to turn fifty. A lot of activities with his two sons, nine and eleven, helped him stay in shape. Alex like most managers in the company had technical backgrounds. Trained as an electrical engineer, he loved design and was good at it. Like many good design engineers he had been awarded by making him a manager of other engineers. Alex soon discovered he was a square peg that didn’t fit in a round hole. Managing people, particularly egotistical engineers, was not his cup of tea.

The problem with leaving management and going back to computer design was that computer technology evolved at a fast pace at the design level and a person away for couple of years could become obsolete. Transistors were packaged individually in cans when he was designing, now they put thousands on a microchip. Instead of doing logic at the transistor level they were doing it at the microchip level. Sure he could do it but it would be like starting over.  He worked around the problem by going into program management where he had to understand the nature of the technology changes but not the nitty gritty of implementing them. In program management he managed things, like proposals, budgets, and schedules, not people.  Only one management assistant reported directly to him. He could handle that.

Jim waved Alex to sit at a side table where they could spread out program data. “Here’s the problem,” Jim said as an introduction to what they had to do today. “Division management wants to know why Eagle One is overrunning its budget. Apparently they don’t want us to tell them what they already know. We bought the program, an investment that will pay off someday in the murky future. Apparently corporate wants the division contracts to pay off today, to hell with the murky future. So all we have to do is come up with a plan to show how we can make a profit from a contract we bought with a bid that we estimated would twenty percent less than cost. How do we do that?

Alex lookd at Jim, “Are they serious?”

“We are supposed to come up with a work around plan by Monday morning.”

“We can give them the plan this afternoon,” Alex replied. “It’ll be note that says it can’t be done. We have technical problems we don’t even know how to solve. A twenty percent overrun could be a low ball estimate. I’m hardly charging the program I keep haggling the department managers to keep the cost down. We have put as much pressure on the vendors as the law allows. Some of the vendors are betting on the follow on, just like us.

Jim, who had been scanning a print out of vendor charges on the Eagle One program looked up, “That’s interesting,” He said.

Jim wanted to know what’s interesting.

“What are you charging your time to when you work on Eagle One?”

“You know how that’s done, you charge what you are working on, a program, a proposal, overhead if you are on vacation, sick-leave.”

“So you don’t spend much time on Eagle One?”

Alex didn’t like where the conversation had gone. Mischarging on government contracts was a no no which could result in heavy penalties for the company and individuals. Jim managed the Eagle One program which involved the development of a new computer and a separate production contract for satellite computers used in a NSA program for a decade or more. The production program had been negotiated as a none-competitive cost plus contract.  The government had little leverage as no other suppliers had the technology or the interest in competing for the business. As a result DCC Space Systems loaded up the contract which the prime contractor negotiated out some the most egregious charges. The result had been a contract with a lot of padding and Jim knew damn well what Alex had been doing.

Alex didn’t answer the question but Jim answered it for him. “Hey,” Jim said, “It’s no big deal; we all fudge project times given an opportunity and reason. Maybe that’s a solution, doing something like this on a bigger scale.

What Jim had just said scared Alex. “What are you saying? Alex asked, hoping maybe he had misunderstood Jim.

“Well you have two programs, one that is starving and the other one is fat. Same prime customer, same government agency, you just balance things out between the two of them.”

Alex was aware of those kind of shenanigans went on with cost plus programs where there were two contracts within the same program and two buckets of money and how you filled them didn’t make much difference in the big picture as long as they didn’t overflow. Two programs, one program cost plus and the other fixed price is a different story. People get fired, companies get fined and get a black mark when those kinds of things are mixed together. Alex had twenty years invested in DCC and didn’t want to risk it to make management happy in the short term. He pointed out these obvious problems to Jim.

Jim wasn’t impressed. “There’s more than one way to get fired,” he replied. “The quickest way is to mismanage your programs. If you are given an impossible program to manage you have to figure out how to manage it. I’m in the same line of fire as you are. I see a way to fix the problem and everyone will be happy and none the wiser.”

Ales felt the pressure. Jim evaluated Alex’s performance in the annual reviews and made salary recommendations. These evaluations went into his file and stayed there forever. A bad evaluation in his record could affect his future in DCC in a bad way. Besides Alex was not sure how they could accomplish what Jim implied. How could they manage the time card information?  Alex couldn’t think of a shuttle way to ask Jim how the manipulation of time card information would be accomplished so laid it out on the table. “How do you intend to modify the time cards?” He asked.

“Hey Alex, as far as we are concerned, this conversation never took place. I expect you will work out the details and I don’t want to know how it’s done. Before the end of the day I would like a draft of what we are going to tell upper management what we are doing to eliminate the losses on the program and it won’t be to modify time cards.”  Without further explanation Jim said they had accomplished what they needed to do in the meeting and Alex should get busy drafting the plan to be sent to management.

Alex felt a migraine headache coming on after leaving Jim’s office. He did get a draft plan of a fictional way to fix the cost overrun on the Eagle one program to Alex before leaving for the weekend. Alex had been looking forward to a weekend of canoeing with his two sons, ages eleven and nine. They would be canoeing on a nearby river, leaving Saturday, camping overnight and returning Sunday.  Now he had this problem hanging over his head; how he would implement the time card scam.

Alex hadn’t been asked if he agreed with the scheme Jim had come up with. Jim had decided what to do and told Alex to do it. This was Jim’s style. So Alex knew he would be in trouble with Jim if he didn’t do as directed, and he would be in trouble with the customer if they found out what was going on. There were no good scenarios.

 

The weekend after Alex had been tasked with coming up with a fix for the Eagle One program he had gone on the canoe trip with his two boys as planned. During the canoe trip he worried about how to he would satisfy Jim’s directions to him on how to satisfy management’s desire to cut the Eagle One program losses. By the time Alex and the boys returned from the canoe trip, he had a plan in mind.

The scheme Alex concocted involved collecting time cards on Friday that would be turned in by noon. He would then close the door to his office and select cards to be modified and replace them with a time cards that had been altered. He would forge the employee’s signature on the altered card by looking at the real signature and duplicating it as best he could. He had tried to think of better ways to do it but nothing came up. Using white out or cross outs would obviously be spotted.

Alex also decided during the canoe trip that he would begin looking for a new job. The twenty years he had invested in DCC had lost its importance after the time card meeting with Jim.

He found the defense business job market had tightened. The USSR was collapsing, the cold war ending. In addition technology people exiting the defense business were crowding the rest of the technology world. Alex spent a month chasing leads, contacting every local business that might need his skills. He didn’t want to move out of the area. He and his family had put down roots that would hard to extract.

A month past and the next monthly Eagle One budget report showed remarkable improvement. Jim congratulated Alex on how he had managed to improve the program performance

Alex began calling former associates who had left DCC recently to find out what they were doing and if they knew of any opportunities.

He called Frank Dawkins, a sharper than average engineer who had been lured away from DCC by a startup. Alex found that Frank had left the start up after three months.

“They didn’t know what to hell they were doing,” Frank said. “So I decided to start my own company. Have you heard about a thing called the internet? It’s starting to go commercial. I’m looking for C, C ++ coders. Know any?

Alex said he didn’t know C or C ++ but was looking for work.

“What happened with DCC?” Frank asked.

“Short story,” Alex replied, “Still working but looking to leave.”

“Hell Alex, you used to do Fortran, you can learn it like nothing. But you know I can’t pay you like a Program Manager at DCC and you will be digging in the nitty gritty.”

Frank went on to describe what they were doing with the internet and seemed to get more excited as he talked. The idea began to appeal to Alex, he liked the nitty gritty. It wouldn’t be hardware but programming was the same kind of thing.  “The idea is appealing,” Alex admitted. “I can handle a pay cut as long as it don’t last forever. How about some stock in your little enterprise in lieu of a big salary?”

Frank laughed, “All our professional people have gotten stock, don’t cost me anything and we can all get rich together.

They agreed to meet the next day and talk some more. As a result Alex signed on for a substantial cut in the salary he made at DCC and twenty thousand shares of the new company’s stock.

The next morning Alex gave Jim the required two week notice that he would be leaving the company.  Jim looked shocked. “You can’t do that,” he yelled. “You know damn well why you can’t do that.”

“I did it,” Alex admitted.

“Stay another year, you’ll get the best raise you ever had.”

“If you’re worried about the time cards I’ll brief you on the process. I’ll help you with it for the next two weeks.”

Dammit, you know I can’t assign another manager for either program. I’ll have to manage them myself.  That’s not going to work. I’ll get you a promotion.

Alex had been focused on his own problems associated with leaving DCC and hadn’t lost much sleep worrying about the problems he might be causing Jim. But being made aware of some of Jim’s problems wasn’t giving him any heart burn.  He made his best effort to sound sympathetic to Jim’s concerns while suppressing a satisfied smile.

 

Alex soon became immersed in his work in Franks new company and it didn’t take him long to realize the thing called the internet would be transforming the communications world.  Franks little company was growing as fast as it could hire engineers, programmers and staff. The stock that had no value when Alex joined the company six months previously now traded on the local market at five dollars.

Through contacts Alex maintained with DCC former associates he learned the government was doing an audit of the Eagle One program, an event that only occurred when something really caught the government’s attention. A couple of months later Alex had lunch with an engineer he had worked with at DCC. The engineer said Jim had left the company and whole division had been shaken up. He heard that Jim had been manipulating time cards. “Can you imagine anyone being so dumb?”

Alex shook his head, “Ya, I can imagine it.”

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Copyright © 2015 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this  short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold War Short Short Stories

Posted on 09/08/2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

A collection of stories that will be part of a book of short stories is being slowly organized . Included will be a number of short short stories. Stores that are told in a hundred words or less. Included in this post are a number of short short stories that will be included that deal with early stages of the cold war.

Navy Boot Camp, 1947

He was a Georgia cracker, a redneck. What could you expect? A nigger is a nigger and that is what he called him. Just previous the company commander had lectured about Truman’s executive order that said discrimination would no longer be allowed in the armed services. Maybe the Georgia cracker didn’t believe it but the nigger did and he picked up a bottle of ink and flung it, hit the cracker on the side of his head, knocked him dizzy. Then what happened? We never saw the cracker again and guess they told the nigger to be careful what he threw

Memphis, 1948

The bus rolls to a stop, I get on, sit right behind the driver. I just completed a year’s training to be an aviation electronics technician at the Memphis Navy Air Training Center. Being in the top ten percent I graduated as a petty officer second class. The bus moves through the training center as it picks up more passengers it will take to Memphis. The bus reaches the training center main gate. The driver turns and looks at me, says, “You have to move to the back of the bus now.” I move to the back of the bus.

Chosen Reservoir 1950

Damn, must be twenty below, so many cloths I can’t find my pisser and I’m still freezing. Chinese everywhere, small arms fire from everywhere. It should be getting light soon and the attack should end. I hunker down in my shallow hole. My mind wanders—ponders my escape from that Dakota farm; a world to see, to experience. There is a scream, “Medic, medic!” A mortar round shakes my hole! I hold the M1 in my frozen hands. I rise up; fire my rifle into the darkness. Maybe milking cows wasn’t all that bad.

War Torn City Recovers 1950

Two American Marines recovering from wounds wander a Tokyo market, a short break from the horrors of war on the Korean Peninsula.

Tokyo bustles, factories hum; making cigarette lighters out of GI discarded beer cans, half price Leica knock offs, the world’s finest china.

Two women stand out. One; a young woman, beautiful as many young oriental women are, a face like porcelain with fine features, a tiny but full body. Beside her: an older version of herself. Both are dressed stylishly in shades of blue.

The older woman approaches the marines, “You like daughter, only 3,000 yen, all night.”

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station 1951

Four Navy Patrol planes stopped at Whidbey Island to practice some ground control approaches before flying the northern route via Alaska to Japan. In the evening two crew members visited the enlisted men’s club, noticed quite a number of unattached women. They talked to a couple of them. They said their husband’s patrol squadron had just deployed for a six month tour in the Philippines. Said they enjoyed these deployments but the time seemed too short. They wanted to know if the men wanted to go into town where there were some swinging bars.

Cold War Patrol 1952

A navy patrol plane off Shanghai with fourteen men aboard has engine trouble. Kadina Okinawa, their destination, is possible. They feather one engine, and as they approach Kadina their good engine begins to lose power.

It is night and violent storms envelope Kadina. Ground Control Approach shouts: You’re low, off to the right, Abort, abort!! Impossible, the plane can only descend, not ascend. Somehow the plane bounces and stops on the runway. The emergency vehicles disperse and the plane is towed to its parking pad.

A ground crew member sticks his head into a hatch. “Did Ya bring any mail?”

 

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Unintended Heroes, A Short Story

Posted on 08/18/2015. Filed under: Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , |

Plans to assemble a collection of short stories is proceeding slowly.  In some cases it is a matter of finding the short stories that have been written over the last fifteen years and assembling them into book form. Some of those short stories need a lot of work, others only light editing. In addition a few stories are being written  from scratch. The short story Unintended Heroes is being written from scratch. Actually it is greatly condensed version of the Korean War part of the book For the Cause: The Cold War Heats Up in Korea and Why Young Men Went to War. It tells the story of two young farm boys, Pete Houser and Chris Engelson, who joined the marines and finished boot camp just when the Korean War started. The two young men are part of the First Provisional Marine Brigade hurriedly put together to help stop the North Koreans from overrunning South Korea. The story follows the lives of the two marines and the squad they are a part of for six months as they take part in the Pusan Perimeter,  the Inchon Landing and the Chosen Reservoir battles.  During that short period of time Pete and Chris had changed from green farm boys to seasoned warriors.

Unintended Heroes Cover

I had started posting the short stories I planned to include in the short story collection but am finding it cumbersome. The Unintended Heroes is over fifteen thousand words. So my new plan is to post a description of the stories as they are selected in this blogs Short Story section. I will send a digital copy to any blog reader who would like a copy of any short story being described.

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

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Another Book Give Away

Posted on 08/07/2015. Filed under: Historical Fiction, War | Tags: , , , , , |

Starting on 8 August 2015  and through 12 August 2015, free Kindle copies of the book “For the Cause; The Cold War Turns Hot in Korea and Why Young Men Went to War.” will be given away to anyone who cares to download the book.

Go to: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Two young South Dakota farm boys, Pete Houser and Chris Engleson, with uncertain futures decide to join the marines  as an alternative to some other mundane job. It is 1950 and they complete boot camp just as the Korean War suddenly erupts. Chris finds himself assigned to the First Provisional Marine Brigade being hurriedly put together to be deployed to Korea. Pete is assigned to a marine unit providing base security for the Sangley Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines. The story follows the lives of the two young men during the last six months of 1950 while Chris in Korea is involved in the Pusan Perimeter, Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir battles and Pete spends his time as a security guard in the Philippines. Over a short period of time Chris changes from a green farm boy into a seasoned warrior and Pete’s world expands quickly as he encounters unfamiliar moral standards and first love. The story alternates between Chris in Korea and Pete in the Philippines until the story comes to a surprising conclusion.

Cover, Front 11-7-2013

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The Secret Cold War Aerial Conflict

Posted on 06/04/2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Routine Patrol Cover

Shown above is the cover of a short story describing a patrol flight being flown during the cold war along the China Coast. The aircraft being flown in the story is a P4M-1Q. The P4M Mercator was a rare bird. There were two prototypes and nineteen production models. All of the production models were eventually converted to the P4M-1Q configuration to be used for the electronic surveillance mission.

During the 50’s and through the  60’s and 70’s when the Korean and Viet Nam wars took place, the cold war was at its peak and the peripheries of the communist nations were continually patrolled by United States Navy and Airforce aircraft. Sometimes these flights were intercepted and resulted in over two hundred navy and airforce airmen dying during that period due to hostile actions.

The public knew very little of this activity. As far as the United States government was concerned it wasn’t happening and couldn’t protest if one of their reconnaissance aircraft that didn’t exist had been attacked or shot down.

A web site,  Intrusions, overflight, shootdowns and Defections during the cold war, (http://myplace.frontier.com/~anneled/ColdWar.html) , attempts to list all of the documented intercepts. The author of the story, US. Navel Air Routine Patrol has found the web sites list of intercepted intrusions and shootdowns voluminous but not complete. However the list has many pages of incidents and likely has the majority of significant incidents listed.  During 1952 and 1953, the period in which the story, “U.S. Naval Air Routine Patrol,” took place, thirty two incidents involving intercepts of aircraft flown by the United States and its allies near or within the borders of communist nations are recorded. Not many of these activities made the news since they were treated as top secret by the United States.

These numbers need to be put into perspective. During a two year period, starting in 1951 and ending in 1953, the author of the story “U.S Naval Air Routine Patrol, ” flew on 95 patrols lasting approximately ten hours each. That is approximately fifty patrols a year. The four plane contingent the author was associated with operated at about the same level and flew around two hundred patrols a year. That four plane contingent was only a small portion of the overall reconnaissance activities occurring around the periphery of the communist nations at the time. In other words, the electronic surveillance reconnaissance experience was more boring than exciting. The most excitement occurred because of the weather or mechanical problems.
There were three intercept incidents involving the four plane contingent that the author  is aware of while associated with it. One of the incidents has been listed in the Intrusions, overflight, shootdowns and Defections while two weren’t.
The one mentioned occurred on 23 April 1953.  U. S Navy plane (BuNo 124369)  was attacked by two MiG-15 Fagots while flying off the Chinese coast near Shanghai. The MiGs made several firing runs and the crew of the Mercator returned fire. The Mercator was not hit, and as far as the Mercator crew could tell, their return fire did not damage the MiGs.
In another incident the author, as radioman on BuNo 121453, sent an under attack message while on a patrol along the west coast of Korea. The officer overseeing the electronic surveillance in the back of the plane had reported excitedly that fire control radar had locked in on their plane. Nothing came of the incident except a debriefing after returning to Atsugi Navel Air Station.
The third incident is based on excited talk by enlisted crew members who said that they had been attacked by MiGs off Shanghai. This incident can’t be found in any literature the author has seen. Neither had the author seen or heard anything confirming the attack on BuNo 124369 at the time it occurred. The only source of information the author had at the time has been enlisted crew members talk.
There are documented attacks of other Mercators in other theater’s and at later dates. These included: On 22 August 1956 a U.S. Navy P4M-1Q (BuNo 124362) disappeared after a night time attack 32 miles off the coast of Wenchow China. There were no survivors of the 16 crew members.

Damaged P4M

P4M made crash landing after attack over the Sea of Japan.

On 6 June 1959 while flying a patrol mission over the Sea of Japan a U.S. Navy P4M-1Q (BuNo 122209) was attacked 50 miles east of the Korean DMZ by two MiG-17 Frescos. During the attack the Mercator sustained serious damage to the starboard engine and the tail gunner was seriously wounded. The badly damaged plane was able to land at Miho AFB Japan.

In the European theater on 14 January 1960 a P4M-1Q flight originating out of Incirilik AFB Turkey was lost with all sixteen crew members.

A Kindle version of the short story, U.S. Naval Air Routine Patrol, can be found at Amazon.com Alfred Wellnitz Books.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

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For the Cause; Risks and Rewards

Posted on 05/16/2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

For the Cause, Risks and Rewards, a short story just released on Kindle, is an excerpt from the novel For the Cause; The Cold  War Turns Hot in Korea and Why Young Men Went to War. The excerpt consist of Chapter 21 of the novel with minor changes. The complete short story is posted here.

For the Cause Cover JPEG

 

For the Cause
Risks and Rewards
This short story has been excerpted from the novel;

“For the Cause: The Cold War Turns Hot in Korea and Why Young Men Went to War”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By
Alfred Wellnitz

 

For the Cause; Risks and Rewards

Copyright © 2014 by Alfred Wellnitz

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also by Alfred Wellnitz
Novels:
Finding the Way;
From Prussia to a Prairie Homestead

PushBack;
Deficit Triggers Hyperinflation, Terrorism

For the Cause;
The Cold War Turns Hot in Korea
And Why Young Men Went To War

 

 

 

 

Alfred Wellnitz grew up in rural South Dakota, served in the United States Navy and worked in technology as an electrical engineer. After retiring from engineering he worked as a real estate agent before deciding to become an author at age seventy-three. He has since published three novels and numerous short stories. Alfred now lives with his wife Joan in Bloomington Minnesota.

For the Cause
Risks and Rewards

In a small fishing village on the shores of Manila Bay in the Philippines, halfway between Manila and Cavite, a young man named Modesto tossed and turned in his blanket on the floor of a Nipa hut. Beside him the frequent stirring of his wife betrayed her restlessness. Only their child in the near corner slept soundly. Finally Modesto threw his blanket aside, picked his way to the doorway and let his bare feet drop to the sand still warm from the day’s sun. From where he stood he could see a large portion of Manila Bay. To his right and behind him the bright lights of Manila made the sky luminous, before him the bay lay dark except for the dim lights of fishing boats that flickered and bobbed. Over to the left a cluster of lights marked Cavite and the United States Naval Air Station at Sangley Point. The lights of Cavite also backlit an array of ship superstructures protruding out of the water, the hulks of Japanese ships laying where they were sunk during the big war that ended five years ago.Modesto, small in stature, lean and muscular, had been a fisherman since he was old enough to pull nets and row a bonga boat. His jet black hair and bright brown eyes were complemented by chocolate-colored skin which still had the smoothness of youth.

Tonight being Christmas Eve, he and Carlos and Chico were not fishing. Other than Christmas and Easter or during bad storms, they would normally be out in the bay fishing at this time of night. Their families depended on them to catch fish nearly every night. No fish meant there would be nothing to barter for rice, no pesos, no centavos, and no fresh fish for the fishermen’s families to eat. Modesto was a good fisherman. There were very few days when there was no fish or rice to cook in his hut. There usually were enough pesos for at least the necessities and even for some extras, like during the fiesta and at Christmas and Easter.

However, the three fishermen would be taking the bonga boat out onto Manila Bay this Christmas Eve, not to fish but on a special and unusual mission. Modesto left the hut and moved aimlessly along the beach. He recalled the events of the last three days that led to what he would be doing tonight.

Modesto and his two companions had been returning from an unsuccessful night of fishing in their bonga, a boat barely large enough for the three-man crew, their nets, and sometimes a good catch of fish. They were tired, wet, and aching from their night’s labor. Intermittent rain, sometimes heavy, had combined with abnormally low temperatures to make it a bitter night. For their efforts and misery a reward of only a half-dozen lapa-lapas lay on the bottom of the boat. They paddled towards shore in weary silence. As they rowed, they could make out the outlines of the hotels and casinos along Manila’s Dewey Boulevard.

The crew sat in a row from front to back in the narrow boat. Chico, the youngest, held down the middle position. He looked small even huddled under a bulky poncho. Chico, the son of Carlos the oldest member of the three men, had only recently joined the crew. Chico had been a hut boy for marines at Sangley Point; a good paying job. For reasons unknown to Modesto, Chico no longer worked at Sangley Point and Carlos had added Chico to the crew.

Chico stopped paddling and broke the silence.

“The casinos are still lit up. As they sow, so shall they reap. That’s what the church tells us. Well, we have worked all night and are so tired we can hardly get back to the beach. What have we reaped? Six little fish, not enough to eat, none to sell or trade. Did we sow the wrong thing? What do those rich ones in the casinos sow? They sow money. They don’t have to sweat or sit in the cold rain. Money does their work.”

Carlos sat in the back, the commanding position in the bonga. Wrinkled skin that had seen many fishing seasons covered his gaunt face. He laughed softly. “That’s quite a speech from someone who’s cold and tired. Remember, fishermen live from God’s hand, and sometimes the hand is empty. That’s the way it is.”

Chico replied, “You been doing this too long, don’t know any better.”

“Maybe,” Carlos answered, “but I know complaining doesn’t help anything.”

Modesto listened in silence. There were times that he had felt the way Chico did, and still did, but he had a wife and child and he had to provide for them in the only way he knew how. Someday in the hereafter he would be on the same level as the good rich and above that of the not-so-good rich. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for rich men to get into heaven. That’s what the good fathers say. Such thoughts made life a little more bearable at times.

 

Later that day, Modesto and Carlos were repairing one of the bonga boat’s outriggers. Carlos owned the boat and therefore, when the catch was successful, received an extra share of fish. Carlos had inherited the bonga, his most valuable possession, from his father. Frequent repairs kept it usable.

I wonder where Chico is,” Carlos mused. “He should be helping us.”

Modesto pointed down the beach. “Speak of the devil. People with him. Who are they?”

Carlos looked where Modesto pointed. “Don’t know.”

Two strangers accompanied Chico. One, a gaunt, small-framed young man, was unremarkable except for deep-set eyes which glowered under heavy, dark brows. His dress, typical for men his age in the village consisted of loose-fitting grey pants, an un-tucked white shirt, and sandals. He could have been a Jeepney driver or a street vendor. The other man dressed in a similar way but was taller, heavier, and had a round face with Asian eyes.

Chico introduced them. He motioned first towards the smaller man. “Pepe from Bulacan, and Wan from up north in Baguio.”

The two men surveyed the boat. The one named Wan walked around it and kicked the outrigger Modesto and Carlos had been working on.

“Looks small,” he remarked.

Chico gave him a worried look. “It can haul a lot of weight.”

Modesto wondered what they were talking about. What did it matter if the boat was small or could haul a lot of weight? It worked for what they used it for.

Carlos also looked puzzled.

The two strangers and Chico moved some distance away and talked among themselves. After a short time they came back to where Carlos and Modesto had started working on the outrigger again.

“Pepe and Wan would like to talk about a business deal,” Chico announced.

Carlos looked skeptical. “A business deal. We are fishermen with no fish to barter or sell. What kind of business are you be talking about?”

Pepe asked, “Can you keep a secret?”

“Secret?” Carlos questioned.

“The business we are talking about depends on it.”

Carlos answered, “You’ve been talking to Chico. He can tell you.”

Pepe hesitated, studied Carlos, and then began to speak. “Chico has told us that every night you and your crew fish in Manila Bay, and that almost every night you go by Sangley Point. You may have noticed a Quonset hut that sits by itself right near the shore at the tip of the peninsula. Looks like an ordinary Quonset hut, but it’s different. It’s being used as an armory and it’s full of 30-caliber ammunition.”

Pepe again hesitated, allowing time for this information to be fully absorbed.

Modesto felt a tightening of his stomach.

Pepe continued, “We will pay you and your crew a good amount of money to go in and get some of that ammunition.”

Beads of sweat were forming on Modesto’s forehead. He thought, this man is loco, but he held his tongue and waited for Carlos to speak.

Carlos smiled slightly. “This some kind of joke you and Chico thought up?”

Pepe didn’t respond to the question. “You will be able to make more money than you have ever seen before.” As if to emphasize the point, he pulled up his shirt to reveal a money belt and a pistol stuck under his waistband. He pulled a packet of pesos in large denominations out of the money belt and fanned them slowly. “We will pay you one peso for every round that you bring out. Easy money, a lot of money.”

The smile on Carlos’s face had disappeared and the look of skepticism returned. “Easy, why pay so much if it is easy?”

Skeptical or wary, Pepe knew he had the fisherman’s attention. “You will be surprised at how lightly guarded the armory is.” Pepe picked up a stick from the beach and drew a sketch in the sand of the peninsula that projected into Manila Bay, much of which was occupied by the Sangley Naval Air Station. Pepe added detail at the very tip of the peninsula to show the location of the Quonset hut being used as an armory.

“There is only one marine guarding this area, and his patrol runs from the brig on the east side of the peninsula past the Quonset hut to a point on the west side of the peninsula approximately half a kilometer away. This Quonset is right on the shore and below an embankment three or four meters high that shields it from easy observation. The closest thing to the armory is some Quonset huts where navy and marine enlisted men are housed. They are about hundred meters away.”

Pepe drew the guard route in the sand. “Besides the marine, there is a large searchlight mounted here on a water tower.” He pointed to a spot near the center of the base. “This light sweeps the beach all around the base. You must have seen it when you were fishing. It makes a sweep about every fifteen minutes, then goes out until they are ready to make another sweep. Those are the things you worry about, the searchlight and the marine guard. Overpower the guard, avoid the light, and you can help yourself to as much ammunition as your boat can haul.”

The fishermen were familiar with the navy base as seen from the bay and were able to easily follow Pepe’s description. They were also familiar with the searchlight and saw it sweep around the base’s periphery many times when they fished at night.
Modesto did not want to hear any more, but Carlos asked, “You sure there is only one marine?”

“One marine, changes at midnight, next time at four.”

“The armory is locked?”

“I would think so.”

“We are supposed to figure out how to overpower the guard and get the ammunition out?”

“That’s it.”

“Why do you want that much ammunition?”

“Does it matter?”

“Are you a Huk?”

It didn’t matter to Modesto if Pepe and Wan were Huks or not. He didn’t want any part of this crazy idea but he could see that Carlos was seriously considering Pepe’s proposition. Of course they had to be Hukbalahaps, the Huks, the Philippine communists. That was the only answer that made any sense to Modesto. They were the only ones that would have the need for that much ammunition and the means to pay that kind of money for it.

Modesto didn’t know exactly what the Huks were trying to do, but he knew there was serious trouble between the Huks and the government in Manila. The Huks had been around for a long time. During the war they had fought the Japanese and were big heroes. Now they were fighting the government and weren’t heroes anymore. It seemed like they wanted to fight whoever happened to be in power. Modesto didn’t know if they were good or bad. Pepe looked like an ordinary Filipino, not like a revolutionary or communist, whatever they looked like. Not that it mattered much to Modesto. Modesto considered himself a pretty good Catholic, while Carlos and Chico weren’t and they would admit it and that’s their business. If a person wanted to be a Huk, that’s their business.

Apparently Carlos had come to the same conclusion and answered his own question. “I don’t suppose it matters as long as we get paid.”

“If you decide to do it, a thousand pesos up front, the balance when you deliver.”

A thousand pesos! That was more money than Modesto had ever seen at one time.

Carlos didn’t reveal any emotion or surprise. “Sounds crazy. We will think about it.”

“Someone will do it,” Pepe said. “We know Chico, that’s why you are getting first chance.”

Carlos replied, “We need a day to think about it.”

“We’ll be back tomorrow.”

Carlos had fished Manila Bay for a living since he was able to do it. He had no hopes or plans to do anything else and he had no hope of ever having more than a bare living as a fisherman. When Carlos became too old to fish he hoped he would sit in the Nipa hut of his son Chico until the day that they carried him out to the cemetery to lie beside the father that he had cared for so many years before. It was not a great deal to anticipate but realistic and predictable. The wild scheme they were considering now was something else.

After Pepe and Wan left, the three fishermen discussed the proposition that had been presented to them. Carlos had done the talking when Pepe made his proposal, now he wanted to know what Modesto thought of the idea.

Modesto had known Carlos since he was able to remember. Carlos’s life provided a model for Modesto’s life. Modesto respected Carlos’s judgment in most matters but had been surprised when Carlos seemed to be considering going forward with a raid on the armory on Sangley Point. Manila Bay fishermen considered Sangley Point off limits. Even fishing near it was questionable. To land on its beach and raid an armory seemed totally loco.

“It sounds crazy and dangerous,” Modesto said in response to Carlos’s question.
“Maybe,” Carlos replied. He walked over to the outrigger he and Modesto had been repairing, studied it, then turned and spoke to Modesto and Chico. “We need more information before making a decision. Tonight we will fish off Sangley Point near the armory and really study the layout. After that we will decide.”

 

It was a little before midnight when they arrived at a position where they could observe the armory and the marine guard while they fished. Lights in the nearby enlisted men’s hut area made the armory and guard path dimly visible.

At midnight they noted the changing of the guard and observed the marine on duty as he made his rounds. The marine moved back and forth along the beach between the guard house and some point along the west side of the peninsula. As Pepe had said, it took the guard about fifteen minutes to walk from one end of the route to the other.

They had moderate success fishing and after a couple of hours had a sack half-filled with lapa-lapas.

At two a.m. Carlos suggested that they go onto the beach near the armory and check out the door lock.

“What! Why?” asked a surprised Modesto.

“We should know what kind of lock we have to break or open.”

Chico agreed. “Let’s see what it feels like to walk on the Sangley sand.”

They decided that both Modesto and Chico would go to the armory to check the lock while Carlos stayed with the boat.

While they contemplated making the landing, they realized they would need to time their movements carefully. They wanted to go onto the beach once the guard passed the armory and was heading away from it at the same time the light on the tower had gone dark. This combination did not come up regularly. The first time they considered going in, the tower light had gone out but they weren’t sure when the guard, who was out of sight on the west side of the peninsula, would reappear. The next time the light swept the beach, they could see that the guard was moving towards the armory from the east. They were concerned the light might come on again before he would be clear of the armory area on his way to the other side of the peninsula. Finally, the light finished a sweep just as the guard was seen going towards the west end of his route. They pushed towards shore and were soon scraping the bottom of the boat on the sand.

Modesto and Chico jumped out of the boat and ran towards the armory. It took only a few minutes for the two fishermen to run to the armory and determine that a padlock secured the armory door and pry bar could be used to break the lock. They ran back to the boat and rowed away from the shore towards relative safety.

The three stayed in their fishing location until the rising sun allowed them to observe the beach in more detail. It appeared that the path the guard walked was obscured from easy observation on the land side by the embankment that ran along the full length of the route. Their attention was drawn to two large tree trunks with roots attached washed up on the beach about a hundred meters to the west of the Quonset armory. Carlos suggested it would be a good place to hide while they waited for the right time to overpower the guard. They moved the bonga boat closer to shore and could see that the attached roots held the lower parts of the trunks off the ground far enough for a person to crawl beneath them. They all agreed that it looked like an ideal place to hide while waiting to overpower the guard.

 

Later that morning they returned to their home beach, tired from a full night of fishing and information gathering. They would get together that afternoon after they had rested to discuss the matter and make a decision.

Modesto tried to get some rest, but his mind continued to wrestle with the proposed raid. His first reaction had been to oppose the idea, even to the point of defecting from the crew if Carlos and Chico wanted to do it. But as he became more familiar with what the raid would involve, his mind grew more at ease. A big factor in his thinking had been their ability to get on and off the beach undetected the previous night. He contemplated the prize that would be theirs if they were successful. They could buy a large power bonga and have pesos to spare. They would be able to fish outside the bay and better their chances of success. When Modesto finally drifted off to sleep, the contemplated prize loomed larger and the risk seemed to be diminishing.

When the three fishermen met the next afternoon, Carlos again asked Modesto and Chico for their opinions.

Chico of course wanted to go.

Modesto had resolved his concerns. The prize seemed too large to pass up. He now supported going forward.

Carlos said he also favored proceeding.

They started to discuss the details. Anyone observing the three fishermen huddled on the sandy beach would have thought they were mending a net or visiting, certainly not planning a daring raid on a United States military installation.

They decided to stage the raid that night. The moon would be dark, everything could be ready, and the sooner they put the plan into operation the less likely the wrong people would become aware of it. Also, early Christmas morning might find the security forces less alert than normal. They intended to go in at about one o’clock in the morning, not too long after the midnight guard change. That would give them plenty of time before another guard change took place. Their only weapons would be machetes and iron pipes. The machetes were to be used only if absolutely necessary although Chico had wanted the machetes to be the first option. He argued, “A live marine can be dangerous, a dead one isn’t. Besides it takes more time to tie a man up than to cut his throat.”

Modesto knew Chico had his own agenda with regards to Americans. That a former girlfriend now shared her place with a marine may have helped form his opinion. His abrupt departure from his Sangley Point job may have aggravated it.

“Taking some American ammunition is one thing, killing an American is a whole different thing,” Carlos declared. “We’ll use machetes only if we have to.”

They continued planning. Modesto and Chico would be landed on the beach and take cover under the tree trunks. Carlos would move the bonga back out into the bay. When an opportunity presented itself, Modesto and Chico would overpower the guard and break into the Quonset hut armory. They would remove as much ammunition as the bonga could haul and stack it in the shadow of the armory to keep it out of sight of the tower. They would use a flashlight to signal Carlos to bring the boat back to the beach when they were ready to load the ammunition. To Modesto, the plan seemed simple and doable.

 

Later in the day, Pepe and his partner returned and learned that the decision had been made to proceed and the raid would take place that night. Pepe seemed surprised that they were moving so soon, but he had brought a thousand pesos in up-front money and they finalized the arrangements.

 

That night Modesto wandered along the beach, waiting for the time to pass so that he could join his companions and start on an adventure that would (pray to God, hail Mary) make them all rich. A few days ago he wouldn’t have dared hope for anything more than enough food to eat and bare necessities for himself and his family. Now heady dreams filled his mind. He would be part owner of a big power bonga, a big fisherman who went after the big catches outside the bay. He would have a Nipa hut with more than one room and furnished with a bed and a cooking stove. He curled his toes in the sand. He might even buy a pair of shoes.

Although early, Modesto turned and walked slowly towards the place where the bonga rested on the beach. When he arrived, he found Carlos sitting on an outrigger silently contemplating the small waves splashing against the beach. Carlos looked up when Modesto approached. “Couldn’t sleep? Me either. It happens often at my age.”
Modesto squatted beside Carlos. Carlos continued, “Sometimes being old isn’t so bad. I have less to lose.” He hesitated, then apparently feeling a need to reassure Modesto, added, “Don’t worry, it’s going to work.”

Modesto wanted to agree with him. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t believe it would work. Where is Chico?”

Carlos noted it was still early. “Chico will be here. He wouldn’t miss this.”
Chico finally showed up, yawning, at the agreed-upon time.

Modesto asked, “You have trouble sleeping?”

“No, why?”

Modesto laughed. “The resurrection wouldn’t disturb you.”

Carlos stood up and started pulling on the boat. “Let’s go,” he said, and all hands joined in launching the bonga on its special mission.

Each person assumed his position, and soon their rhythmic paddle strokes were moving the boat smoothly through the water, the bow making a luminous splash as it broke the flat surface of the bay.

Modesto mechanically dipped his paddle. The closer they came to the base, the more uneasy he felt. Was he a coward? Modesto had never done anything like this before. He had known danger when they had been caught in storms while fishing, but that is a normal part of a fisherman’s life. This would be something different.

Carlos started talking about how this raid reminded him of ventures more dangerous and not as carefully planned during the big war. There were other differences. Those raids had been mainly for food because he and his family were starving. Sometimes he had picked up other things, too, but food had been the main thing. This raid was for money, enough money to change their lives. Another difference had been that he disliked the Japanese. He didn’t particularly dislike the Americans. Americans were overbearing, over-paid, oversexed, and drank too much, but Carlos believed that overall, their intentions were good.

Modesto wanted to know if Carlos would feel guilty about stealing from the Americans.

“No,” Carlos replied. “Americans have more wealth than the ocean has fish and taking some ammunition out of that hut won’t hurt America any more than I hurt Manila Bay when I pull lapa-lapas out of it.”

Modesto had thought about the same thing. Was this really stealing, would he be breaking any of God’s laws? He concluded that some of the laws of men might be challenged, but not God’s laws. The commandments as interpreted by Modesto pertained to individuals, to neighbors. Who did that ammunition really belong to? Maybe Filipinos had as much right to it as Americans.

Chico’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Are you afraid, Modesto?”

Modesto thought, Chico must have sensed my uneasiness. “Maybe, I guess I am, but I will be glad when we get on shore.”

Maybe he would be. His mind would be fully occupied and he would not have time for imagined dangers. The thoughts of wealth and a new life he had had earlier in the evening were now crowded out by more urgent thoughts about the danger and what might go wrong. Sangley looked bigger and brighter than usual.

He turned to Chico and asked, “How about you?”

“Sure,” Chico answered. “You can’t be brave if you’re not afraid and I keep thinking the guard could be the one that’s been screwing my girlfriend.”

Modesto laughed. “Used to be your girlfriend.”

“That’s what I mean.”

“Don’t do anything dumb with the guard.”

“I know.”

They reached the position off the point where they would wait for a chance to go in. Again they watched the changing of the guard. They waited for an hour and then began looking for the right opportunity to go onto the beach. They looked for the guard when the searchlight swept around the base perimeter. Twice they watched and did not see the guard when the searchlight swept the beach in front of them. Carlos leaned back against the stern of the boat. “No hurry, we will wait until we know where he is.”

A while later the light flashed on again. This time it started at the far end of the base and moved towards the armory. As it swung around the peninsula, it caught the marine moving west away from the armory near the bend in the shoreline. As soon as the light went out, Carlos whispered, “Now!”

They rowed the bonga onto the beach. Modesto crossed himself, and he and Chico jumped out of the boat and found shelter under the large tree trunks. They carried iron pipes, machetes, and what they would need to bind and gag the guard.

Modesto knew that the marine would be armed with something better than an iron pipe. Successfully overpowering the guard had always been a concern, and the concern became magnified by the reality of their situation. Between the water and the tree trunks were over five meters of open beach, and the marine could be anywhere in that area when he passed them. What if the searchlight came on while they were overpowering him?

While Modesto contemplated these difficulties he heard the guard approaching. He was walking slowly, quietly whistling some tune over and over. In the dim ambient light Modesto could see that his carbine was slung over his shoulder and he had a soft-billed cap on his head. Good, he’s not wearing a helmet, thought Modesto.

At that moment, the tower light snapped on and started sweeping the beach. The guard safely passed the tree trunks as he moved towards the armory.

“Damn,” Chico whispered.

Soon after the light went out after its next sweep of the base, the marine guard could be seen coming back from the direction of the armory, still whistling the same tune. He moved steadily towards the tree trunks where Modesto and Chico were crouching.

When the marine reached the vicinity of the tree trunks, he paused, stopped whistling, and turned to look at the bright lights of Manila. Modesto and Chico made their move. The marine appeared startled by the noise Modesto and Chico made but before he could react Chico swung his pipe and hit the marine in the back of the head. As the marine fell, Chico swung his pipe at the back of his skull again. “That’s for good measure, Joe!” he hissed.

They dragged the limp marine into the shadow of the tree trunks, rolled him on his stomach, and worked feverishly to bind and gag him. Chico put the gag in the guard’s mouth while Modesto pulled his arms behind him and began wrapping the rope around his wrists.

Chico stood up. “You can finish this. I’ll open the armory.”

Chico disappeared into the darkness while Modesto began to knot the wrist binding. Suddenly, the marine gave a grunt, pulled his wrists loose and rolled over, throwing Modesto off his back. Modesto landed near his machete when he fell to the ground. He grasped the handle with both his hands, raised it over his head, and brought the blade down with all his might on the neck of the struggling marine. The blade cut through flesh and cartilage, stopping only when it hit the vertebrae.

Modesto, still grasping the machete, stood up. He started towards the armory and then paused to pick up the carbine the marine had dropped on the beach. Modesto found an upset Chico attempting to break the lock.

“The bar doesn’t go through the eye of the padlock. How in hell are we going to break the lock if we can’t get the pry bar in there?”

Modesto took the bar from Chico’s hand, took aim and brought it crashing down on the padlock. The padlock flew off, hitting Modesto in the leg on its way to the ground.

“Jesus Christ!” Chico exclaimed. “That should wake up the dead.”

They groped their way into the dark armory. Inside, they could feel boxes that must be ammunition cases. They grabbed hold and started stacking the cases in the shadow of the Quonset. They had stacked four boxes when the light came on again.

While waiting for the light to go out, Chico asked if the guard was securely tied.

“He is secure,” Modesto replied without going into any further detail.

The light went out and they finished moving two more boxes, as many as they felt they could haul in the boat, and then waited for the light to go on and off again.
When the light went out the next time, they signaled Carlos. He brought the bonga onto the beach near the Quonset, and they started loading the ammunition boxes. Then for some reason, the searchlight that had just gone out a short time before came on again and swept along the beach towards them. Carlos signaled urgently for them to push off, but Modesto ran back to get the last box lying in the sand. He gripped it firmly and had started running back towards the bonga when he was surrounded by the searchlight’s blinding white light. He heard someone shout “Halt! Halt!” But he kept running until he was thrown down by something hitting him in the back. He tried to get up, but he didn’t seem to have any strength in his arms and legs. Something under him felt warm. Blood; his blood.

He had the sensation that he was swimming underwater, swimming hard, but was not moving.

He could hear far-off voices. “Did we get all of them?”

“The old man looks like he has had it. The young one is alive but scared as hell.”

Modesto felt something on his neck; a hand? He heard a voice again. “A very weak pulse. Amazing what these Huks will do for their cause.”

A dim light shone under the water. Modesto tried to swim towards it. It kept getting dimmer and finally went out.

 

 

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