I’ve often thought of the men I was supposed to lead back in the Vietnam War era when we were on the U.S.S. Constellation (CVA-64) operating from Yankee Station. Attached to VAQ-134, I was a Junior Officer and pretty worthless as the Line Division Officer. But I was smart enough, at least, to get out of the way and let the Chief run the show. Still, I admired those young men—average age probably around 19—and I appreciated what they were doing.
I just ran across an old squadron ’Famly Gram’ news letter from September 1973, just before we headed home. In retrospect, I doubt what I wrote gave wives and girlfriends much comfort, even if it did show them their men were doing something exceptional.
Do you ever wonder what's going on up on the roof? Probably not, but then your roof is a little different from mine. I often wonder what's going on up there - up on the Flight Deck.
My roof is a place with noise so loud it is literally deafening. It comes from jet exhausts that blow scorching 150 degree winds of over 100 miles per hour even when you’re yards away. Sometimes those winds, whipped to several hundred miles per hour by the power required to taxi an aircraft, have flicked men over the side to the rushing water 60 feet below.
Intakes from the jets on the roof are great grinning monster maws that have already sucked up one man's life when he ventured to close. And propellers. Great heavy spinning scyths, swinging in whicked arcs that sound like hell, and can take you there in a brief gory instant.
That's not all that's going on, up on my roof. There are men working in that nightmare world. And they work in tropical sun, torrential rain , and dim erie red light at night. Ask an average man to go up there, and you know what he'll tell you? "No way, man."
But men do work up there; the men from the Garuda Line Division do. More than twelve hours, day and night. Seven days a week, sometimes for almost a month without a break. You know how they tell it's Saturday? It isn't a ball game on TV, or a barbecue out back with the kids. It isn't an extra beer or two 'cause you don't have to work tomorrow. It's Saturday because, because. . . well, you can't tell when it's Saturday. "What day is today anyway?" "Hell, I don't know, September I guess."
Who are they, those men that live among the seventy-odd beasts that so casually can cut them down for a moment, for just the tinyest, briefest moment of inattention? A brown shirt. A plane captain, one of those guys from the Line Division I was telling you about.
He comes in a variety of shapes and sizes (check out "Sugarbear" if you don't believe me). They're called Duke, Wayne, Inspector Ben. Hobber, Bruce, Gil, Newt, Beetle, Rat Bun (Rat Bun?), Herbie, Lou, Dave, Taco, Dan, Grif, and Ike. They're called other names too, more often than not unprintable. Pick anyone at random and he probably has a mustache or beard, hair that's too long according to the MAA, no stencil on his pants from working on non-skid decks and very-skid aircraft. He has grease in his hair, and at least a bump or two on his head from pumping up that damn birdcage.
Who is he? He's from the Line Division. He's a man doing a hard job well. He's hot, thirsty, horny and harrassed.
He's a Garuda Plane Captain.