Part XIII: Targets of Opportunity
The Ticonderoga cruise wore on, and the pilot losses continued. An F-8 nugget in VF-191 lost his oil pressure, and tried to get back aboard before the engine froze up. It quit on short final, and he ejected. He drowned when he became tangled up in his chute before the helo could get to him.
I became convinced that I was not going to survive this environment. Too many experienced pilots had gone down, and I was still in the learning stage. I had played enough Klondike, the pilots' favorite dice game, to know that the odds were against me. I began to spend money ashore as if I had struck oil, on the theory that I would never be required to pay off the credit card bills. Once I became convinced that I only had a few weeks to live, I actually became a much better pilot. In fact, the shakiest pilots were the ones that thought too much about their family, wrote melancholy letters home, stared at their wife's picture, and worried about surviving. It was becoming apparent that you had to have lots of attitude, and even more luck. Fortunately, I was well supplied with both.
We continued to receive reports about the North Vietnamese shooting downed pilots. We became aware that the ever-present fishing boats in the Gulf of Tonkin were armed and just waiting for an opportunity to take out an American pilot.
One of the most deceptively dangerous missions was "photo escort." The F-8 had an unarmed photo reconnaissance version with fantastic camera capability, and was utilized for bomb damage assessment and target selection. These were the birds that took the revealing photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba, setting off the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Two or three of these defenseless aircraft were attached to each carrier and were flown by their own specially trained pilots, who were referred to as "photo weenies." On a typical mission, a fighter (armed) F-8 flew with the photo bird in case of MIG engagement, or to warn of SAMs. Too often, these guys tended to fly with their head in the "boot," aiming their cameras. The really bad part was that they always did their camera runs at low altitude over the most heavily defended territory. Japanese Kamikaze pilots would have been quite comfortable with this mission.
On a typical monsoon weather day, I was launched with one of the more experienced "photo weenies." We were directed=2
0to start at the DMZ and fly north up the entire North Vietnamese coast to Cam Pha, just below the Chinese border. We were supposed to report ship traffic and weather, because the admirals were itching to launch an Alpha Strike into any hole in the weather. God forbid---we were falling behind in the Navy-Air Force sortie race!
After launch, we found the weather to be impossible for visual bombing. Cloud tops were about 20,000', solid down to the bottoms at around 500'. Visibility over the water was restricted to about two miles in haze and fog. The photo pilot took the lead, and we dropped down to about 200' to keep sight of the coastal threats. We cruised north at a leisurely 300 kts., enjoying the picturesque sight of the fishing boats that were scattered over the coastal waters. At this low altitude, we were below the SAM envelope.
We cruised along on our "sight-seeing" tour, and finally reached the Hourglass River area, just northeast of Thanh Hoa. Numerous fishing boats were directly in our path, as we dropped down to 100' to stay below radar coverage of the numerous SAM sites in the area. I was flying a loose wing on the photo bird on his right side. Suddenly, tracers flashed just over my canopy, and I heard the staccato hammering of bullet shockwaves. This meant that the stream of bullets was coming extremely close to the cockpit.
I looked down to the right and spotted a fishing boat with two guys manning a machine gun, blazing away at me. I have often wondered how they missed at such close range.
We added full power. "Helo trap!" radioed the photo. The NVA had started mixing heavily armed boats within the fishing fleet, hoping to take out a low-flying helo or A-1 prop aircraft. Combined with all the other NVA nasty behavior, this cheap shot caused me to lose my cool. "I have the lead," I told the photo. I wanted a little "mano-a-mano" with the trigger-happy anglers. Now this was out of character--- as everyone knows, I'm not normally so impulsive.
I turned seaward in a wide right 270 deg. turn, flying on the instruments. Even though I knew I would lose sight of the boat because of the bad visibility and low ceiling, I figured it would have to be ahead of me when I rolled wings level. I was glad I took that Boat School navigation course! I checked MASTER ARM-ON, and selected GUNS. I heard that beautiful "clunk-clunk" as the four cannons each rammed a big 20mm round into their chambers. The gun sight reticle was illuminated and I leaned forward, hoping to place the "pipper" on the guilty boat before he saw me. Time to reach out and touch someone . . . ..
Out of the haze appeared a line of six small boats, apparently tied together. Their occupants saw me and a barrage of machine gun fire erupted, now coming from all six boats. The bullets were kicking up water geysers around me, and I realized I have to get them before they get me! As I got closer, I felt like the tracers were going right down my engine intake duct, but somehow they were missing. Head on, the F-8 does not give you much to shoot at.
The six-boat line had me in deep trouble. I was coming in perpendicular to their line, allowing them all to shoot at me. I had stupidly crossed "the T" on myself, even though at the Academy I had studied the Battles of Tsushima, Cape Esperance, Jutland and Surigao Strait, where this resulted in tactical disaster. I was now in a simple contest that would be determined in favor of the guy that landed the first knockout punch. Time to get creative.
I knew that if any of the gunners remained alive, there was no way they could miss my bird's exposed belly as I pulled out. At about 2,000' distance, I pulled sharply up to the 500' ceiling, and then jammed the nose down, putting the pipper on the center boats. Momentarily, this caused them to lose their bead on me. Holding
the trigger down, I alternately pushed the rudder pedals and yawed the aircraft several times left and right, making my tracers slash across the line of boats. The boats disintegrated and the high-explosive incendiary rounds vaporized the gunners. It was the luckiest shot I ever made. [Career tip: Never use up all of your luck in one phase of a battle. Save a little for the unexpected.] Watching the center boat break apart, I almost flew in the water, and overreacted by pulling up hard into the overcast. I believe they call that "target fixation." Some call it stupidity.
While hyperventilating in the clouds, I sensed something was very wrong. I looked at the attitude and vertical speed indicators and then the altimeter, and realized I was heading back down at the water with my nose in a near 90 degree angle. Totally on instruments, I slapped the stick to bring the wings level, pulled back hard and hit afterburner. As I popped out below the cloud deck, the dark water came rushing up. The bird began to shudder violently into a stall as I tried to keep her from hitting the water.
What they say is true about a near-death moment. Everything goes into slow motion, while your life's most important images flash through your mind at high speed. Just as I accepted the fact that I was dead, the groaning bird leveled off and somehow gradually flew out of the stall, with the water surface just inches from her belly. The photo pilot later said I was creating a huge rooster-tail of white water behind me. My bonding with this beast was paying off. In my imagination, the abused Crusader whispered to me---as women often did---"Don't do this to me again! Ever!"
My brain had melted down. I told the photo pilot, "Take me home---I can't think straight." In my mind, I was sure I was actually dead, and simply dreaming the rest of the flight from my watery grave. I flew along on the photo bird's wing, in a daze. When we got back to the carrier, I landed on the first pass, but could not remember the landing. I found myself sitting in "the pack" parking area on the port bow, not knowing how I got there. The maintenance crew had to help me out of the aircraft, because my knees would not work. The photo pilot was so certain I had actually hit the water, that he went back to inspect the tail cone of my bird to see if it was flattened.
The Skipper was not happy when he heard the story. "Nice! You almost traded a multi-million dollar aircraft for six lousy boats! And I don't have time to break in a new wingman!" I was thinking, it's nice to be needed.
I had nightmares about hitting the water for months. Since I slept in the top bunk, I would wake up in a sweaty panic and hit my head on the pipes overhead. I am fairly sure this caused permanent brain damage. From then on, I always saved some ordnance to use on the Hourglass fishing fleet, which I noticed were staying much closer to shore because of my "friendly visits." I suspect that the price of fresh fish in Hanoi went up considerably because of my personal vendetta.
I now realized everyone in North Vietnam was the enemy, regardless of gender, occupation or age. Everyone carried an AK-47 or other weapon. There were no innocent civilians north of the DMZ. I was now a killing machine with no conscience. The transformation was complete. The American taxpayers were finally getting what they had paid for.
One day the weather broke, and the Alpha Strikes began. I was assigned to Iron Hand, to prevent the SAMs from being launched against the strike group. I teamed up with A-4 driver Rick Millson (who later became a Blue Angel). We flew well together. The Shrike missile, carried by the A-4E, was a wonderful payback to the SAM operators. It locked on their radar and flew directly into the control van, which often contained Soviet advisors. When Millson was out of Shrikes, I still had my 12 Zuni rockets, which were accurate and deadly to personnel and light vehicles. We fused them to explode about 50' above the ground, where they would spray a vicious cone of shrapnel. Being in a Zuni's path would not be pleasant---or survivable.
On this strike, the Air Wing deployed four Iron Hand teams in a semi-circular screen up the Red River ahead of the strike force, and we started hunting. It did not take long for the NVA's reaction. Our SAM lights started flashing, with that hideous tone in our headsets. "Tally-ho, SAMs at 10 and 12 o'clock!" yelled Millson. He immediately locked his first Shrike on the southern site, and pickled the big missile off. He then swung around to the other one, firing another Shrike. His missiles flew directly down the SAM L-band guidance beams and hit the control vans, undoubtedly killing everyone inside.
About the time I was telling myself how much fun this was, two more SAMs lifted off from different sites, zooming toward us from opposite directions. Millson dodged the first one, but we both had to go into a high-g spiral to escape the second missile. I lost sight of Millson in the frantic pullout, and he failed to answer on the radio. I thought he had been shot down. This made me crazy. Now I really wanted to take somebody out.
C2 At that moment, through a hole in the scattered cloud layer, I saw the distinctive rosette pattern of a big SAM site, reloading its missiles. I rolled into a steep dive on it and ripple-fired all 12 Zunis in a direct hit on the control van. Later reconnaissance photos showed the van and missiles were all destroyed by the Zunis. Pulling off, I was nearly smothered by big black puffs of AAA fire from 100mm guns. The NVA did not appreciate the loss of a SAM site.
I finally found Millson, who had radio problems and had joined up on the A-3 tanker about 30 miles from the ship. We both tanked and landed back aboard, feeling very good about this day. Between us, we had destroyed three SAM sites and the strike group had no losses. It doesn't get much better than that.
The weather went bad again, and only a few birds got launched each day. The Buzzard came up to me in the ready room and said, "I got one of my buddies in Strike Ops to launch the spare on a coastal recce. We're going to have some fun." On each flight, there was normally a back-up aircraft, called "the spare." On this launch, Buzzard was the lead, I was the wingman, and Gator was the spare. Oh, shit. This was not a trio that the Skipper would want flying together. When Buzzard talked about "fun," there was usually a price to pay.
Buzzard had us meet him in his room. "How do you guys feel about watching Soviet and Chinese ships carry SAMS and ammo into Haiphong?" Buzzard asked.
"It sucks," replied Gator.
"Big time," I added.
"Well, do you want to do something about it? I've been working on a plan. But I need to know you are both committed."
"Buzzard, we are fed up with these 'rules of endangerment' that are getting our people killed and captured. Gator and I are ready to do what ever it takes to hurt the NVA and their Commie pals. What do you want to do?" I asked.
Buzzard went over the procedures, and what to expect. We reviewed a map with Buzzard to make sure we all understood the tricky geography involved. It would be critical to fly a perfect track to the rocket release point in order to avoid ground fire.
We each carried 38 2.75 in. rockets. Usually, the big 19-shot rocket pods were set to fire one rocket at a time. Buzzard told us to change the pod settings to RIPPLE and our cockpit switches to BOTH, which would shoot all 38 in close sequence.
The Admiral wanted more sorties, so---as Buzzard predicted--- the spare (Gator) was launched with us. We joined up in Combat Spread with Buzzard in the lead, me in tactical wing, and Gator in the Combat Spread position.
The weather was classic monsoon. Tops were the typical 20,000' with bottoms at 500'. At about 50 miles from the coast, Buzzard started navigating on his radar and identified the Haiphong lighthouse. He wagged his wings, signaling for us to join close on him, with Gator on his left wing, and me on his right. We switched to a pre-arranged frequency, and turned our IFF systems off so that Red Crown could not identify us. No need to provide evidence for our court-martial.
In a tight formation, we started descending through the clouds, heading directly for Haiphong, the heavily defended port. We all knew that the Soviets and Chinese were resupplying the NVA through Haiphong. Regardless, our Rules of Engagement placed their ships strictly off-limits, but sometimes you have to use a little initiative to hurt the enemy. Besides, everyone knows that rules are guidelines, and not absolute---except at the Naval Academy. It would be unfortunate if we hit some Soviet or Chinese ships, but we would not be aiming at them, right?
The clouds got thicker, and Gator and I closed in tight on Buzzard's wing to keep sight of him. If you screwed up and lost sight of that wingtip, you had to pull away and reverse course to avoid a mid-air collision in the clouds. I was so close, I felt as I could reach out and touch Buzzard's wingtip, which was only about five feet from my cockpit. Even then, I could barely keep sight of it.
Finally, the three of us popped out together at 400' over the water, with the Haiphong lighthouse passing to our left. We descended to about 50' to avoid their radar and SAM shots. Buzzard had correctly predicted that the gunners on either side of the harbor entrance would be unable to fire at us for fear of hitting their buddies on the other side.
The Buzzard had carefully plotted this caper. At an exact spot and heading, he pulled up with us in close formation to a 30 deg. nose-high angle, and said, "Stand by…….FIRE!" A salvo of 114 rockets lofted toward the Haiphong docks, where the Soviet and Chinese ships were tied up. Buzzard then did a graceful right reversal, with us on each wing, to get back down on the water before the NVA could fire at us. At the top of this maneuver, our SAM lights illuminated, but they lost lock when we reversed our track and zipped back through the harbor entrance at 50' altitude. Out of SAM range, Buzzard climbed us back through the clouds, again in tight formation. When on top, we switched back to Red Crown's frequency and turned our IFF back on, as if nothing had happened. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil . . . .
During debrief with the intelligence officers, which occurred after almost every flight, we were asked if we had gone anywhere near Haiphong. Apparently, the rocket barrage had hit several Soviet ships and started multiple fires around the port area. The Russians were furious, and complained to Washington. Buzzard replied, "No, but we did see some Air Force F-105s in that area. It must have been them." As Buzzard left the room, he whispered to me, "VSH!"
To my dismay, the Skipper was leading another strike. This time, it was even closer to Hanoi. The target was actually a wooden foot bridge. and had been selected by McNamara himself. I was fed up. The White House and SECDEF were micro-managing this conflict into a needless defeat. There were plenty of good targets, but this was not one of them. For every real target we did not hit, more American troops in South Vietnam would die.
Even more upsetting was the revelation that we would be the lead bombers, because the F-8s could each carry two 2,000 lb. bombs. Gator and I were again flying wing on the Skipper. He seemed to like having both of us around on difficult missions. How nice.
We were strapped in our birds, waiting for the target weather to improve. I was sitting on the starboard catapult, feeling a growing resentment for those who constantly launched us against worthless targets in heavily defended areas, even in bad weather. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two men approaching my aircraft. I looked down to see the Admiral and his chief of staff standing by the cockpit, looking up at me. "Good luck, son," said RADM Tom Walker ('39).
"Yeah, pray for good weather, Admiral," I replied curtly. His chief of staff glowered at my insolence, and they walked away, wondering why this lowly LT did not embrace their morale-building encouragement. I think they had watched The Bridges at Toko-Ri too many times.
The Admiral and his staff ran a spooky place below decks, called "The War Room." There were big maps on the bulkheads with hundreds of little colored pins. The only thing missing was Dr. Strangelove himself. Basically, the Admiral and his staff were useless and contributed nothing to our operations. They were simply justifying their own existence, like sea-going bureaucrats. This is the same admiral that went to sleep in a briefing for a visiting VIP, when I had been ordered to attend as a "representative" junior pilot. We really should require officers to retire at an earlier age.
Finally, the flight deck erupted in activity and we were told to crank it up. We blasted off the catapults in afterburner, carrying a partial fuel load because of the heavy weight. We then had to top off our fuel at the tanker, struggling to plug into the basket with our probe. We frequently had to tap afterburner to keep control at this slow speed and excessive weight. After fueling, we rendezvoused with the strike group and headed for our coast-in point, the Hourglass River.
On the way in, the flak was heavy and the SAMs were flying at us from every direction. We came up on our miserable little target, and I noticed a large town just southwest of the bridge. Tracers and heavy flak were spewing up at us from the town itself. I decided that I had been jacked around enough for one day. Besides, I liked hitting flak sites.
The Skipper and Gator dutifully rolled right to bomb the little bamboo bridge and missed it. I slid left to put my aim point squarely in the center of the big town that was obviously a supply staging area and the source of the monstrous flak barrage. If any traffic was actually going across this measly little bridge, it was undoubtedly going through this town. They certainly had plenty of flak gunners, and those guys were just begging to die. They would get their wish.
Gator and I had worked hard to perfect a high angle, high altitude bomb release technique at about 10,000' so that we could pull out well above the bulk of the ground fire, which---except for the big 100mm guns---came up to about 6,000'. This technique was surprisingly accurate because of the high dive angle, and very hard for the flak gunners to hit an aircraft in such a steep dive.
I slid left and placed my bombsight on the center of the town, using the 70-mil ring. I pickled and felt the huge bombs drop off, followed in seconds by the shock waves from the detonations as I climbed at full power. I looked back to see that the two bombs had obliterated the town and started multiple secondary explosions. Obviously, the town was storing something more sinister than rice and monkey meat. The flak abruptly stopped. The stinking town was guilty as charged. Sayonara, Mama-san.
During the debrief, we stated that we were desperately dodging flak, and did the best we could to get that pesky, importan
t little bridge. However, the town was conspicuously missing in the new reconnaissance photos, replaced by two huge bomb craters. Must have been the Air Force again. No thanks to McNamara, a real target had been hit. The attack pukes were happy, because I had eliminated most of the flak. One of them actually hit the bridge after we pulled off.
Life on the carrier during these times was strange and schizophrenic. We would go to the wardroom and have a nice breakfast, complete with uniformed stewards and white linen tablecloths and napkins. Then we would go out and sweat through two hours of combat, while several million Vietnamese tried to kill us. After we landed back aboard ship, we would go down to the wardroom for lunch. Uniformed stewards, white linens again. Then back in the aircraft to let people try to kill you all over again, day after day.
Gator had a weird sense of humor. Unlike me, Gator had an abnormal personality and should have had professional counseling. Knowing how the Black Shoes disliked the Air Wing, Gator loved to elbow his way into a seat at the senior officers' table in the wardroom, wearing his sweaty flight suit. Gator's table manners were bad enough, but he always had to say something inflammatory to upset the Black Shoes. I found this somewhat ironic, since Gator had been a Black Shoe prior to flight training.
On one occasion, Gator announced "Flight priority! Make way for fighter pilots!" as we pushed our way to the head table. We were seated in the midst of LCDRs and CDRs in spotless uniforms, who clearly disliked our smelly flight suits at their table. Gator said loudly, "Hot Dog, I can't believe I missed that target today with my bombs, and hit a stupid hospital!" All eyes turned toward us.
"Well, why did you miss it, Gator? What were you trying to hit?" I asked innocently.
"Dog, I was trying to hit a school bus, but they parked it right in front of that hospital. What a mess! Body parts everywhere. I ran out of bombs before I could nail that school bus, so I had to strafe it with 20mm." With horrified looks, the Black Shoes abandoned the table in disgust. Gator laughed uncontrollably, saying "Dog, I don't think anyone wants to have lunch with you!" I wondered if he had gone over the edge. I was pretty sure that I had. Gator munched happily on his sandwich and said, "Pass the ketchup." I wondered if anyone would notice if I quietly strangled Gator with my cloth napkin.
The East Coast F-8 drivers were not the only ones having trouble with the Tonkin Gulf environment. Some of the East Coast F-4 squadrons were also having adjustment problems. While grossly undertrained for this environment, they were overly aggressive in their desire to shoot down a MIG and prove their manhood, which culminated in a huge fiasco one sunny day.
The Air Force had been using pilotless jet drones, equipped with cameras, to conduct photo reconnaissance runs around Hanoi. The drones were launched from a multi-engine aircraft and flew a programmed flight profile into the target area, then flew back over the water for recovery by a specially equipped C-130. On electronic command, the drone would shut down and jettison its camera capsule, which would descend from high altitude in a parachute. The recovery aircraft would snag it before it hit the water, and reel it in to retrieve the camera films. On this particular day, the Air Force had neglected to tell the Navy that it was launching a drone. Normally, Red Crown would clear all aircraft out of the way.
The drone was launched and flew its profile perfectly. As it reversed course over Hanoi, the drone began to climb to its egress altitude, which was about 50,000'. When the drone crossed the coastline without showing a friendly IFF signal, Red Crown announced that a MIG was heading toward the carrier group at high altitude.
On one of the big carriers, a well-known and obnoxious LCDR was sitting in his F-4 on Alert Five. He was immediately launched, along with his wingman, to intercept the bogey. The wingman got radar contact and was given permission to fire on the bogey. However, he misjudged the bogey altitude and could not get into firing position.
The leader then hit burner and climbed into firing position, saying, "Red Crown, I have a positive ID on a MIG-21! Am I cleared to fire?"
"This is Red Crown. You are cleared to fire!"
The F-4 fired a Sidewinder, which exploded near the drone's tail. Immediately, the drone's recovery chute opened, and its camera package started descending. "Red Crown, splash one bogey! And we have a MIG pilot in his chute! We are following him down!"
Everyone dreamed of capturing one of the MIG pilots, because we knew the Russians, Chinese and possibly the North Koreans had been flying missions with the North Vietnamese. Capturing one of the foreign pilots would be a huge prize, and a great embarrassment to the other side. Who knows? Maybe it would be fun to have our very own MIG pilot at Happy Hour! We could keep him as a squadron mascot, and chain him to a seat in o
ur ready room! After the war, we could get him political asylum, and he could run a 7-11 or something. Gator fantasized about surrounding a MIG with several F-8s, then forcing him to fly back to the carrier with us (similar to a scene in the movie Blue Max). Then, Gator would shoot him down alongside the carrier, and with a little luck, we would recover the pilot. Gator would say, "Who cares about the Mutha' Trophy when you can have your very own MIG pilot? We could use him to clean our rooms, run the movie projector and make coffee in the ready room."
Immediately, several destroyers and frigates were detached to proceed at flank speed to the anticipated splash-down of the MIG pilot. The two F-4 crews watched as the drone camera package hit the water, triggering its automatic flotation devices.
"Red Crown, the MIG pilot appears to be in his raft!" said the lead F-4.
"Roger, we have a destroyer nearby---return to home plate. Good job!"
When the two F-4 crews returned to their carrier, the admiral and the ship's captain were proudly waiting. The lead crew reportedly received the Navy Cross, amid the cheers of the crew.
Meanwhile, the Air Force could not20find its drone. A terse message was issued to TF 77: "Urgent. Recce drone missing, ser. no. _________. Advise if drone is in radar contact, or last known position."
About the same time, the on-scene destroyer fished wreckage from the water. One piece contained the same Air Force serial number. The "MIG" was actually one of the Air Force's drones. Oops!
When this information reached the big-deck carrier, the admiral canceled the press release and instructed the F-4 crew to return the Navy Crosses. After that, the F-8s were given more exposure to airborne MIGs, since the F-4s had embarrassed their Flag supporters with the Air Force.
Gator had decided that he was tired of the intolerable heat in our stateroom, mostly caused by a huge exhaust duct that vented the steam catapults. He vowed to duplicate the engineering achievements of Porky and Buzzard and install the air conditioner he had smuggled aboard in Hawaii.
Because of his Black Shoe engineering knowledge, he quickly got it installed and vented. Now it was time to hook up the power. Gator found that the ship "snipes" [engineers] were doing some serious wiring on the fourth deck. One night, he appropriated about 50' of heavy-duty power cable from their work site. Gator said, "Hey we're all just trying to modernize the ship, right? The Black Shoes should thank us!"
Gator was almost as clever with tools as Porky. One night, he dragged out his huge power drill and said, "We are going to wire our air conditioner to the water-tight fuse box in the passage way." He found that the box was sealed, so he drilled it open. He was hooking up his wires to achieve a 110v. solution in a 220v. circuit when the ship's Engineering Officer rounded the corner.
"What are you men doing??? Who are you? My God, you are officers!"
Gator replied matter-of-factly, "I'm Gator, this is Hot Dog, and we're drilling into this fuse box to get some power for our air conditioner. "
The head snipe, a CDR, went crazy. "You men are sabotaging my ship! You are going to the Captain!" I thought this could be a really good thing. I actually haven't met the Captain yet, and personal relationships are important in the Navy. The more senior officers you know, the better your chances for promotion. We were called to the bridge.
The Captain was very upset. He glared at us from his big leather bridge chair and said, "You men have violated our engineering integrity. You have damaged our ship." I silently thought, Hey, you should see what I do to your ship with some of my landings, if you think this is bad. Wow, he has a nice view from up here!
Back in the squadron ready room, the Skipper had a hard time keeping a straight face. "OK, boys, keep your hands off the ship. Play with your own toys. The F-8s belong to you, and the ship belongs to the Black Shoes. We are guests here. Consider yourselves reprimanded. "
"Aye, aye, Sir," we chorused. Back to that miserable hot room. Time to think about tomorrow's Alpha Strike. More death, more destruction. Hopefully, it will be theirs and not ours.