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Wolfpack's Houseboy

Fighter pilots are born with the right to lie.

It occurs to me that I may not be presenting this worthy profession in the most favorable light. Thus far, the best you could say about him is that the All-American Fighter Pilot is a thieving, back-shooting, cowardly liar.

Let me clarify that.

The All-American Fighter Pilot is a thieving, back-shooting, cowardly liar.

How do you tell the difference between a tall tale and a completely objective recounting of the events of battle? You could check the credentials of the yarn-spinner. You could rely on the reputation of the publisher. You could solicit testimony from other witnesses or if there are none, you could consult with knowledgeable experts.

For this particular yarn, let me help out. It's a very tall tale. If it ever happened, it wasn't to me, and nobody ever told me such a tale.

Okay, do we have that straight, now?

I'm reasonably sure that had we ever captured a bona fide, card-carrying MiG jock, we would never have assigned him the duties of a houseboy.

You may not know what a houseboy is. He cleans the hooch, makes the bunks, and shines your flight boots. He's almost like a member of the family. Considered a friend, he is paid-and generously tipped-by a group of warriors with the softest hearts and the most gratuitous wallets.

He even washes your clothes-the hard way, pounding them vigorously with rocks on the banks of the dirtiest river you've ever seen. How the clothes ever came clean under such conditions remains to this day one of the darkest secrets of the war. But they were always mysteriously clean, though they smelled a bit odd and seemed to have a significantly shorter half- life than they did back in the States where they were regularly machine-washed.

So, this particular yarn goes along the lines of a more or less routine-HAM!!-Alpha Strike mission with Phantoms, MiGs, SAMs, triple-A, fear, sweat, adrenalin, brilliance, stupid mistakes-with attendant high prices-and a sort of unusual air battle, followed by a typically heroic SAR (search and rescue) effort.

There are so many wonderful opportunities to fuck up in combat, and when it is air combat, there are some exceptionally ingenious hooks. In a fighter, you can turn left and right same as a grunt rifle-toter or a wop-wop jock. They can go up and down, and you can too, but one helluva lot farther and faster than they. The same is true of going forward. But here, the similarities take a kinky turn; they can back up. . . and you cannot. . .

Oh, I suppose you could tail-slide a fighter, but that would be backing 'down,' not 'up.' 'Backing down' is carefully excised from a fighter pilot's vocabulary, even when it has a perfectly harmless geometric meaning. I think that's why the terminology 'tail slide' was invented.

I wouldn't want to do a tail slide with wing tanks on the outboards and a stick of five 760- pound bombs strapped to the belly. Even with a relatively clean escort configuration of missiles, I can't imagine what tactical situation would call for a tail slide.

Here's how you do one: You point the beast straight up, perpendicular to the surface of the earth, and hold it there until you run completely out of airspeed and the machine begins to slide, tail first, back toward the ground.

A fighter pilot is like a dog riding in the back of a pickup truck; he is instinctively compelled to keep his nose pointed into the wind. Have you ever seen a dog turn around in the back of a truck and aim his asshole at the wind? Of course not; it is one of the world's more unnatural acts.

I never did a tail slide, I don't think. I was afraid of putting the bastard out of control in the process of swapping ends back around the right way, then having to punch out and walk home. And answer a lot of embarrassing questions.

Anyway, not being able to back up in a high performance jet fighter was very good reason to plan far enough ahead inflight to make sure you didn't stick your nose in some place where the only way out was to slam on the brakes, throw it into reverse and back up.

We always made sure before we rolled in on a target that when we came off the bomb run

we were already pointed in the direction we wanted to go to get the hell outta Dodge.

Back to the tall tale.

These two guys are a Phantom crew on a bombing mission, as opposed to a MiG-hunting mission. Today they drop bombs on some random bridge in North Vietnam. Not a random bridge; this one is very near the heart of downtown Hanoi. That is the meaning of the reference to 'bullseye.'

Every one of us carried a bullseye map. It was an ONC, scale 1:1,000,000. Upon it, we had drawn a series of rings centered on the North Vietnamese capital city. That way, everybody in the world, including Nguyen if he had one eye and half sense, would know the location of any object or event referenced to 'bullseye' over the radio.

Our intrepid sky warriors pickle off their bombs and haul ass westbound for the relative safety of northern Laos. They almost make it. They are within spitting distance of our friendly TACAN (Tactical Air Navigation) station operating on channel 97, when a fang-driven Nguyen in a MiG-21 hoses an Atoll up the Phantom's tailpipe.

Over the side from their burning F-4 go our two fearless Yankee Air Pirates.

Then Nguyen gets a rude return to reality when the wise old man flying the front seat of Chevy Lead stitches his ass with a pistol-the one slung to Big Ugly's belly. M-61A1 gun: one-thousand ways of dying. . .

Poor old Nguyen has the high misfortune to parachute into a tree right above a very pissed off GI Joe.

Follows: A routine rescue, complete with starring roles by those ever-lovin'' Sandies and Jolly Greens, and Nguyen is transplanted to Ubon, where he gets a firsthand look at life in the Wolfpack. Fantastic yarn, but not true. The acronyms are:

TOC - Tactical Operations Center. The Wolfpack's cerebral facility

AAA - Triple A. Anti-aircraft artillery. Ground-based guns with bullet diameters ranging from less than an inch up to nearly four inches whose purpose in life is to kill airplanes.

SAM - Surface to air missile. Nguyen got them from the Russians. Bullets are dumb; they don't maneuver. SAMs are smart; they try to chase you down.

GIB - Guy in the backseat. The rear cockpit crewmember in the Air Force Phantom. The official designation is WSO (Wizzo) and means 'Weapons Systems Officer.' The Navy called them RIO, for Radar Intercept Officer.

The Jolly Green was the rescue helicopter-more guts per capita than regulations would ever admit.

Sandy was the ancient but brave Korean War vintage Douglas A-1 Skyraider, propeller-driven rescue escort fighter.

. . Nope, it never happened, at least I don't think so; but just what if. .

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