CLEM CLEMENT SHARES SOME 61-DELTA MEMORIES
Chuck Nettle said that I should write some of my membrances as a student officer pilot. He said we had it easy compared to the Aviation Cadets. Somehow I don't remember the easy part. Those guys were younger and in better shape than us and it showed running that mile run every so often. I can remember them kids poking fun at us huffin and puffin. I don't know if they had Saturday drill or what- we were off, but lots of study. I really don't remember the difs- maybe they had to march everywhere and we did not. Dunno. I was trying so hard to learn to be a pilot that I didn't compare my lot to any one else. I was always studying and focused on the next flight/class. That discipline did put me in good stead as I don't think I ever went for a flight throughout my career without reading something the night before or flight planning the day before.
I'm just going to let these stiff fingers rip and see what comes of the effort. I'll try to put things in time order and I certainly don't want to insult or call-up bad memories. My hope is that it will stir someone else's memories and the forthcoming reunion will be better for it. I'm having trouble remembering flying stories, seems the funning, ground off-duty things are popping up first.
To get to Pre-flight school in Lackland, Texas, I drove from Los Angles where I was working for North American Aviation. I was a research metallurgist on the B-70 and the X-15. My last day the boss said that he could still get me a deferment as I was critical to the military production effort. It was very tempting. I was bringing home $98 a week, living on the beach - I mean four houses from the sand in Hermosa Beach, two blocks from the Hermosa pier with the Lighthouse (remember Enoch Light and the Light house All Stars?), the Insomniac Hippie Joint and 3 miles from the most famous bar- the Pitcher House ($0.50 a pitcher before noon on Sunday and $1.00 afterwards.)(Rooty beer of course.) I left work at 4:20 PM, was into a beer and on my surf board by 4:45 PM. And the boss wanted me to stay!! Some days my mind wanders back to those times and...
I drove in my hot rod '54 Merc from LA down to San Antonio in two days, I think. I remember roaring across the desert hot and miserable. Anyway, I got to Lackland and stayed in a flea bag motel that night. Sign-in was the next morning. That night was a no sleeper. I dug out the uniforms the ROTC department had purchased for me. My Commandant had decided that we ROTC guys needed help, so he used our $300 clothing allowance to buy our uniforms for us. What a mistake. I had silver tans, bermuda shorts and a pith helmet, the long sleeve tan shirts and some rank. I had no idea what uniform to report in and no idea how the rank was to go on.
The next morning I go on into the base and somehow find my building and there is already a line of FNGs. What a silly looking bunch we were. No one looked the same- rank sideways, different uniforms, blue or tan, shorts, civies, etc. I had hoped to sidle up to someone knowledgeable and copy their getup. About that time a sergeant came along and busted out laughing and called us to attention. We did not know any better. Then he, still chortling, went along the line and dressed us. Something about the Nation is in deep sheep dip with this gang protecting us. When he got to me he said I thought I had trained you better- he was a Sgt from my ROTC unit- I was so happy to see him and as usual, our enlisted corps carried the day for us officers. He was to advise me though out preflight and gave me a real good start as you will see later.
I can remember we were bunked in alfa order. Dick Bronson was nearby as was Rod Bowden. Law Christian was my roomey. He later left a sick B-47 and went thru a barn. We marched a lot and did some class activity. I don't know what they were trying to teach us. We did have PLF training and the confidence course. Also ejection seat training. The main thing that sticks out in my mind was the flight physical. I had had trouble during college with the depth perception machine. Remember that 6 foot wheel with the pink and white blinking lights along the outer edges? We were supposed to see pink rather than white, or some fool thing. I went to Mitchell Field for the test twice in order to pass it. Also I had hay fever and had to lie about it on my physical exam sheets. Hay fever was an automatic disqualification from flight school. (so I have a lot of "sniffles".)
Three of us were too tall to fly-Dick Ivers, Dick Bronson and myself. We wore overcoats when we marched to compress our spines. I can remember Bronson marching with a person on his shoulders. I was in great fear of failing that physical. Physical day came and we did all sorts of exercises to shrink ourselves. We got to the measurement part and I was sweating and frightened. I think the three of us went together. Anyway, when it was my turn, I tried to look cool, but I'm sure the fright showed. The measuring person was a grey haired black sergeant with the kindest, warmest voice I have ever heard. He sat me on the measuring seat and said "You wanna fly, son?" I'm sure I said sir after a loud YES. He measured my sitting height- which was the problem-and shook his head. You see my sitting height was 39 1/2" and the max at that time was 37". I knew I was two and 1/2 inches too tall; a long way to shrink. This wonderful man looked me in the eye, and said what I will never forget: "Son, let me teaches you how to set." I tear as I write this. "You still wanna fly?" "You hasta put your rear up next to the backboard of the measuring seat and yo hasta hold yo head level and touch the backboard with the back of your head. But the manual doesn't say whats yo gotta do with yo backbone- so bend it." My spine was so S shaped you don't believe it. When he got it scrunched down as much as he could, he took the measurement and shouted "I seen it. I seen it-37 inches, son. We don't needs to measure agin." I apologize if the quotes bother you, but this man got me into flying school. I think the AF knew how good he was- I hope so. This was the crowning moment for me and after that detail things about Lackland are long gone off my mind. Ivers and Bronson passed as well. The sergeant I mentioned did get me to show my travel as the date I would have left my home of record (New Jersey), if I had, which I didn't. This small change helped during one of the promotion cycles.
The trip to Bainbridge AFB, Georgia was in tandem with Fred Burkhart. We both were running older cars.
Bainbridge began with more PT from a really tough instructor.
My Primary instructor was Bob Best. He was a very talented and kind gentleman and a wonderful teacher. As I was new to flying, without Mr Bob, I would not have become a pilot. He struggled so hard to get me thru the initial flights fears. He was ready to fein sickness to get me to shape up and take over the controls. There was a lot of fly and barf, fly and barf, till he and I overcame my demons.
Solo day at Donaldsonville was something wasn't it. Remember, boys?? All those strange sounds in the airplane, the longest downwind ever, the fear during the turn to final that the thing was going to fall outa the sky, the perfect landing-didn't the tower have something nice to say? Seems to me Mr Bob was in the tower or by the side of the runway for encouragement. The bus ride back was so glorious. One of the many things I never got to do was to go back and see him and relive those formative days. How proud he and other instructors must of been in their retirement days, knowing how many of us they trained.
Bob also had lots to tell about life as well as flying. I'm getting a little soft here, but I had lost my Dad 3 years before and I then and now always look to my elders for fatherly advice and support. Bob was one of my "dads." He sold insurance as well and I still have his policy.
One night at the bar we decided to go to Marti Gras. Dick Ivers, Dick Brooks, Jim Forrest and myself. Dick Ivers drove and the rest of us slept. We got to New Orleans at sun rise and went immediately to the Gunga Din for more drinks. That was my first time in New Orleans and I was stunned. After several rounds Dick Brooks and I decided we needed to sleep somewhere. We agreed the meet the other two at the Dixieland Cafe at 7 PM that night. Dick and I went to Tulane where they had a Chapter of my Fraternity. I invited us in and we sleep on the floor on mattresses for all. There was a steady flow of drunks coming in, crashing and going back at it. We recovered and went back to the Dixieland, only to find they were a little too friendly in there for us. It took most of the night to find the guys. We acquired beads, Hurricane glasses and all such parafinalia. Dick Ivers drove us back Sunday and he flew Monday Morning. Remember, one week you flew in the morning, and the next week you flew in the afternoon or did it alternate each day. Primary was one way and basic was the other. We were in terrible shape for some days after that.
Which instructor was it that sold us the moonshine? You guys remember? We got to talking northern talk and this cracker say: boys you don't know what is good. We pressed him and he began to tell is about 3-second shine. We knew nothing about such vile poisons. I remember deciding to try some. He, of course couldn't sell the stuff and couldn't be seen with it, so we bought apples from him in public. Good apples too. In morning real early a brown paper sack showed up on my porch. It had a fruit jar in it. We took it inside and loosened the lid and nearly died. The paint pealed off'n the walls. I can remember Jim and I whimpy-tasting that stuff over the weekend. Man 'o man, I could see thru the walls. We were afraid of it and not much ever was utilized.
There are so many stories. We felt that Dick Ivers (I'm so sad he is gone- he needs to know who did these terrible things to him.)... Let me stop my story and thank the senior officers in our class. I roomed with Jim Forrest and it was such a pleasure. He and several others came to us via Nav. school and some operational time and were seasoned vets who really helped us. Several of them were married and lived off base. Jim, Dick Ivers and others lived amongst us kids and did us a world of good. Sometimes I wonder if I would have amounted to anything if it wasn't for those who helped and guided me along. I saw Dick once after flying school and Jim never. Sorry and thanks for what you did for me. I introed Jim to his future wife and feel so good about that. From their first date, Jim was a changed man- it was beautiful to watch.
...Back to Dick Ivers. For some reason Dick Bronson and Jay Colpitts felt Ivers needed some assistance sleeping. He may have been the dorm commander-don't remember. I do remember his bed with him sleeping in it being put out into the woods in a ditch full of running water. Don't remember why he deserved that, but I'm sure he did.
Am I right- didn't we get a light snow while we were at Bainbridge. Didn't they want us to taxi the Tweets and melt the snow off'n the runway?
Friday nights we frequently popped a couple hundret chillies and then went to that wonderful catfish house along the Chattahouchie River. All the cat you could eat with coleslaw, fries and hush puppies. The Mrs cooked and dad caught the fish behind the shack on the river. My record was 13 full catfish dinners.
How about the first spin in the Tweet. They told us to pick a prominent land mark, like a lake and count the times the lake passed. To me all was a blur as the Tweet really wound up. I remember one class mate coming back after solo, complaining that he had troubles with spins and the leadership was hot as students weren't to spin solo. I remember who but I ain't saying.
There was a good auto hobby shop at Bainbridge. I spent many a happy hour in that place fixing my Merc and helping with other cars. The auto hobby shop concept, the brainchild of General Curt LeMay, was so helpful to me all thru my career.
This story is on Tommy Brennan. Tommy-we need to meet again. And Tommy tells this one much better than I. For some reason, I felt Tommy needed some night help. Me being a naturalist, I knew about frogs and their habits. So I gets me a nice fat Chuggerup and a basin of swamp water. While Tommy is at the movies, I pick his lock and place the basin with the swamp water and some reeds in it under his bed. I put the 6 inch Chuggerup in the far corner of the room under the bureau. Turns out Tommy is a light sleeper-didn't know that. Anyway he turns in and a little later he hears hop, flop, hop-what was that? Then nothing followed by hop hop hop. You see, Mr frog's skin is drying out and he can smell the brackish water and wants some. So he is wandering around looking for it. My top secret plan is that when he gets into water he will be so happy that he will give out a few Chuggerups and that oughta be good for Tommy's night. So hop hop hop goes Mr Frog and by this time Tommy ain't so much more sleeping. He get's up turns the lights on and nothing. Back in bed and hop hop hop. He tries to get a silhouette as the hopping passes the window and no shadow. Long night for Tommy and Mr. frog. Sadly Mr. Frog couldn't find the water so he never sang. HeHeHe
Then there was my potty problem. I had come to Bainbridge via some place that sold fire crackers. They were made in Jersey and sold in Georgia. I had real stuff. I had found them on the way to ROTC summer camp in Florida the year before and renewed the supply for Bainbridge. They came in wooden boxes packed with straw and were the good ones. 7-second cherry bombs and 5-second ash cans. For some stupid reason I thought I could flush one down the toilet. In the dorm at my high school, you could flush one down the crapper on the top floor and wash the boys seated on the floors below. Great fun, but you hadda hurry from the scene. I think this was my plan, but in horror I watched the cherry bomb beat the odds in the swirling water and stay in my commode. I ducks and ran and ker-blam: cleaned half of that beauty off at floor level. Oh Boy. I cleaned up the mess and locked the crapper door. I had to fly the next morning and then had the lunch break. I called the local hardware store and ordered a replacement. I planned to replace the smiler that night. The maid turned me in and I had to explain the our Captain why the toilet broke. I told him I was standing on it to change a light bulb... Those fire crackers were always getting me in trouble. Lucky someone didn't loose a finger. Remember the guy driving a go cart around the dorm with guys throwing fire crackers at him?
If you look at our yearbooks, there were many foreign student pilots. We were considerate of them, but usually did not socialize with them. It is interesting to look at the yearbook now and to see where they were from and how many are gone, defending their homeland. I wish I had gotten to know them better. We did have one wild guy in a Pontiac convert. that was always up to something.
Who remembers the trip to Panama City for the weekend? Jim Forrest had a '56 Buick roadhog and four of us decided Panama City needed us. There may have been more than one car. As usual, the trip left from the O club. Remember all the shrimp you could eat free there with the pitchers of beer? I never had any beerz, but I heared about it someplace... When I went back to Bainbridge in the 80's, the base was there, but the O club was torn down. I did recognize some of the gate guards. The place is now a nut house and my wife said- no change. Those beautiful new-to-us flight shacks were in disrepair with a vagrant pilot sleeping in one. Sad. There was a flying school of some sort, but not the hustle and bustle we once knew.
How I digress! Anyway 4 of us went to PC for swimming and a couple hundred beers. We had a motel room on the beach and sleep on the floor, etc. -Well that was the plan. Some time late late we were heading back in Jim's Roadsmasher in the rain, when it quit. Seems several years ago someone had put sand in his gas tank and every few months the thing would clog up and quit. So here we are- 4 of us in the Bu in the middle of nowhere and some big storm hits. For some reason I volunteered to be the rescue person. I had tried to fix the car, but couldn't see- I did rebuild the fuel pump the next morning so we could go home. I was elected/ejected to hitch/walk back to the motel and get Ivers (Notice he is always a thread in my stories). I may have been elected because I was the youngest/dumbest/was phartin/etc., but off I go. Now it is really pouring and the wind is blowing. I had survived the hurricane of '44 on the beach in New Jersey, and this felt similar. No cars on the road so I trudge 5 miles or so to a restaurant. They are closing as the water is rising and they are stunned that I'm out for an evening walk. They wanted to know why I was there in the middle of a hurricane. I didn't know about any hurricane and then their roof blew off so I wandered on. I got Dick up with great difficulty and we drove in the rain and rising water back to the Buick and retrieved the guys-by this time they were wondering why the car was shaking and the storm was raging. Back safe the next day.
PRIMARY TO BASIC...VIA LA
Between Bainbridge and Laredo several of us traveled to LA. That was a rush. We stopped only for gas, but the spot had to have a restaurant as well. No motels- gosh it would be good to be young again. As I remember it, the driver gassed up the car, we ate and he got in the back of my Merc to sleep. the GIB came up to the copilot's seat and navigated and drove the next leg. We always parked near the highway so the second car could see where we stopped. I do remember changing a tire, when they passed us beeping and hollering. Bums. Several hours later, we did the same to them. I had 4 retreads on my car and threw 2 of them on the trip. I have never bought a retread since.
What was the story about the Tbirds brakes. Seems I remember struggling to hold the brakes prior to takeoff. I don't remember much about flying the Tbird. I should, tho. Seems formation flying was the fun part. I do think we had some kind of night navigation flight to do?? Seems I tuned in the wrong AM radio station and got us over the Gulf somehow. Also, wasn't it real dark around Laredo at night?
We were there when the U-2's diverted from Del Rio due to a hail storm at Del Rio AFB. We were told they were super secret and that we could not take photos of them. I ducked in the flight shack and took photos anyway. We looked the aircraft over closely before the guards chased us away. I was in base ops when a U-2 pilot called his commander back at Del Rio. There was grave concern. They had had men in pickup trucks follow the U-2s down the runway and catch a wing tip and hold it up during taxi, as the wing's gear falls off during take off and Laredo had none. When asked how the pilot had parked his aircraft, he said I have a GI can under each wing and 'chit on the wings. Great laughter, till he told the Commander ha had several sacks of manure on each wing to hold the wings down. They scooted the aircraft in hangers fairly soon as a storm was coming our way and the news was spreading.
As I type, the cruise missiles are falling in Iraq and our Tom Mc Inerney is the commentator. We went thru Laredo together and we all knew then that Tom was destined for high places and successes. When he was a speaker for a conference a few years ago, I had the honor of introducing him. I told the audience that I would stick to my script and not tell bad stuff about Tom and his flying school days. He got a laugh out of that and responded in kind-so both of our futures were safe.
Somewhere in the Tbird program I found myself solo way out in the sticks south of base. I had heard of all kinds of stories and thought I'd see what I could do. I had no plans other than go low, till I found a trucker changing a tire, so I thought I'd help him. My last glimpse of him was tire iron flying sideways and him airborne for the ditch. I think I was below the truck's roof. He was surely scared, but it put the fear of God in me and I was much less silly from then on.
Somewhere in the program, we had ejection seat training for the Tbird. We had generic training at Lackland which actually boosted us up a rail, but this was in a simulated T bird seat. I don't think the seat actually fired, but I do know that the windshield top rail was there. I asked the sergeant if I could get my legs out of the cockpit. He told me that I would lose both kneecaps at a point 2 inches above the knee, if I ejected. He recommend that I not bring my heels together under the seat, but leave my legs extended between the rudder pedals. He said this would break my legs upon ejection, but my knees would pass the windscreen rail. Swell. I decided right then and there not to leave my trusty Tbird.
A few weeks later RB and I are entering the traffic pattern for some touch and go's and something went tinkle tinkle. The aircraft started shaking bad. I'm not taking a liking to picture here at all. RB takes the bird and says nothing. At 90% we are jumping along. He shoots a tight pattern and gets us on the ground quickly and quietly. We taxi back, and RB says to the crew chief "this thing idles rough." IDLES rough!! The plane is hopping, not taxing. The crew chief wants us to do a runup right there, so RB cobs it. Damnnear shook the crew chief off'n the ladder. Seemed like the canopy rail was jumpin at least 2" up and down. Hmmmmm. Turns out the hot section had 57 blades normally, but mine had 56. The blade that failed did not blow out the tailpipe, but stayed around and wiped out parts of all other blades. RB wrote up the bird as idles a little rough.
There were so many check rides to take. My transition check did not go so well. RB told me to be more positive on the stick. I guess I jerked the FE around some, cause at some point he took the airplane and gave me some 7.3 G maneuvers. I went to sleep, of course. He gave it back and I was done from then on. When we landed, he quickly come up to the front cockpit and punched off the G meter. Pink slip followed by more training and finally a successful ride.
Remember the bit about me being too tall. Turns out that in the Tbird, I would run the electric seat full down and full back. Get in and duck when the canopy came down. I then pushed the rubber knob on the top of our helmet up and I was set. I could not tilt my head, just turn it and the rubber thing would squawk. When he blacked me out, I still had my head up straight, because it didn't go anywhere else.
Somewhere along the way, I found a Lam Baretta scooter for sale. Another dumb idea. I ran all over in that thing and saved my car. Somehow, I found a little extra money and some sauce and the thing showed back up flight line yellow. Dunno how that happened. I took that unsafe thing to my first assignment, McClellan AFB. It also went to Christmas Island with us to drop nucs and eventually was sold in Hawaii. I do remember laying that thing down while in a flight suit. The side zipper of the suit ran up with my skin in it. Boy was I sore and I had to hide my injuries from the Commander.
Remember the cross country trips? They were required. We went in a four ship to Vegas. RB Miller was my instructor, but I went with someone else. Ivey J. McCoy was along, Jay Colpitts, Bill Erwin and someone else- coulda been Nic Courtney. RB Miller was another inspiration to us. He was a wild man who's philosophy included the rule that no man should fly on Monday morning or Friday afternoon. We had a lot of Link trainer on those days. He was a good instructor and taught me much- both about flying and life. We all went to his house from time to time for dinner and play with his pet lions. He had done a tour in F-86's and was back to Laredo for some reason. I wonder what became of him. On the cross country trip, it was his view that this mission should be fun. The instructor I had thought I should learn something, so I was miserable with flight planning, position reports, simulated emergency procedures and the such. He was doing his job and I'm sure I needed it. RB had a lot of tricks that always got the leadership's goat. I'm sure tho, that in combat he would have been a super leader.
One of his famous tricks was to go to Base Ops and carefully file a flight plan the day before the flight. On the day of the flight, he would enter base Ops with his student, fuss a little, pull a Texaco road map outa of his leg pocket, study it with the student, and make a big splash of saying they would navigate by the water towers and the railroad station signs. And then they would leave base Ops laughing saying they would just file VFR. This stunt usually got the Supervisor of Flying out to his airplane. Also he loved to do his position reporting over some small berg. "Hula 52, Doinkville at 30, FL36, Squink next." He then would count the seconds it took the flight center to find him on the map. If they asked where the towns were, look out...
Ivy J McCoy was a card as well. I don't think I every flew with him, but he would both egg RB on and rescue RB when the going got too thick. The story has is that Ivy J was over 'Nam somewhere early in the war, and spotted an enemy barge full of supplies. The ROE didn't say you couldn't shoot at barges, so he sank it. Big fuss resulted, but I think he survived it. Another pilot whom I would easily follow anywhere in combat.
Anyway, on the cross country we go through Biggs for gas and on to Vegas. RB has reservations in the Tbird apartments for us and we can't wait. My guy is still teaching me stuff when RB sez that we need some low level training. We then flew some below the telepoles waving up at the cars on some highway. My guy could fly! Probably the second lowest I have ever been without landing. A year later the nuts I was flying with in the Weather Service decided to go polar bear hunting in a WB-50. We were over the arctic ice cap below the ice ridges scooting along. The idea is that the bear would hear us coming, stand up and one of our props would whack his head off. Good plan, huh? And I was to get a bear decal and put it on the side of the airplane. Fortunately no bears, but the weather officer up front in the glass bubble stood on his seat as he was so close to the ground.
Where was I? Upon arriving at Nellis and the Hotel, RB found that his wife had driven all the way to Vegas just to look after him. So sweet. After a tough weekend, we all wanted to stay another day. I preflighted the Tbird and found gas running down the left main gear. Yeah, I was so happy - I figured this would take a week to fix. My IP said he had to get back for a check ride and we took the bird anyway. Something about the gas expanding in the morning sun and running from a fuel vent to the gear well??
Stories I leave for the perpetrators to tell:
-Buzzing local towns
-Blowing over sailboats in the Chattahoochie River
-Trip to Mexico City and the bull fight
-Trip to the fishing camp and Texas beach
-Bull fight school in Neuvo Laredo
-The Hilltop Inn
Remember my comment about the Admin. Sergeant who saved me? Well, he showed up at Laredo as well. He called me in and said, let's look at your orders to your first assignment- they have a loop hole in them. They allow you to take 30 days leave, and you don't have that to take. I'm forgetting the details, but he said once you get to your Squadron, if you get married, you can borrow another 30 days. Sounds wrong as I type this, But I took the deal. So when I finally got in to the 55th WRS, I was 62 days behind on my leave. The next three years I did not have leave to take.
Remember the room where we chose our next assignments? We were to go in, in class-standing order. The room was secured, but by talking to the guys coming out, we began to know what aircraft assignments were listed on the black board. As one was assigned, they would erase that choice. I was middle of the class, so there were a lot of erased spots. Heavies were left. I had no idea of what to pick. Seems to me RB was there as there was some discussion and I could ask questions. I had studied the weather so I picked WB-50's and The Weather Service. We averaged 1000 hours a year and a ton of wx time. I penetrated hurricanes and popped nucs and chased Russian and Chinese nuc clouds. I figured that if the rest of my career was as much fun as this, I might as well stay in and did.
Well, despite our best efforts, most of us graduated into the wonderful world of aviation. I look back with pride over our accomplishments and the good friends we made along the way.
PS I hope this diatribe sparks others to write, either fixin my stories or adding theirs.