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Prelude to Memorial Day – You Should Have Seen It In Color

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If you are in the Lowcountry of South Carolina on Monday morning, come on over to Patriots Point for Memorial Day and help us remember those who gave all…our Memorial Day ceremony begins at 9 AM…free attendance and parking for the program.

For those of us who have memories of Americans that never came home, Memorial Day can be a difficult one…I was watching the HBO series on the Pacific a few weeks ago and Marine veteran Eugene Sledge asked his buddy Sid back home, “Why did I end up back here and all those other fellows didn’t?” “Every guy back has thought that,” replied Sid.

My memories come back to me now like old black and white photos from my childhood. They are powerful and move me to emotions that I unconsciously kept bottled up, but which eventually escape in time. Like dreams, we normally only remember life in black and white terms, not remembering the color that fills in the details of one’s life. Perhaps the color brings back too much information or is too painful to recall, why do we normally remember only the good and forget the bad…

I never knew what survivors’ guilt was until after my first two months on the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) in the fall of 1981. Life was fast and fun that year as I earned my Navy wings of gold, married my sweetheart and joined my first fleet squadron.

As we flew aboard the Kennedy on 29 October, my aircraft was responsible for checking in all CVW-3 ‘s (Carrier Air Wing) jets to the ship. It was a stormy, dark morning in Virginia and as we were checking in our Prowler squadron, VAQ-138, a homing beacon went off on the emergency  radio frequency…Guard (never a good sign unless it was a test). All of  138′s aircraft checked in, except for one and the pilots wanted to go back and look for their missing aircraft. We guessed that the beacon had come from the missing aircraft and told the  squadron that they were expected at the Kennedy with a ready deck.

EA-6B Prowler

Reluctantly, the Prowler squadron continued inbound to mother (the carrier). After we landed aboard the Kennedy, we learned that an EA-6B had crashed just outside of Naval Air Station Oceania with a crew of three: LCDR Jack Fisher, LT James Mallory and LT Alfred Dupont. What a terrible way to start an at-sea period…needless to say, an additional stress factor on the wives back home, but as aviators we had to compartmentalize the tough situation and fly on…The ship held a memorial for the three aviators two days later, 31 October…should have waited till All Saints Day…

On 03 December the Kennedy was hot and heavy into her Operational Readiness Exam (ORE) and we were flying around the clock (my log book records over 30 hours in 7 days). My aircraft AC (Alpha Charlie) 601 had just landed on the carrier and we were walking off the flight deck, when all of a sudden the ship’s 1MC squawked, “Away the emergency medical team!” As I walked into our ready room (just below the flight deck) fellow officers came up to me and my crew and said, ” You just missed a wire break!”

CVW-3 A-7E's

As we were walking off the flight deck an A-7E was landing and the #3 wire had not returned to its normal position. The LSO (landing signal officer) attempted to wave off the A-7′s landing attempt, but it was too late. The A-7E hit the deck and unfortunately snagged the out of battery cable, which then broke when the A-7 stretched it past its strength limit.

The A-7 just barely maintained flying speed and was diverted to NAS Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The broken arresting cable whipped down the flight deck. Two sailors were killed and three were injured (one lost both legs below his knees) in the accident. Four aircraft were also damaged including two right next to the E-2C Hawkeye that we had just exited.

Again we compartmentalized and continued flying, but later memory dredges it up and you wonder, why did you escape and survive when others  don’t…

and this one here was taken over sea’s in the middle of hell in 1943,
in the winter time, you can almost see my breath
that was my tailgunner ole Johnny McGee, he was a high school teacher from New Orleans
and he had my back right throught the day we left

and if it looks like we were scared to death,
like a couple of kids just tryin to save each other,
you should have seen it in color

Jamey Johnson – from song “You Should Have Seen It In Color”

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