Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tanker Pilot

"I found out that it's a whole lot easier to be brave while strapped in the cockpit of a plane 5 miles high, where you've got some control, than to be stripped of your clothes in a room alone and tortured while nobody else knows you're alive. That's when it's tough to be brave."
      Col Leo Thorsness
      Fear Can Be Your Best Friend

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

This is going to be a long, rambled mess. Sometimes life is like that. It's a story of several people that I admire greatly.

It started when I got an email today from a friend today linking me to this story from Sacramento.

Years later tanker pilot who 'saved' fighter pilot in Vietnam gets introduction.

Please click that link and read the story. The reporter seems to think he has resurrected an old musty story - it wasn't. When I first became a tanker pilot in 1979 this story was told often - it was part of the tanker driver's lore. Most especially the part where the fighter guys wanted to give Mr. Hague the Silver Star and SAC wanted to punish him. The compromise was the old SAC joke: "In SAC, the reward for good performance is no punishment."

Tanker pilots don't get many opportunities for heroism - the job is to fly in big circles and pass gas. It's an important job in a modern Air Force but you are a second stringer - you are support.

The few occasions where tanker drivers are called upon to go above and beyond the call of duty are stories of legend. In 1979, we young guys sitting in the Tanker alert shack on Okinawa, Japan's Kadena Air Base told them frequently. 

Several years later, one of the guys telling those stories got his chance to add to the lore. The Air Force Academy gives the Jabara Award every year to an academy grad who does something remarkable in aviation.

In 1988, Major Marc Feldman (USAFA '76) won the Jabara award for a heroic save where he took the initiative to rescue several fighters.  He took off in a KC-10 with low weather from a base in the Canary Islands, made an emergency refueling and 'dragged' them up to Portugal.  If he had waited for permission, the fighter guys would have gone for a swim.

One of the first things I do when I start one of these posts is to go to my quote collection.  I searched on 'bravery' for this one and the first quote I found was Col Thorsness' from above.  He won the Medal of Honor.  This is his MoH citation.  A tanker has a support role in that story too.  Sometime after that day, Col Thorsness was shot down and spent years in the 'Hanoi Hilton'. His full story is here.  He also has just published a book.

As I said at the beginning, this is a rambling, untidy post about men who showed gallantry in the face of the enemy and adversity.  In conclusion, I found another quote that connected with me:

"There are no brave men and cowardly men in the world, my son. There
are only brave men. To be born, to live, to die - that takes courage enough
in itself, and more than enough. We are all brave men and we are all
afraid, and what the world calls a brave man, he, too, is brave and afraid
like all the rest of us. Only he is brave for five minutes longer."

     Alistair Maclean
     The Guns of Navarone

On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

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