Meeting Up With An Old Friend

G with F4

george w f4 ubon

I hadn’t been up close to an F-4 Phantom II in almost 40 years. I flew the F-4C, F-4D and F-4E, and the E was my favorite steed. A great airplane, with an internal 20 millimeter gun, the way a fighter should be armed.

Air Force assignments took me away from the Phantom, and then I went on to airline flying, and we just never had the opportunity to meet up again. Until now.

Today I attended a Defend Freedom Tour, held at the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum. It was a great get-together, but the high point of the night was getting to reconnect with my old friend, the F-4E. Standing two feet away, I could feel the decades evaporate, and I felt like I could climb the ladder, strap in and start her up. It was a good feeling.

As I left the gathering, I took one last look back at her, and gave her a wink.

“We need to get together more often.”

How I Became A Fiction Writer

I’ve been a writer for a little over 50 years, since my senior year in high school, mostly short stories. Since everything was written pre-internet, it has all thankfully disappeared forever!

My first success at fiction: as a 17-year-old, I submitted what I had thought was a really great short story to Playboy Magazine. I told all my friends I was going to be published in Playboy. Naturally, it was rejected. But, around the same time, I had sent $50 to join the Playboy Club, and received a $50 refund check from Playboy Enterprises, since I was too young to join. SO, I showed my friends the check and told them I had received an advance on the article Playboy was going to publish! I suppose that lie to my friends was my first successful fiction.

In the intervening years since college, all of my published work until recently has been nonfiction. Publication in magazines massaged my ego, but didn’t earn me much money. Then, a few years ago, I read Mark Berent’s Wings of War series and was propelled back to Vietnam. Long-buried memories percolated to the surface, and I needed to deal with painful recollections and unresolved issues.

As a form of catharsis, I decided to try my hand at fiction again and write about my experiences as a pilot in Vietnam, with names changed and stories embellished. In truth, I’ve always been terrified of dialog. All I could think of was “he said”, “she said”, etc. But I really wanted to open a vein and spill my guts. And I wanted to tell some war stories, both mine and those of my friends. In case you’re not familiar with the difference between a war story and a fairy tale, a war story begins “This is no shit”, while a fairy tale begins “Once upon a time”. After that, there’s not much difference!

A funny thing happened when I started writing the first novel. I didn’t think about dialog, or plot, or anything else. I just started writing, and my characters just started talking and doing things on their own, things I had never anticipated. They went rogue! And my Kindle novel, Hamfist Over The Trail, turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. It was a Gold Medal Winner in the Global eBook Awards, and has received over two hundred reviews in the two years since I wrote it, with an overall rating of 4.2 stars.

I’m really thrilled with the cover image, the same picture you see at the top of this page. I had seen it on the internet, and it totally captures the mood of an airstrike in Vietnam. I searched far and wide to locate the artist, but virtually all of the internet postings had omitted copyright information or attribution. I finally located the artist, Tony Stencel, and commissioned him to make a cover from his painting.

There was what some people considered a problem: the book has a cliff-hanger ending. I planned it that way, because : a) I wanted to sell a sequel and, b) I felt that it was the right place to end the book. There had been action, conflict, and conflict resolution, so it was time for the book to end. Some of my favorite movies and shows have cliff-hanger endings, like Dexter, Mad Men and Back To The Future, Part II. And I already had the sequel pretty much finished. Hamfist Down! was published in Kindle format two months later. I think it’s better, much better, than the first book. It was a Bronze Medal Winner in the Military Writers Society of America annual competition in 2013. For those who don’t like cliff-hangers, I combined both books into Hamfist At DaNang.

The next sequel, Hamfist Over Hanoi, was written as a NaNoWriMo project and was published two months later. The story is taken pretty much directly from the logbook I kept during my second tour in Vietnam. Finally, Hamfist Out was published in January 2014. And I’ve also published all four in paperback through CreateSpace. I don’t sell a lot of those, but having a dead tree version has a certain cachet.

I launched the first novella, Frag Order, in a new series in the same genre, with significant help from my talented editor, Jacqueline Nolly. The Nolly-Nolly team is currently working on the sequel, Guns Away. It’s too soon to predict a release date, but suffice it to say it will be a longer book with the same protagonist, Guns Navarone.

I really appreciate the support and Reviews I’ve received from my readers. Thank you!

 

 

Lunch With Legends

 

I recently had a wonderful lunch meeting with a fellow United retiree, Paul Schueler, and his war buddy from their 1962 service in Vietnam. They had been recruited for their mission through an interview by an unknown general officer, who asked them three questions: 1) are you willing to fly old obsolete airplanes? 2) are you willing to fly combat missions? and 3) if sent into combat and shot down, are you willing to be disowned by your government?

The pilots who answered Yes to all three questions ended up as the first Air Commandos in an operation known as Jungle Jim. They ended up being the trailblazers for all of us who followed in what became the Ten Thousand Day War. The Air Commandos became heroes to those of us who followed. Paul eventually left the Air Force and became an airline pilot, first flying for Braniff and later for United, where we met.

His war buddy, “Pete” Piotrowski, stayed on active duty for another 30-plus years. He flew 35 different types of aircraft, instructed at the vaunted Fighter Weapons School, and became a four-star general serving as Air Force Vice Chief of Staff and Commander of NORAD.

His memoir, Basic Airman to General, is a fascinating read that gives an inside look at what life is like at every rank in the entire Air Force.
general pete bookIt’s an excellent study in leadership. Every chapter ends with “takeaways”, lessons to reinforce what General Pete learned from his experiences at the different stages of his career.

Perhaps the best part is the peek into the rarefied atmosphere of flag rank. I often wondered what a general’s day-to-day life was like, and now I have a greater understanding, and respect, for what it takes to serve at that level. The book really opened my eyes to the short-notice TDYs, PCS moves and family separations and sacrifices that go with the rank.

I really recommend you download this book to your Kindle before General Pete raises the price. Right now it’s less than the cost of a latte. Highly recommended!

 

Outstanding Vietnam War Series!

It’s been a while since I recommended some books for readers in the Hamfist genre, and I’ve been remiss for not mentioning these sooner. When it comes to Vietnam air war action books, they don’t get better than the Wings of War series! The author, Mark Berent, writes from an extensive background in Vietnam combat. (Turns out, he was a Wolf fast-FAC with Brad Sharp, the piot who became my squadron commander when I was at Ubon a few years later. You can read about Brad’s last mission here.) During his three tours in Vietnam, Mark did lots of remarkable things, like going out on a field mission with the grunts, and even jumping on combat missions with Cambodian paratroopers!

Reading Mark’s books launched me on a long trip down memory lane, culminating with me writing my Hamfist series of novels. I guess my recollections from Vietnam had been percolating inside me for some time, just waiting for the right time to come out.

Wings of War is a five-part series that follows pilot Court Bannister, pilot Toby Parker, and Special Forces officer Wolf Lochert through their successive combat tours in Vietnam. Along the way, we see real events like Johnson and McNamara micro-managing the war, the outrageous abuse of American Pilots held at the Hoa Lo prison, and the claim of an attack on the Russian ship Turkmenestan.

Along the way, we see powerful scenes, such as Toby Parker’s metamorphosis, a scene highly reminiscent of an event in Berent’s life, recounted here, where he had a life-changing interaction with future Medal-of-Honor winner George “Bud” Day.

You really should read the Wings of War series in order, starting with Rolling Thunder. You can find the books on Amazon by clicking on the covers below, or by visiting Mark’s website.

 

rolling thundersteel tiger

phantom

eagle station

storm flight

D-Day: June 6, 1944

Operation Overlord saved the world 71 years ago.

World War II vets are leaving us at the rate of 492 a day. If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a vet!

6/2/69 – A Bad Day For The 20th TASS

I lost two friends on the same day, June 2nd, 1969. Both were O-2A Forward Air Controllers (FACs), both in the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

Jim Gilmore and I were classmates at the Air Force Academy, and went through FAC training at Hurlburt Air Force Base and Holly Field in late 1968. We celebrated New Year’s Eve together at a party in the nearby town of Mary Esther, and deployed together to Vietnam. We both ended up in the 20th TASS at DaNang, in sister units. My AO (Area of Operations) was the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos, Jim’s was I Corps in Vietnam, supporting American troops. Our unit Operations buildings were next door to each other, and the pilots of both units usually gathered at the DOOM Club (DaNang Officers’ Open Mess) to decompress after the day’s flying. Jim and I were friends.Gilmore

Jim Gilmore

Ken Svanoe was also my classmate at the Academy. I didn’t know him very well there, becuase we were in different squadrons, and hadn’t shared any classes together. But we knew each other by sight, and I bumped into him at the DOOM Club the night of June 1st. He had ferried an O-2A into DaNang for maintenance that couldn’t be performed at his base at Phu Bai, one of the 20th TASS units north of DaNang. We got together over dinner and I learned that Ken didn’t have a room at the VOQ (Visiting Oficers’ Quarters). I told him my room-mate was on R&R, and he could bunk in my 2-man room. After dinner, we went back to my hootch, and stayed up well into the night, talking and getting to know each other better. The next morning, he cranked up his airplane to fly back to Phu Bai, with both of us looking forward to meeting again.

svanoeKen Svanoe

 

Jim and Ken were killed on combat missions within an hour of each other. It happened on June 2nd, 1969.

Saying Goodbye To A Friend

I buried a friend yesterday. At this age, that’s not terribly unusual. What made this different is that Rick Chorlins was killed 45 years ago, and his remains have finally been brought home.

Rick and I were close when we were cadets at the Air  Force Academy. Then, in 1967, graduation sent us in different directions, and we didn’t meet up again until late 1969. I was stationed at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and had wangled a good-deal trip to Thailand for a few days. I was going to go for an orientation ride on a C-130 Airborne Command and Control Center (ABCCC), call-sign Moonbeam. It was a chance to get away from the unrelenting nightly rocket attacks, and see locals who were not burdened by war and who knew how to smile.

I arrived at Nakon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, called NKP, and headed to the Officers Club. And there, standing at the bar, was Rick, along with another classmate I hadn’t seen in over two years, Bob Moore. Meeting up with old friends after a long time is always fun. Running into them unexpectedly on the other side of the world is really special. We hung around together the entire night. After a few drinks, we had dinner, then went back to their hootch and caught up with what had been happening in our lives. We had all gotten married since we last saw each other. Rick had gotten a Master’s Degree. Bob had become a father. We swapped war stories. I told them what it was like to be a Forward Air Controller, and they told me what it was like to fly the A-1 in combat.

Truth be told, I felt like I was the kid and they were the grown-ups. I was flying a dinky little O-2A Skymaster, while they were flying the Skyraider, a gigantic, fire-breathing tail-dragger with a round engine that carried thousands of pounds of bombs under its wings and dueled with enemy gunners for a living. They were real fighter pilots. After hours of shooting down our watches with our hands, we said our good-byes and vowed to get together again, at some unknown time in the future. Great guys.

If you’ve read Hamfist Over The Trail, this story might sound familiar. Chapter 28 is the fictionalized account of my meeting up with Bob and Rick. Dave and Dick in the book are the fictional characters representing the real-life Rick and Bob.

Bob was killed the next week . A few months later, Rick was shot down and he was listed as KIA, but his remains were not recovered.

Until now. After 45 years, Rick came home. His remains had been discovered in Laos in 2003 and sent to Hawaii, where DNA testing finally confirmed it was Rick.

Rick was buried at the Air Force Academy cemetery with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, a missing-man fly-by, and the solemn playing of Taps. Generals presented flags to his two surviving relatives, his sisters, Cheryl and Toby.

Then we all gathered together at a restaurant to tell Rick stories. And we all had a really great time, reminiscing about Rick’s great sense of humor, his intelligence, and his dedication to duty. It was a great Celebration of Life.

And it was also a solemn reminder of the sacrifices the families of servicemen faced, and continue to face, when they send their loved ones off to war. They wait at home, never knowing if the sound of the closing car door in the street is a neighbor coming home or a military staff car with a Colonel and a Chaplain coming to bring news that will change their lives forever. That happened 58,286 times during the Vietnam War.

 

Eighteen on my classmates were lost in Southeast Asia. Five have still not been found.
classmatesBut, finally, Rick Chorlins has returned. Welcome home Rick! Rest in peace.