The song American Pie was, in 1972, the de-facto anthem of pilots flying missions over Hanoi. After returning from every mission, we’d gather in the O’Club and someone would put a coin in the juke box to play that song. When we would hear the refrain “This will be the day that I die”, we’d all join in.
Don McLean wrote the song to commemorate the plane crash that killed Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and the loss of innocence for our generation. This weekend marks 57 years since The Day The Music Died.
If you were curious about the meaning of the lyrics, here’s a great explanation:
While the rest of Washington shuts down, the Tomb Sentinels stand guard over the Tomb of the Unknowns, as they have without fail every day since April 6, 1948, regardless of weather.
Here’s a great video of a 1989 engagement between U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats and Libyan MiG-23 floggers, recently declassified. No surprise who came out on top!
It’s a pilot thing: you always want a great leather flying jacket, preferably an A-2 jacket like the pilots wore in World War II. I had a jacket like that, one I inherited from my father. I wore it on my night flights in Vietnam, since we had to keep the airplane window open to use the starlight scope in the O-2 when we conducted airstrikes over the Ho Chi Minh trail. And, even in Southeast Asia, it could get pretty cold at altitude at night. It was strictly non-regulation, of course, but I was a young Lieutenant and none of the brass were around at night anyway.
After I returned, my brother asked me for the jacket, and I gave it to him. I immediately regretted giving it, but it was already a done deal. And I’ve wanted a leather flying jacket ever since, for the past 40-plus years.
I just got an early Christmas present from my wife, and I love it. It’s a beautiful leather A-2 jacket, authentic to the original in every way.
A big Thank You to my wife, June. And thanks to U.S. Wings, the maker, for staying faithful to the Army Air Corps design. I feel like I have a reminder of Dad with me again.
There’s a good reason we idolized movie stars of the Greatest Generation. We don’t see that kind of patriotism among today’s entertainers:
George Gobel comedian, Army Air Corps, taught fighter pilots .
Sterling Hayden , US Marines and OSS. Smuggled guns into Yugoslavia and parachuted into Croatia. Silver Star.
James Stewart , US Army Air Corps. Bomber pilot who rose to the rank of General.
Ernest Borgnine , US Navy. Gunners Mate 1c, destroyer USS Lamberton. 10 years active duty. Discharged 1941, re-enlisted after Pearl Harbor.
Ed McMahon , US Marines. Fighter Pilot. Flew OE-1 Bird Dogs over Korea as well.
Telly Savalas, US Army.
Walter Matthau, US Army Air Corps., B-24 Radioman/Gunner and cryptographer
Steve Forrest , US Army. Wounded, Battle of the Bulge.
Jonathan Winters , USMC. Battleship USS Wisconsin and Carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. Anti-aircraft gunner, Battle of Okinawa.
Paul Newman , US Navy Rear seat gunner/radioman, torpedo bombers of USS Bunker Hill.
Kirk Douglas , US Navy. Sub-chaser in the Pacific. Wounded in action and medically discharged.
Robert Mitchum , US Army.
Dale Robertson , US Army. Tank Commander in North Africa under Patton. Wounded twice. Battlefield Commission.
Henry Fonda , US Navy. Destroyer USS Satterlee.
John Carroll , US Army Air Corps. Pilot in North Africa. Broke his back in a crash.
Lee Marvin …US Marines. Sniper. Wounded in action on Saipan. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Sec. 7A next to Greg ‘Pappy’Boyington and Joe Louis.
Art Carney , US Army. Wounded on Normandy beach, D-Day. Limped for the rest of his life.
Wayne Morris , US Navy fighter pilot, USS Essex. Downed seven Japanese fighters.
Rod Steiger , US Navy. Was aboard one of the ships that launched the Doolittle Raid.
Tony Curtis , US Navy. Sub tender USS Proteus. In Tokyo Bay for the surrender of Japan.
Larry Storch . US Navy. Sub tender USS Proteus with Tony Curtis.
Forrest Tucker , US Army. Enlisted as a private, rose to Lieutenant.
Robert Montgomery , US Navy.
George Kennedy , US Army. Enlisted after Pearl Harbor, stayed in sixteen years.
Mickey Rooney , US Army under Patton. Bronze Star.
Denver Pyle , US Navy. Wounded in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Medically discharged.
Burgess Meredith , US Army Air Corps.
DeForest Kelley , US Army Air Corps.
Robert Stack , US Navy. Gunnery Officer.
Neville Brand , US Army, Europe. Was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
Tyrone Power , US Marines. Transport pilot in the Pacific Theater.
Charlton Heston, US Army Air Corps. Radio operator and aerial gunner on a B-25, Aleutians.
Danny Aiello , US Army. Lied about his age to enlist at 16. Served three years.
James Arness , US Army. As an infantryman, he was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy.
Efram Zimbalist, Jr ., US Army. Purple Heart for a severe wound received at Huertgen Forest.
Mickey Spillane , US Army Air Corps, Fighter Pilot and later Instructor Pilot.
Rod Serling . US Army. 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific. He jumped at Tagaytay in the Philippines and was later wounded in Manila.
Gene Autry , US Army Air Corps. Crewman on transports that ferried supplies over “The Hump” in the China-Burma-India Theater.
William Holden , US Army Air Corps.
Alan Hale Jr , US Coast Guard.
Harry Dean Stanton , US Navy. Battle of Okinawa.
Russell Johnson , US Army Air Corps. B-24 crewman who was awarded Purple Heart when his aircraft was shot down by the Japanese in the Philippines.
William Conrad , US Army Air Corps. Fighter Pilot.
Jack Klugman , US Army.
Frank Sutton , US Army. Took part in 14 assault landings, including Leyte, Luzon, Bataan and Corregidor.
Jackie Coogan , US Army Air Corps. Volunteered for gliders and flew troops and materials into Burma behind enemy lines.
Tom Bosley , US Navy.
Claude Akins , US Army. Signal Corps., Burma and the Philippines.
Chuck Connors , US Army. Tank-warfare instructor.
Harry Carey Jr ., US Navy.
Mel Brooks , US Army. Combat Engineer. Saw action in the Battle of the Bulge.
Robert Altman , US Army Air Corps. B-24 Co-Pilot.
Pat Hingle , US Navy. Destroyer USS Marshall
Fred Gwynne , US Navy. Radioman.
Karl Malden , US Army Air Corps. 8th Air Force, NCO.
Earl Holliman . US Navy. Lied about his age to enlist. Discharged after a year when the Navy found out.
Rock Hudson , US Navy. Aircraft mechanic, the Philippines.
Harvey Korman , US Navy.
Aldo Ray . US Navy. UDT frogman, Okinawa.
Don Knotts , US Army, Pacific Theater.
Don Rickles , US Navy aboard USS Cyrene.
Harry Dean Stanton , US Navy. Served aboard an LST in the Battle of Okinawa.
Soupy Sales , US Navy. Served on USS Randall in the South Pacific.
Lee Van Cleef , US Navy. Served aboard a sub chaser then a mine sweeper.
Clifton James , US Army, South Pacific. Was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.
Ted Knight , US Army, Combat Engineers.
Jack Warden , US Navy, 1938-1942, then US Army, 1942-1945. 101st Airborne Division.
Don Adams . US Marines. Wounded on Guadalcanal, then served as a Drill Instructor.
James Gregory , US Navy and US Marines.
Brian Keith , US Marines. Radioman/Gunner in Dauntless dive-bombers.
Fess Parker , US Navy and US Marines. Booted from pilot training for being too tall, joined Marines as a radio operator.
Charles Durning . US Army. Landed at Normandy on D-Day. Shot multiple times. Awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Survived Malmedy Massacre.
Raymond Burr , US Navy. Shot in the stomach on Okinawa and medically discharged.
Hugh O’Brian , US Marines.
Robert Ryan , US Marines.
Eddie Albert, US Coast Guard. Bronze Star with Combat V for saving several Marines under heavy fire as pilot of a landing craft during the invasion of Tarawa.
Clark Gable , US Army Air Corps. B-17 gunner over Europe.
Charles Bronson , US Army Air Corps. B-29 gunner, wounded in action.
Peter Graves , US Army Air Corps.
Buddy Hackett , US Army anti-aircraft gunner.
Victor Mature , US Coast Guard.
Jack Palance , US Army Air Corps. Severely injured bailing out of a burning B-24 bomber.
Robert Preston , US Army Air Corps. Intelligence Officer
Cesar Romero , US Coast Guard. Coast Guard. Participated in the invasions of Tinian and Saipan on the assault transport USS Cavalier.
Norman Fell , US Army Air Corps., Tail Gunner, Pacific Theater.
Jason Robards , US Navy. was aboard heavy cruiser USS Northampton when it was sunk off Guadalcanal. Also served on the USS Nashville during the invasion of the Philippines, surviving a kamikaze hit that caused 223 casualties.
Steve Reeves, US Army, Philippines.
Dennis Weaver , US Navy. Pilot.
Robert Taylor , US Navy. Instructor Pilot.
Randolph Scott . Tried to enlist in the Marines but was rejected due to injuries sustained in US Army, World War 1.
Ronald Reagan . US Army. Was a 2nd Lt. in the Cavalry Reserves before the war. His poor eyesight kept him from being sent overseas with his unit when war came so he transferred to the Army Air Corps Public Relations Unit where he served for the duration.
John Wayne. Declared “4F – medically unfit” due to pre-existing civilian injuries, he nonetheless attempted to volunteer three times (Army, Navy and Film Corps.) so he gets honorable mention.
And of course we have Audie Murphy, America’s most-decorated soldier, who became a Hollywood star as a result of his US Army service that included his being awarded the Medal of Honor.
Here is a great, moving video reminiscent of the homecoming of my friend, Rick Chorlins, that I wrote about saying goodbye.
November 10th marks 240 years that the U.S. Marine Corps has been protecting and serving our country. Hand salute!