“In God we trust: All others we monitor.” -- unit motto, 5th Reconnaissance Squadron.
- WE FEW -
Does One Ever Forget His Brothers In Arms
My father was on a medium bomber crew in WW-II. It was from him that I inherited my love of airplanes and flying and my country. He hated the war, but you’d never know it by his recollections. His medals are the only evidence he ever gave me that he was in the fight of his life. His was a generation unique in all of our history. They gave us America. In return, we’ve allowed their memory to be exploited by a gang of warmongering Washington cowards who desperately want it back.
Like so many veterans, after the war my father took a job in an airplane factory. Might as well build them for passengers now. Even though I’m sure airplanes had taken the young lives of many of his friends in the years just prior, he was not yet ready to leave them behind. The war had introduced something unique into my father’s life. Airplanes and flying get into a guy’s system, under his skin. As Hemingway supposedly once said, “There is no woman, nor even any horse, as beautiful as an airplane.” I doubt that Papa Hemingway believed that any more than I do, but he makes the point better than I could ever hope to do. Guys like airplanes. When they stake their lives on them, as every flyer does, they tend to remember who was along for the ride, who worked on the engine, who guided them back in bad weather, who examined them for eyesight and balance, and who debriefed them after every – EVERY – mission. They remember you. You remember them. If you fly, or if you do not, if you are in the military, you make friends. They somehow manage to burn themselves into your memory and there they stay for life.
My own memory is filled with my father’s stories of airplanes and the great American characters who flew them or kept them flying in the skies over Europe. That goes double for his B-25 crew. I'll never forget their names: Egghead Baker, Floor Porcelli, Stinky Johnson, Lieutenant Barber, and a guy referred to only as Mo, whom I never met. Even their airplane had a name: Strictly Socialite. It gave them identity, or so I thought. But even that was belied by one of my earliest recollections. It’s the memory of a dinner reunion for several of my father’s war buddies at our Brooklyn apartment. It must have been around 1950. The flight and ground crew of Strictly Socialite drank and cavorted and flirted shamelessly with my mom. I remember all of it, though I was just a kid and had lived not a second of the memories. But what I remember most was that in conversation they never called each other by any name except Mac. That’s right, Mac. Hey Mac, pass the bread. Hey Flo, when you gonna dump Mac, and come back to Texas with me? Hey Mac this and hey Mac that. Mac.
Only later, much later, did it occur to me. They were all Mac because they were all one.
My father never belonged to anything like the Veterans Of Foreign Wars, or The American Legion or any of those kinds of organizations. He had no special affinity for the military, but he did for its people. His Air Corps buddies were his comrades. Brother-friends like he’d never made before, and would never make again. And when my dad died in 1970, at least 25 of those Macs traveled from all over the country to attend his rain-soaked funeral. Others wrote, sent flowers. They remembered. They were brothers in arms. They never forgot him. I'll never forget them.
In the turbulent Sixties I followed in my father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Air Force -just like our president did. For a time I was assigned to a reconnaissance squadron. That too, was just like our president. I remember scores of people from that hastily assembled unit, and I dare say as many remember me. Every mission involved us all. We flew, tracked, and recorded the kind of clandestine missions that characterized the Cold War in fact and fiction. Thus our motto: "Alone And Unknown." But we were not unknown to each other. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
The bonds between us were solid steel. And though we don’t see each other anymore, I know they think of me from time to time. I know I think of them. Henny, Tweeks, Scan, Doc, Knobby Gannon, Koos, Tony Contrast, Captain Video, Romberger, Valentine, Weiner, Skunk. I needn’t think but a moment to recall their names and faces. Though its been over 35 years.
The kind of job we did, required each one of us to hold an out of this world security clearance. That meant we willingly opened our lives and histories to government scrutiny. It also meant from that moment on, if we expected to wear the uniform with honor and without a giant white letter P written on its back, we would never again be allowed the luxury of disappearing on American soil, not for a day, a week, and sure as hell not for a year! But maybe life in a tactical recon squadron changed between the mid and late Sixties. Maybe things loosened up. You know, Age Of Aquarius, stuff like that. Because the former is when I mustered out. The latter is when George W. Bush signed on. And it seems that his experience was very different from mine. In fact, George W. Bush’s Air Force experience makes all that buddy stuff and “known whereabouts” responsibility seem like a bunch of paranoid claptrap. Because, as every newspaper, radio, and television station in America reported yesterday, despite that he was assigned to Alabama’s 187th Tactical Recon squadron for an entire year, only one of George W. Bush’s contemporaries - a supervisor, whatever that is - seems to remember our president’s tenure there. But why doesn’t Bush just pick up the phone and call some of those old 187th Tactical Recon guys? The news keeps telling us how likeable he is. Didn’t he make friends? At the press of a button the White House can have the names and phone numbers of every member of the squadron right in front of Bush’s face. Yet why have none of his significant squadron mates come forward? Surely they watch the news. Neither his commander, his wingmen, his crew chiefs, his ground controllers, his instructors, his base ops officers, nor his flight surgeons seem to remember serving with our president. In fact only one guy on the whole base remembers Lieutenant Bush. Even if Bush spent his year in Alabama peeling potatoes lots of people would remember him. Why do they not? If the guy who peeled potatoes in my squadron became President of the United States and needed help, every guy in the damned wing would be calling in. Holy cow! Was our leader that unexceptional an airman? How can this government of Patriot Act and Patriot Act II and Homeland Security Departments protect us from scary terrorists if they can’t even find the good guys?
In today’s Los Angeles Times, Bill Calhoun, the Alabama National Guard supervisor who remembers Bush explains it this way. Calhoun said he’s the only one who remembers Bush because they were the only two Republicans in a squadron of ..”George Wallace Democrats.”
If we accept that, then God help us all.
Try as I might, I cannot help but believe that George W. Bush's military experience with a recon unit gives a new and very shameful meaning to the motto Alone And Unknown?
-The Author -
Dom Stasi is an engineer working in the television and motion picture industry in Hollywood. He was the original chief engineer who helped design, build and launch MTV in 1981 (and served as vice president of Network Operations and Design Engineering through 1988). Mr. Stasi also flew aerial reconnaissance during the Cold War and, after an honorable discharge, worked as a flight test engineer whose specialty was the flight test and certification of advanced military aerial reconnaissance systems. Mr. Stasi is a frequently published science and technology writer.