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Flying from the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam Kindle Edition
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For any of you who lived through this, or have read about it, you know that the TDY turned into rotating shifts of 6 months each. Six months gone and one month at home. The first six was not bad, but after that it was pretty much of a drag. I finally moved to Guam. It was from Anderson that my Pilot Husband was flying. (Yellow River and White Rabbit are still some of my "most recognized" songs.)
After three rotations of living with a Pilot, I had a pretty good idea of what his "days" were like. Fly to Viet Nam; drop bombs; avoid SAMS; and bring it on home. Actually, he got some time off in between flights and we went to the beaches, tramped through the Jungle, and even made enough Guamanian friends that we went to local parties. It was not idyllic, but it was certainly better than having me sit around Stateside wondering what my beautiful guy was up to.
Oddly enough, I had relatives who were also stationed on Guam at the time, though they were not TDY, they were permanent. And, they were not Air Force, so I did get another perspective on things.
We got the crew together pretty often for dinner and a bit of partying, but mostly it was flying. There was only one other wife there from the crew, but that was better than most had, so our crew stayed pretty cohesive from its Stateside set up to its Guam self. Altogether, I had known these guys for 3 plus years. I was very familiar with EWO's, Radars, Radar Nav's, and Gunnie. Of course, my husband had already transitioned through the Co-Pilot phase, so I knew where he sat, even if I knew little of what these brave men really did.
I was looking for books to read a bit ago (I lost my FlyBoy to the war in the end) and happened upon this book about a "hole." A "hole"? As well as I knew these guys, I didn't know anything about holes, even though at one time, the crew was required to bail. So, I decided to get this and read it.
I was aware that our Radar-Nav disappeared at some of the strangest times and worked when others did not. But I was only 25 years old...What me worry? My husband said all was well and he was doing a bit of work, so I let it go. So much information was classified that at times it was a comedy just trying to carry on a routine conversation; let alone, discuss the seating arrangements and their limitations within the Buff. I mean, my guy had a front row seat, and he complained little. Who was I to question the machinations of Uncle Air Force?
So, it was with Great Interest and then Increasing Fascination and Awe that I read THE HOLE. My very favorite part (sometimes I am still an airhead, though I think I have matured quite a bit since those years. If an active duty death doesn't put some lead in your spine, then nothing will!) was the Radar Nav's description of his "pinked" initial flight in his esteemed position. That would be the description of the flight out of Castle where he had eggs and sausage for breakfast, THEN learned that he would be the recipient of all things odiferous that transpired on that monster. Did no one warn him? Where were his friends? How about instructors? Maybe he just missed the briefing where "Buff Smells" were discussed. I do not know. It was a riotously funny story. But, of course, I felt awful for him. He has spent a couple of years learning his illustious Profession only to discover that the whole thing Stinks...literally. And I have to say, or all the eruptions that were occurring, his Instructor was the monument of Calm. He must have seen this happen more than one time. And, of course, "a war was on" so he got another chance. I think Gatorade would have been my Breakfast of Choice for the next flight...or did they even have Gatorade then? No, it was Tang. I guess I would have had a bit of Tang.
After reading this book, I was amazed that I was "right there" when all the things were happening and I was so ill informed. Now, to the best of my recall, my husband flew a "G", so things were not so bad as the "D." That may be why my education seemed so lacking. But still, I gather that the Radar Nav gets it no matter what...the extra work and the smells.
On SAM's. I was pretty well versed on those, though I will never admit it. If the Air Force ever really wondered why evasive manuevers were performed during LineBackerII, they might cast a raised eyebrow at the wives, not to mention, those other guys who were along for the ride with the pilot. SAMS had been seen and endured before that. But who knew the numbers of them that could be hurled skyward at a bunch of "sitting ducks" (think in your mind of REAL ducks flying home or back) flying in straight lines. I do not think the straight line, no deviations order made it out of the briefing room intact. These guys, most of them, had been away from home for at least 18 months, and were not really excited about getting their rear ends shot off because some head honcho said "no dodging" of those SAM things! Did they REALLY think that would work? I heard it said that "we were past the Brits and their 'Onward went the 600, into the Valley of Death.'" The Big Wigs were not still with us and on their golden thrones because they did no "dodging of bullets" during their day. You can trust me on that one!Of course the guys dodged the SAMS. Huge thanks yous to the Radar Navs, the Radars, the EWO's, and the Gunners...especially you guys "in the Hole" who told the Pilots where the flak was coming in. I DID LEARN a few things while on the Rock. "It is nice to have a Pilot steering,'BUT you gotta have a NAVIGATOR' telling him where to steer!!!"
I was amazed at the complexity of the work done "in the Hole." And fascinated that when it came right down to it "this was done by touch." Touch? First I read about maps and coordinates and "thingamagigs first used in WWII" for navigating and then it comes down to "Touch." The closest I can come to grasping this is relating it to the automobile I drive. There is a wonderful set of instructions and I even read the long form a couple of times. I glance at the short form when questions come up. I am VERY old fashioned and still prefer paper maps so I can visualize my "final destination." I just cannot adjust to that wierd voice talking to me from the dash! But when it comes to dust storms; freak ice storms; rain, which is unusual in the desert S.W.; or the rare panic occurence, touch and reflex manuevers have saved me so far. But, I believe that the "touch" these gentleman used was something else entirely. It had to be used on every flight, not just in an unusual circumstance. Is it the same light handling that keeps me between the white lines as I drive. No, not really. The closest I can come to understanding "Touch" is this: though apparently learned, it may have been a Divine Gift assigned to the Radar Nav. I have to believe so. It saved many a life, and though the guys grich and groan about being "washed out Pilots" it was something that the Pilots did not have. Something uniquely special to those guys in the Hole and we are Glad of It!!!
The Majority of the Book follows the "Christmas Bombing Raids" over Viet Nam in 1972. I will let you read those. They are VERY detailed. You will learn things you never dreamed about;;;;flying in circles awaiting the 135's caused HOW MANY deaths???
This book, although it has its light parts, is quite technical in many areas. If you are not some kind of a plane fanatic, a war geek, a history buff, or someone who was there (or had someone there), then I cannot see why this book would appeal to you. But for those of us, who knew a part, thought it might have been a HUGE part, we still did not know what a Hole was or who lived in it. Thought it was a toad. But, if you are any of the above and ever wanted to know just a bit more than you did, then this is a great Treasure Trove of facts. I will not say it is a "great read" as that somehow implies quickly flipping through enjoyable pages of a happy book. Though, for the most part, this does come in the "happy ending" category, it came with great cost and is not a "read."
Seems like a lot of the "declassified" information was really known in some form or another; although, it may be that my memory has simply blended with facts as they became available. However, I am pretty sure that it shocks very few that we bombed a friendly: Cambodia...but really, how friendly were they? And we bombed some unfriendlies: North Viet Nam. Quite frankly, if we had sidled in and done that a bit sooner, many lives would have been saved and we would have people, not bones in the US which belonged to MIA's and POW's. No, it was not a popular war, The Viet Nam Era, but I very, very, very oftened wondered if we had cut to the chase much sooner instead of doing so much ponticating, would things have not gone better and been cleaner?! But, then, I am not a War Commander. I was a Wife.
Oh, and just as an aside, I had the pleasure of knowing the "Yossarians" quite well!!!!!!
I imagine Buffs will fly until there are none left and all parts have been raided. In reading this, I learned about the bombing accuracy of those HUGE packages of bombs we dropped. I find that amazing given the technology available at the time.
I DO SUGGEST this book to anyone who wants to know all there is to know about: B-52's and how they came to be and why they are called "BUFS" or BUFFS; what it is like to be in the Navigating positions in these beasts; what it was like on Anderson during this time period; what the Brass thought they might be thinking at the time in SAC; and what was LINEBACKER II anyway and what did it matter; what went down afterwards; how B-52's Still Do Their Job; and those secret planes that came afterwards. So Read, Learn, Enjoy.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER:
PEACE IS OUR PROFESSION: War Is Our Hobby!
Truly, this was a great reminder of a former life and imreallybenjoyed it.
Anyone who participated in Arclight in any way, as a flyer or in a support function, will find the book a good read as well as anyone interested in aviation and especially the BUF. As pilots, we knew the nav team accomplished all kinds of magic to get us to our destination, Harder explains how they did it.
The book is especially educational for those who think only of pilots when they hear or read about the BUF. It is definitely a crew aircraft and everyone has a specific duty to complement and complete the assigned mission. This became especially evident to me over Laos just west of Ben Karai pass on February 17, 1971 when I led Snow cell through a SAM attack. Everyone played their part perfectly while I just flew the bird and we had no hits, no runs and no errors. (I cover this event in WHERE THE BUF FELLOWS ROAMED which is still available.)
I missed the big show in Dec 1972, but was there in spirit, for many of the names he listed as participants were friends that I had flown with, checked out in the G, pulled alert with over the years and especially Louis LeBlanc who was my gunner for two Arclight tours in the D.
Those who think everything goes smoothly in the bombing business learns how it is in real life. It is always the men in the arena who make the mission successful regardless of the rules imposed upon them by those who are not present or directly involved.
Harder also gives credit to the supporting cast of aircraft and crews involved in Linebacker II that made the whole thing as successful as it was, in addition to the BUF's activity.
Pilots need to read it, they might learn a great deal.
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