Allow me to share a true story with you which occurred over 30 years ago. It’s a story that encapsulates the true spirit of that bond of trust and confidence that we as members, of all the military branches, rely on each other.
To set the stage…
Twelve Marine Corps F-4 Phantoms of Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Air Base, Hawaii had just completed a 2 week military exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and were flying back to Hawaii. 3 KC-135s and a
C-130 Hercules were assigned to escort the 12 F-4s on their 2800 mile journey over the Pacific Ocean . The F-4 is a 2 seat supersonic fighter attack aircraft. The KC-135 is an airborne refueler that can hold as much as 200,000 pounds of fuel. The C-130 is a 4 engine turboprop, and on this day, was assigned as the emergency support aircraft affectionately known as the “Duck Butt”. By definition, the Duck Butt is the last airplane to take off and trails behind, and then renders rescue services for the aircrews who have an emergency and provides assistance to aircrew who may be forced to eject from their aircraft.
In just a few minutes, 16 military airplanes took off from Nevada and pushed their way westward to Hawaii.
The first three hours were uneventful as they flew at 27,000 feet.
Precisely at the halfway mark with 1400 miles to go, one of the F-4 Phantoms experienced an unexpectedly loss of power on the left engine due to oil starvation. With only one engine, the F-4 was unable to maintain flying speed at 27,000’ so the pilot immediately descended down to 5000 feet and quickly fell behind from the rest of the aircraft. As they descended, they passed through a thin layer of clouds where they then lost visual contact with all of the other planes. Over time, they watched their fuel gauge slowly move toward empty.
The aircrew of the crippled F-4 began to prepare for the inevitable…ejection over water. They tightened their ejection seat straps. They reviewed their ejection procedures checklist. It was agreed that upon ejection and once in the water, they would join up and if possible, link their rafts together to provide mutual support and to bolster morale.
They were then interrupted by the voice of the rescue KC-130 Pilot who advised them to prepare for refueling. The F-4 aircrew soon gained a radar lock and eventually had visual contact with this big, beautiful, behemoth of a C-130 which seemed as if it was descending down from heaven.
The pilot was quick to advise the F-4 that in the event of ejection, the KC-130 would drop additional rafts over their position that contained water cannisters, flares, shark repellent and Charms candies or what we called ‘life raft rations’. Charms are identical to Life Saver candies.
Navy and Coast Guard ships, Army helicopters and even civilian maritime vessels offered their help. Four hours later, the exhausted and grateful aircrew landed uneventfully at Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Air Base. I was the pilot of that F-4.
I found it to be an extraordinary moment in my military career to be the beneficiary of such a great effort by so many to ensure our safety. Their mission to tend to our needs was a complete success. That is my story, and I assure you that veterans throughout the globe have their own stories to tell. Veteran’s Day is marked to honor persons who have served in the military. We salute those who are willing to enter the Wrath of Hell and into harm’s way to protect its own. Sadly, the stories from those fallen have been silenced. They paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect their brothers in arms and to them, we bestow our highest honor and our sincerest gratitude.
Jim 'Hondo' Haldeman served 22 years in the USMC as an Artillery Officer, Fighter Pilot, and Commander of Civil Military Operations in Fallujah. He retired as a 737 Captain with American Airlines. Jim enjoys playing the piano and is member of Hope Masonic Lodge in Rhode Island, having been elected for 5 years in a row as the Worshipful Master. Printed with Jim's permission.