Ghosts of Christmas Past: Fly Navy 100 Years

Boundary Condition #2 (1)

November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely makes the first take off from a ship from a wooden platform on the bow of the USS Birmingham; December 23, 1910 LT. T.G. Ellyson reports to the Glenn Curtis Aviation Camp at North Island, as the first naval officer to undergo flight training; 18 January 1911, Ely lands on a specially built platform aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania. 8 May, 1911, Captain W.I. Chambers requisitions its first airplane. That day becomes the official birthday of Naval Aviation. We’ll be celebrating our 100th this coming year.

 Naval Aviator #1: Lt. T.G. Ellyson

The Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association - River Rats – asked if I had anything for their winter issue of MiG Sweep as a lead for further Naval Aviation articles throughout the year.  I offered up the December1999 piece I put together called Ghosts of Christmas Past: Fly Navy, the Best Always Have, and feel honored to have it published as Naval Aviation’s birthday year begins.  The  River Rats were started under Air Force General Robin Olds in Thailand in ’66-67 and original membership required combat missions in Route Pack Six, North Vietnam along the Red River which ran through Hanoi and Haiphong. It’s still heavy Air Force, but you gotta give them credit here for honoring their Navy members, herritage, and Naval Aviation’s 100th birthday celebration.

The magazine will be in print latter this month, but is on-line for members, so I sent out the PDF to some.  And while there is an official website and many formal events are planned all over the country througout the year, my intent for 2011, starting with “Ghosts” is to find and post stories of Naval Aviators and aircraft carriers, some you may recognize as part of established history, but others probably have been told only on Friday nights, beer or young Scotch in hand, in the Cubi Point or Miramar or Oceana O’Club bar or maybe in Hong Kong, Naples or Sinagapore. And these are the ones that made the history possible, trust me I’m a doctor, make that a Naval Aviator.  And just maybe out of war and remembrance, there’ll be a useful  intersection related to decision making in crisis.  We’ll have to see.

Boris sends:

God bless the United States of America and all its fighting men and women.

Merry Christmas

The Ghosts of Christmas Past…Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have

by Ed ‘Boris’ Beakley, December 1999

It happens periodically, going on for over twenty-five years but mostly since I retired and am not so close to the source anymore.  The memories come rolling in.  Sometimes I’m in the cockpit of the A-7, the spare for a night road-recce north of Vinh.  Bear is up on the cat, Munt is in the plane next to me – they know they’re going.  You know you’re going, too, you can bet on it.  Spare, night, north, it’s the perfect combo.
The FIRST SAM always makes an appearance – right behind Lots, between me and Floo,  at a wonderful place called Thanh Hoa.  Yahoo. Sometimes I’m sitting on the runway at El Centro in the Crusader, the skipper of VF-124 off to one side, waiting to roll on my first hop in a real single seat – non training command- honest to God Fleet warbird.  Or towards the end, so close to the TLAM D, the photographer in the back seat of the TA-7 has  got to get good pics, one of the sub-munitions doors is jammed,  with all our technology this is the only way to get this test data. 

Sometimes it’s the flight deck of Midway in Singapore Harbor, Christmas ’72, Bob Hope.  Our A-6 guys have really had an interesting few nights along with the BUFs.  The Christmas card from Randy, college buddy, flight school roomie, VF-111, just back in the states, sticks in my mind  FLY NAVY it says, THE BEST ALWAYS HAVE.  Ghosts of Christmas past.

When it happens the thoughts play around in my head for days and I always rummage through my collection of books, articles, scrap books, patches,  “I love me” stuff and read pieces  that I’ve been collecting since NROTC days.

What brings this ghost hunting on is chance meetings with old pals, some news item with Navy guys in it, a bad war movie with Navy jets, you get the picture.  In the last few weeks I’ve gotten bombarded with multiple inputs and therefore this little e-mail shot.  First was on a random channel flip,  catching William Holden in the binjo ditch just as he tells Mickey Rooney about the wrong war, wrong place –you fight because you’re there, leading into the famous comment by the admiral on the carrier Savo “Where did we get such men?”  The next, learning of the loss of Admiral Pat Moneymaker’s son in an S-3 off JFK.  Munt once flew on  my wing,  he’s family.  Finally, a joyous input. My daughter, made in Hong Kong during that ’72 cruise,  is bringing home, Christmas Eve, for a first meeting,  my son-in-law to-be, a LCDR F-14 RIO.  Seems “Fly Navy”  is gonna be around some more.

And so, I thought  I’d pass on some of the pieces as Christmas ornaments, if you will,  thoughts that  are important,  written by people who can tell the story so much better than I. 


From every Chief Petty Officer I ever met

Pay attention, Sir. Learn, use it, and pass it on.

“Testimony of Pilot” from AIRSHIPS by Barry Hannah

He came down in an F-something Navy jet on the dot of ten.  She ran out on the airport pavement to meet him.  I saw her crawl up on the ladder. Quadberry never got out of the plane.  I could see him in his blue helmet.  Lilian backed down the ladder.  Then Quadberry had the cockpit cover him again.  He turned the plane around so its red flaming end was at us.  He took it down the runway.  We saw him leap out into the night at the middle of the runway going west, toward  San Diego and the Bonhomme Richard.  Lilian was crying.
“What did he say?”  I asked.
“He said, I am a dragon.  America the beautiful, like you will never know.”  He wanted to give you a message.  He was glad you were here.”
“What was the message?”
” The same thing. “I am a dragon.  America the beautiful, like you will never know.’ “Did he say anything else?”
“Not a thing.”
“Did he express any love towards you?”
“He wasn’t Ard.  He was somebody with a sneer in a helmet.”
“He’s going to war,  Lilian.”
“I asked him to kiss me and he told me to get off the plane,  he was firing up and it was dangerous.”
“Arden is going to war.  He’s just on his way to Vietnam and he wanted us to know that.  It wasn’t just him he wanted us to see.  It was him in the jet he wanted us to see. He is  that black jet.  You can’t kiss an airplane.”

“And what are we supposed to do?”  cried Lilian.
“We’ve just got to hang around.  He didn’t have to lift off and disappear straight up like that.  That was to tell us how he isn’t with us anymore.”

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI by James a Michener

“How was Brubaker hit in the first place?”
“He was working over the dumps.”
“The admiral pounced on this.  “What was he doing at the dumps?”
Patiently Cag explained.  “Before we took off we agreed.  If we get the bridges, we expend our ammo on the dumps.”
Icily from the empty bitterness of his bosom, the old man asked,  “Was that wise?”
Cag had had enough.  He’d stood this angry old tyrant long enough and there was no promotion in the navy that would make him take any more. “Admiral,” he said grimly,  ” this was a good mission.  We did everything just right.  I put Brubaker in charge of the third division because I could trust him to fly low and bore in with his bombs.  He did just that.”
Cag, trembling with anger, rushed on,  “Admiral,  everybody in the air group knows that you selected Brubaker as your special charge.  You do that on every command and we know why you do it.  Some kid your on boy’s age.  So today I led your boy to death.  But it was a good mission.  We did everything just right.  And it was your boy who helped destroy the bridges.  Admiral, if my eyes are red it’s for that kid.  Because he was mine too.  And I lost him.”
The old man stood there,  staring stonily at the shaking commander with the bullet head while Cag shot the works.  “I don’t care any longer what kind of fitness report you turn in on me because this was a good mission.  It was a good mission.”  Without saluting he stormed from flag country, his fiery steps echoing as he stamped away.

For many hours the admiral remained alone.  Then toward morning he heard the anti-submarine patrol go out and as the engines roared he asked, “Why is America lucky enough to have such men?  They leave this tiny ship and fly against the enemy.  Then they must seek the ship, lost somewhere on the sea.  And when they find it, they have to land upon its pitching deck.  Where did we get such men?”

He went out to watch the launching of the dawn strike.  As streaks of light appeared in the east,  pilots came on deck…..Majestically, the task force turned into the wind,  the bull horn jangled and a voice in the gloom cried,  “Launch jets.”
Admiral Tarrant watched them go,  two by two from the lashing catapult, planes of immortal beauty whipping into the air with flame and fury upon them.  They did not waste fuel orbiting but screamed to the west, seeking new bridges in Korea.

FW:  Cubi…’being there’  e-mail   from “Turtle”

As I sat in the MD-11, flying back across the Pacific,  I looked out the window at the water and the clouds and thought about all those people, those places and those great days.  We all miss’em,  but those days set us on the road to becoming effective people,  they made us feel like true agents for our country and they taught us how to do big things in the world and not just root around in the pine trees of our little home towns, screwing around with old Mary Lou Rottencrotch.

As we get older, my friends on this list,  you guys who were there with me,  are the most valuable things in my life.  We were huge,  weren’t we?
Don’t worry,  Cubi lives.

Sadness and Hope:  Some Thoughts on Modern Warfare  from the Raymond A. Spruance Lecture at the Naval War College April 1980  by Herman Wouk

He introduced himself as Lieutenant Commander Williams, and added,  “My name is Butch.”  That was all I knew about him.  I had to find out from others-never from him- that this man had flown four hundred combat missions in Vietnam;  that he had five Distinguished Service Crosses and more decorations than I can begin to tell you;  that he was an absolutely peerless professional fighting man and a first-class mind, number one in his class here at the Naval War College.  So modest,  so plain in his manner was he,  that only after learning at second hand of his distinction did I come to observe the subtle clues of outstanding character of Butch Williams.  I saw him several times after that.  We were friends.  I sent him a copy of War and Remembrance when it came out,  and he wrote me a wonderful letter about it.  At that time,  after a lot of shore duty as an aide to Admiral Turner,  he had just been
given the thing he had been waiting through all his naval career, command of a squadron on a carrier.

Two months ago,  in routine duty at sea,  Butch was being catapulted. The catapult failed and his plane fell in the sea.  He ejected,  but something went very wrong with the rescue procedure he was so familiar with, and Butch drowned.  He isgone.

…..But what did Butch do with his death-this wonderful fighter, this first-class man who I believe would have been an important American leader,  military and possibly more than military?  What did he achieve with this accidental death in routine operations?

I’ll tell you what he did-he served.  He was there. 

This man of the highest excellence submerged himself,  his life,  in this big destructive machine which is our solace and our protection,  knowing full well that whether he flew combat missions or routine operations he was at risk.  He gave up all the high-priced opportunities in this rich country-and the men in this room know what the advantageous offers and possibilities are outside the military life- and he served.  While articles and books poured from the presses in New York and across the country about the doom of civilization,  the collapse of Western society,  the hopelessness and death of the American dream,  Butch Williams served,  and stood in the breach.  For he knew that in this terrible fight against odds to hold the world together,  while struggles out of the Thucydidean nightmare to the sunlight of Isaiah’s vision, American men must stand in the breach and face those odds and conquer those odds-the best men among us.

When Raymond Spruance sailed to Midway he was taking two carriers against nine;  no battleships against perhaps twelve.  …The victory that Spruance won against those rough odds,  the stand of this one man in one dark hour on the Pacific Ocean near the island of Midway,  turned the tide of history from the blackness of totalitarian barbarism into the troubled world we have today:  a world-however troubled- in which we Americans can still talk as free men and work as free men toward the future.

Mrs. Spruance remarked to me after my first lecture,  “You know what Ray once said?  He said there were a hundred Raymond Spruances in the Navy. They just happened to pick me to do the job.”   I believe Spruance spoke the truth.  There are hundreds of Spruances in this country…and there are thousands of Butch Williamses.  We know about Spruance only because he was thrust into that battle and won it.  We know about… Butch Williams because he died.

….. They are here among you…men who are such,  or aspire to be such.  I tell you that you are right in what you are doing,  that you are answering the noblest of calls.  In all my sadness,  you are my hope.

The Truest Sport:  Jousting with Sam and Charlie  by Tom Wolf

Back on the Coral Sea Dowd and Flint were debriefed in the wardroom. They drank coffee and tried to warm up.  The china had a certain dignity.  It was white with bands of blue about the rims and blue crests here and there.  The silver ware-now that was rather nice.  It was ornamental and heavy.  The questions came, one after the other, and they went through everything that happened.  Yet during this debriefing the two men were waiting for something else.   Surely, they would mention something else.   But they didn’t.  It was a debriefing much like every
debriefing.  Just the facts!  No quarter given!  No slack in the line! Then the commander of their squadron said, with a note of accusation: “Why were you flying so low?”

Now, that really was too much!  Why…. You bastard!  But they said nothing,  except the usual.  What they wanted to say…well,  how could they have put it into words?  How,  within the inner room,  does one say:  “My God, man,  we’ve just been into the Jaws!… about as far into the goddamned Jaws as you can go and still come back again! and you want to know why we flew so low!  We’ve just been there!  At the lost end of the equation! where it drops off the end of the known world!  Ask us about… the last things,  you bastard,  and we will enlighten you!

There were no words in the chivalric code for such thoughts,  however. But all at once the skipper of the Coral Sea, the maximum leader, a former combat pilot himself,  appeared-and he smiled!  And that smile was like an emission of radio waves.
“We’re glad to have you back,  men.”
That  was all he said.  But he smiled again!  Such ethereal waves!
Invisible but comprehensible,  they said,  “I know.  I’ve been there myself.”  Just that! – not a sound! -and yet a doxology for all the unspoken things.  How full my heart, O Lord!
Flint took off one day before going out on his next mission,  on New Year’s Eve.  Dowd had suffered a back injury in the ejection from the F-4B,  and so it was another two days before he climbed back into the metal slingshot,  got slung off the skillet,  and went flying over North Vietnam again.

A GIFT OF WINGS by Richard Bach

And like no other sculpture in the history of art,  the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand,  and join their life with the pilot’s own. “When you believe in something as true as the sky,”  he said.  “you’re bound to find a few friends.”
To Pat,  Carol,  Matt stood in the breach,  peace to you

To Frenchy,  welcome to the family


Ed “Boris” Beakley
(Champ 9 VA-56 USS Midway Christmas ’72)

Update December 2010:  So how’s that going so far?

Well, Tracey (made in Hong Kong on that fateful ’72 cruise) and Frenchy (1975 Operation Baby Lift) celebrated their 1oth anniversary this year, Frenchy retired from the Navy summer before last – the Tomcat pic is in his honor – and India’s now wearing Liam’s flight jacket.  Going really well, I’d say.  Fly Navy, the BEST did and will continue to do. Boris sends

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