Morning, 20 February, 1966 – Andersen Air Force Base, Guam – Home of the 736th Bomber Squadron – they flew BUFFs and were proud of it.
This particular morning would be no different than any other morning that week. The sky over Andersen was full of B-52s heading out to drop their load over Viet Nam – Each evening flock of B-52s would return, often smaller than when it left.
USAF Capt. Bob Amos picked up a combat mission for that day. There was nothing unusual about him making a combat run over Viet Nam, but on this particular mission, the mission order included the fact he was part of a thirty-ship bombing mission on a target near Saigon, that his Call-sign was “GREEN-TWO” and that a VIP would be along for the ride.
I think I can guess what the young Captain muttered under his breath – random VIP flights are generally a low point in any aviator’s career. They usually involve babysitting some old guy who is completely out of his environment and under the impression that he has some authority.
I can imagine Capt. Amos was less than enthused about having a VIP literally looking over his shoulder during a 12+ hour hot combat mission – the extra seat is just behind the pilot in a BUFF. If it were me, I would just be hoping the VIP had the sense to stay out of the way if things got weird.
At a minimum, having a VIP on board would stifle the shenanigans that naturally go on between a six young guys who know they may be sharing the same flying coffin. The pre-flight briefing added a complication – Today’s VIP was a Reserve General, he actually did have some authority.
Captain Amos recognized the General as a well-known screen actor. That meant his rank was likely just “Hollywood Rank” similar to what was bestowed on Ronald Reagan and other actors who didn’t actually serve except for PR and War Bond films.
Capt. Amos knew this guy was probably just another Hollywood Whuffo who never really served in the military other than as PR stunt. I’m relatively sure the entire crew knew this VIP best for his role as a heroic bomber pilot in a popular movie. This guy probably even thought he was a real “Bomber Pilot” – getting stuck with a VIP like this would make any crew cringe.
What Capt. Amos didn’t know about this particular “Hollywood General” was that his rank wasn’t Hollywood – and he really was a “Bomber Pilot”. He didn’t need to do much acting in the that movie and the Captain wouldn’t need to babysit this General – he was no fledgling.
It didn’t take long for Capt. Amos and his crew to realize the General was more than capable as an extra Pilot and he fit right in with the flow of the crew. I don’t have a clue what was discussed on the flight but If Capt. Amos had asked he would have learned that the General was worthy of as much respect as a warrior as was required by his rank.
In reality he was just one in a long line of Soldiers who served this Republic over the years. Both of the General’s grandfathers served in the Civil War and his father served in combat during the Spanish American War. He was raised to understand that if his country called – answering was NOT a matter of choice. He passed this on to his own children – His son, a Marine officer was killed on a recon mission in Viet Nam.
Working in his father’s hardware store as a boy sparked an incredible interest in all things mechanical. When Charles Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight, all that mechanical thirst turned to flight. He saved the huge sum of $15 and purchased a 15-min flight from a local pilot.
That was all it took – he was going to be a Pilot.
The boy’s father convinced him the Naval Academy was a poor choice but neglected to Point out the finest Military Academy in the world was just down the road at West Point and he ended up at Princeton instead.
He graduated with a degree in Architecture but found his second love after flying. He discovered he was more interested in acting than building and began performing in plays, eventually gaining popularity to the point that MGM signed him to a multi movie contract.
Then in 1939, two events changed his life forever – He won New York Film Critics Circle Awards – Best Actor Award and… Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.
He was willing to give up his career as one of Hollywood’s leading actors and tried to enlist. To the great relief of MGM – he was denied enlistment because his 143 lbs didn’t meet the height and weight minimum for his 6’3” frame.
Being the hottest actor in town paid well, so he hired a dietician to help him gain enough weight to enlist and in Feb 1941 – Long before the Pearl Harbor Attack and just 7 days after being presented the Academy Award for Best Actor – the 32-year-old actor finally managed to pass his physical – he enlisted as a private.
Even though he kept a low profile; didn’t park his Rolls in the barracks lot or have his driver pick him up after duty hours, no one had any doubt who he was. The private did however, keep his personal airplane down on the flight line and was known to fly it home to visit anytime he had a pass. Someone realized he had 41/2 times as much solo flight time as was required to become an Army Aviator and he was sent to Flight School. With the additional 200 hours he flew in training he had more total flight time than the majority of the instructors.
To his disappointment they made him one.
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