Last week I wrote an essay about why the date July 27, rang a bell. It was about why Trump’s nod to the Russian’s to infiltrate U.S. politics was barren of any sense of history or the sacrifices made by Cold War veterans. Then I listened to Khizr Kahn’s assertion that Trump “sacrificed nothing and no one,” and I saw how these two themes converged. This is a long-winded way of saying I decided to restate my case in summary form. For those of you that know me, I am left of center on the subject of the country’s militaristic bravado and Pentagon budget. Yet, I believe all American’s should contribute to democracy, and for some, they choose military service. Their service should not be assumed an expression to support war or an effort to expand our government’s ambition to control world events.
At first I thought that July 27 crept into my thoughts because on that day, last year I spoke before a group of Korean War veteran’s on the 62nd anniversary of the war’s Armistice. I have always had a special place in my heart for these folks, for lot’s of reasons, first having been an impressionable paperboy during that war, where I read headlines every day about its brutality, or because I served with dozens of G.I.s, who had served in Korea. It was part of the Cold War, the one that ran bloody hot, leaving in its wake 36,516 GIs dead, 92,134 wounded, 4,759 missing in action and of the 7,190 American prisoners, 3,000 whom died in captivity, 43% of starvation, and at least 1,000 POWs, who were left behind in North Korea. Years later I took the U.S. government to task for this later disgrace. The trial started July 19, 1983, in the Federal District Court in Hartford. I though maybe that was why July was rattling me. That’s a story I’d written about a few years ago in, We Were Beautiful Once, Chapters from a Cold War.
More likely I was rattled because like most Americans, I heard Trump invite the Russians to hack emails of American citizens. I was insulted, because I knew that except for a brief time, since the end of WWII, we have been at odds with Russia, for the nearly 50 odd years we fought the Cold War, and over the past dozen or so when it seems the former Soviet Union’s seat of power has reverted to its Cold War, autocracy and hegemony over its people and neighbors.
So, I found myself reminded about Russia and the Cold War, which brought me back the mid-50s and 60s, to my outfit, the 307th Bomb Wing, Strategic Air Command, Lincoln AFB, were I worked on the flight line as a gunnery mechanic. And, it’s hard not to think about those days, and not be reminded of the men we lost at our base flying bombers to defend the country.
6 April 1956, a little over three years before I was assigned to the wing, a B-47 went down killing all aboard. That same year another B-47 accident kill the entire crew. Later that year fifty 307th Bomb Wing airmen were lost aboard a Navy C-118 off the coast of Spain. In November 1956, an F-80 fighter jet, crashed into the flight line’s fuel pits, striking two parked B-47s bombers. The F-80 pilot and two ground crew were killed, four others were injured. In February 1958, a B-47 jettisoned both fuel tanks, one fuel tank hit a hanger and the other struck a B-47, killing the crew chief and a repairman. 8 October 1959, a B-47, crashed on take off killing the crew. June 1961, a B-47, making a night takeoff was unable to attain flying speed and crashed south of the runway and all lost their lives. 3 February 1963, while landing in a snowstorm, a B-47 was being wrestled to the ground, the copilot, ejected, but was killed. 7 March 1963, a B-47 caught fire on the aft fuselage during take off. The aircraft commander was killed in a fiery crash, but only after he held the aircraft under control, while his crew bailed out. 27 July 1964, a B-47, in a southbound takeoff failed to accelerate to flying speed and crashed off the end of the runway. Captain Thomas Sutton, 1/Lt David Williams, 1/Lt Terrance Murphy, and Major John Sakry, all perished. These tragedies occurred at one air base, and we had hundreds of air bases during the Cold War.
Ahh, then it dawned on me, 27 July 1964, the same day as the crash, I was driving to the base and I saw the plume. I stopped my car on the road. My instinct was to run to the scene. I heard the sirens and knew that there was little I could do, but get in the way. I proceeded to the next order of business. After nearly 5 years, I was finally mustering out. After I picked up my discharge papers, I headed back east, but I left my heart back there, somewhere on the flight line, where I’d spent so many years, under Nebraska’s hottest and coldest, often boring days–and too many sad days, when lives were lost.
And as I ponder that date, 27 July, and the poignancy it’s played in my past, I think about how disgraceful, that a candidate for president, one who dodged the draft during the Cold War, should rail against Mr. and Mrs. Kahn for speaking truth to power, and for inviting the Russians to hack into our political system, the bedrock of our democracy.