Adventure-10  



By
Ron Strong




Pranks helped pass the time, too. One of the favorites was to partially open a can of tuna and put it either inside a crew truck somewhere out of sight or on the engine exhaust manifold. In the first case the tuna would spoil and stink after only a few days. In the second case the tuna would get hot as the engine heated up and start to smell rather quickly. Of course, I never did anything like that!

Sometimes two weeks or more would pass between missions. The gaps in flying were for three main reasons: no tasking (!), bad weather, or maintenance problems when the plane was broken in some fashion and needed parts that weren't available on the island. A prime example of "broken" was when the SEPP failed inflight on March 17 and scattered its innards all over the Bering Sea. The plane even went all the way back to Greenville in early April '67 for work that could not be done in Alaska. This is when time really hung heavily. There was also the constant uncertainty and stress about when the long, indeterminate length TDY would finally end. We were never given a fixed return date, right up to the end. Rumors were rampant. Early in '67 there was talk of going back to Hawaii for a few weeks. Unfortunately it never materialized. This would have been a greatly welcomed break. Another rumor was that another person and I would go back to the South 48 somewhere for more training of some sort. For a while it looked like we would leave in mid-April. Politics of one sort or another kept us in place about two extra weeks. At one point I even had my bags packed and tickets in hand ready to leave on April 12. If the turn plane hadn't been a day late the previous week I might have been home a week earlier. The 55th had wanted me back by April 25 to start training on May 1. I seemed to be especially susceptible to rumors and had my chain pulled more than once. At one point the guys had me convinced that I was going to fly F-105s at Takhli, Thailand where the loss rate was 100% at one time!

Being away from our families was difficult but worth the sacrifice, because what we were doing was also for them. To fill the time there were always things that had to be accomplished. We wrote numerous lesson plans that would be used to train our replacements who would arrive on Shemya in mid-March. Also, the crew trucks had to be washed periodically. This was a nuisance but had to be done. It didn't take very long, but in the colder months it was a chilly job, even though it was done inside the hangar. Most of the vehicles on the island were not in the best repair. Shemya was at the end of the line for just about everything, parts for everything but the airplane included. As the years passed, and the island's mission became more important, logistics improved somewhat. We had to gas the trucks from the base "gas station" that was only a shack, but then, many of the island buildings were only shacks at that point. One day I made the mistake of answering the phone that was in the hall right outside my room and was stuck with making two aircraft status boards. It was a lot of bent-over work using a lettering set and India ink. There was always much administrative busy work to do. I worked all day, nearly every day just to keep up with paper work.

Dunc was an excellent, museum-quality airplane model maker. Before leaving home for Shemya I had made a rather crude model of Lisa Ann from a Revell kit. Now, with the plane right outside our door, I tried to match Dunc's quality and detail but never quite attained it. He could make an airplane model, complete with variations, in a short time, and have it come out looking almost like the real thing. I took much longer and mine still looked like a plastic model. I measured everything in sight on Lisa Ann to get the sizes and shapes correct. By the time the tour ended the 1/144 scale model was complete. It turned out reasonably well and is still kept in a glass-front case in our family room along with several other RC-135s and other aircraft models. A slide of my model did become part of the slide briefing given to visitors. With the real plane available, I don't know why its picture wasn't used.

The main event of most non-flying days was the noon run to the mess hall in the crew bus. Our crew bus was just like the island shuttle bus: Air Force blue and 30-passenger. We just might find something new in the BX! You can tell how thrilling and interesting most days were when you consider that the BX run was the high point of most days! One of the base chaplains was seen finding a Playboy magazine there, too. I never made it to Sunday service at the chapel because transportation was too hard to find. When I came back in 1981 I missed only when there was a mission in progress. There was always the tall totem pole in front of the Comp Building to look at.

Sometimes when I didn't go to the mess hall, I just heated some soup. The easy way was to tear off the label and put the unopened can into one of the huge coffee pots in the laundry room that had only hot water in it. Soup was on in only a few minutes. Breakfast was usually something scrounged from other meals, some juice from the BX, and maybe a few PopTarts, or possibly some cereal. I sometimes ate supper at the mess hall or just had something light in my room. Victuals were almost never a problem except when we had to fly during the supper time.

We all had to go back to Offutt at one time or another somewhere near the middle of our 31 weeks on Shemya to get new orders. If we had more than 179 continuous days at a TDY remote location it counted as a PCS and not as a TDY. This meant we couldn't get another remote assignment until everyone else on our category had a remote. Charlie and Dick made it back home while they were on short trips for conferences of some sort, or to courier mission materials to the Foreign Technology Division of Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson. George had a sad, tragic return when his wife, Rita, miscarried on November 4 and when his mother died just before Thanksgiving. Dunc and I were given one return option between us to come home for Christmas. At Dunc's suggestion we tossed a coin for it. I won the toss but wanted to give him another chance because he was senior in rank. I suggested something like two out of three, but he stood by the single toss result. Fortunately, Dunc did make it back to Bellevue shortly after midnight on January 1 for a great New Year's Day! I suspect it was joy and jubilation for everyone!

I headed home with some of the maintenance troops on December 21 aboard a C-141 that was bound for McChord AFB. Not surprisingly we were delayed a day in leaving Shemya because of some of the ususal bad weather. From McChord we took a tanker to Forbes AFB. For some reason we were driven to Kansas City to catch a commercial flight on to Omaha. The drive time was almost the same to Omaha as to Kansas City and would have put us home several hours earlier. It was wonderful to be home and back in the "Land of the Big BX," even for only a very few days. I wished all of us could have made the trip together. Christmas Eve Molly and I made a short visit to see Pete and Jean. The wives were together for New Year's Eve. I spent a lot of the time at home trying to arrange transportation back to Shemya. Pete took over, saying I shouldn't spend my "vacation" time worrying about getting back. Molly and I deeply appreciated his help. It was a wonderful relief to be free of the burden! We will never forget his warmth and kindness.

A few days after I left for Shemya a blizzard hit Bellevue. It had high winds and dumped a lot of snow. In the Spring a severe storm struck and took the roofs off of 14 houses in Offutt's base housing. The previous Fall, when the lawns were dry because of weeks without rain, sparks from the incinerator at the school across the street from our house caught the grass on fire. A strong wind caused it to spread rapidly, even jumping the street and setting our yard alight, too. Fortunately, a neighbor boy and the fire department were able to put out the fire but not before had spread to within only 15 feet of our house. Life at home had its adventures, too.

Dick went back to Bellevue in early January'67 when his wife, Judy, aggravated an old back injury when she lifted one of their children. Dunc was supposed to have been returning on leave on the flight that brought Dick back. Melinda and their two boys were greatly disappointed when Dick walked off the plane instead. Dick took care of Judy for about two weeks. Unfortunately he had to leave before she was completely recovered. He also went back at the end of March on emergency leave for his grandmother's funeral, and to courier some mission materials to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.

It was something of a shock to see our son who was now eight months old. Travis had grown and changed considerably. He even had several teeth that I had not seen come in. Yes, I missed his first tooth, first sitting up, first roll-over, first steps, first words, first Easter, and many other firsts. Fortunately, I just made it home for his first birthday in May, the day we had an inch of snow. It was as if he were a different person, almost a stranger, because he hardly remembered me. Our only child was afraid of me; however, we were soon reacquainted. That was the hard and sad part. And it would happen all over again when we finally ended the TDY in April; however, Molly and I felt that what we were accomplishing on Shemya was necessary and important for national defense. That made the separation, isolation, and deprivation worthwhile; bearable, but with lots of effort. If it hadn't been for Molly, Travis, the United States, and the mission, I don't know if I could have withstood and come out still standing. I felt that it was my duty to serve in the armed forces to protect our nation, to preserve our freedom and liberty. To me, it has always been as General MacArthur said in the closing comments of his farewell address at West Point: "Duty, Honor, Country." Dunc had an excerpt from, if not all of, MacArthur's speech on the east wall of our room. It was a constant reminder of responsibility and commitment to the mission.

In spite of all the separation from our families we knew that our home fires were kept burning and that our family members were safe and secure. I was always certain that all was well at home. Molly has always been exceptionally capable of managing and caring for things when I was gone. She raised our two sons so very well when I was gone on numerous TDYs and a PCS that totaled more than five years. I have always had the utmost confidence in her abilities. We were absolutely committed to being absolutely faithful and staying married in the face of adversity. With Molly, it was an easy responsibility. About a year after our return from Shemya Molly won a Toastmistresses regional speech contest at Mason City, Iowa with the following paragraphs. She went on to present it at an International Toastmistresses convention in Calgary, Canada in 1968. This is what she wrote:

WHAT A SILLY QUESTION!

Of course I'm secure. What a silly question! Of course I may return home from this convention and find that we're moving to Okinawa next month and I may move 20 times in 20 years, but I'm well adjusted. My husband's work schedule changes from day to day, but I'm happy.

I'm well acquainted with loneliness and a little fear, yet I remain secure. I owe my peace of mind and self-control to my membership in a very exclusive organization. We have no official title, but we're affectionately referred to as "military wives." I am very proud to belong to this organization. It is quite an honor, since every member has to be personally accepted and approved by a "certain" serviceman.

The qualifications differ with each applicant, but we are all expert flag wavers. We band together in this group to learn from each others' experiences, to share each others' hardships, and to try to keep each other sane. In other words: to be secure. We are very cliquish, I'm afraid. Throw any two of us in the middle of any sized group, and we immediately dominate the conversation with our travel tales, flavoring our vocabulary with such esoteric terms as "TDY," "PCS," and "operational sortie." And we seldom venture from our "ivory" military bases, but prefer the cloistered comfort of our comrades. I admit that these irritating traits merely suggest that we find our total security only in each others' company.

We're trying to attain that certain strong carriage that comes with self-confidence. We spend endless months alone while our husbands are in combat, flying secret missions from some remote base, or attending classes in Honolulu, and we endure the months of isolation while in various stages of pregnancy and with any number of children or pets.

We sometimes must have babies by ourselves, have miscarriages by ourselves, and even have the Asian flu by ourselves. We can fertilize a yard, charge a dead battery, fix a disposal, clean a furnace, fill out an income tax return, and de-worm a cat, a dog, or a seven-year-old boy.

We are trying to attain that countenance of stability that belongs to the nomads. The feeling of putting roots down is entirely foreign to us. Our houses are not our homes, but merely temporary shelters. Our families are our homes. Although we collect things, and are dismayed because they take up so much space and weight, we also collect memories and friends and find them far more satisfying than tangible trinkets because memories don't tarnish with age and friends can't break.

We're seeking that serenity of faith and trust. I have to learn to accept the fact that everything my husband does militarily is classified, and I may never share in his work. I can be proud of my husband's medals, but I may never know what he did to earn them.

We want to have that personal magnetism that belongs to the courageous. We want to be able to grieve over the death or capture of a friend one day and then, without qualm, send our husbands out on a similar mission the next.

I want to be able to say only words of encouragement when I see my husband's face etched in tension as he dons his flight suit, double checks his survival gear, and prepares for another mission; when I'm aware that any goodbye may be the last.

We're easily spotted at any parade. We stand a little straighter than most when the flag is marched by, and we salute it without embarrassment. That flag means something to us. Its red is the red of our pain; its white, the white of our tears; its blue the blue of our loneliness. We belong to it.

That's why we can remain unshaken when we hear our husbands called "war criminals," "aggressors," "murderers," "torturers of children," and that's why we can remain steadfast when we hear our country, the country they fight for, called "imperialistic" and "the one big threat to world peace."

Our organization for mental and physical security is not unique. There are myriads of such groups blanketing our country. The membership is open to any and all who can meet the very demanding qualifications.

First, they must cherish their freedom enough to suffer and sacrifice for it. Second, they must be expert flag wavers. Then, if anyone should ask them, "Are you secure?", they can just shrug their shoulders and say, "Of course I'm secure. What a silly question!"

Molly Strong
Offutt AFB, NE
1968

From her dissertation and my other comments, I think you can see why Molly is my Second Greatest Blessing! While she was at Calgary she told her friends she would probably have a baby nine months and three days after she returned home. Sure enough, our second son, Roger, was born in April of 1969!

Now, perhaps, an additional word should be included about the survival school and the resistance to interrogation that it taught, particularly in the light of what General MacArthur had said. The Code of Conduct was instituted by President Eisenhower in 1955. He also added the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. The Code defined the way prisoners of war were to conduct themselves while in foreign captivity. For years prior to becoming an Air Force officer I felt it my duty, no, rather, obligation to defend our nation from all enemies both foreign and domestic just as my oath of office would say one day. Roman soldiers had an expression: "Dulce et decorum pro patria moria." Translation: "(It is) sweet and fitting to die for (one's) country." However, this must be tempered with judgment. I'm sure many German and Japanese soldiers in World War Two felt the same way about Germany and Japan. Although I never fired a shot at an enemy, I always tried to stand my ground, carry our flag, and dedicate myself to completing the mission. This I did for God and Country. He provided the strength to go on, to persevere, to finish the race, to complete the course. I also did it for my wife and son, and for generations yet to be. As the last line of the Code of Conduct says "I will trust in my God and the United States of America." I'm not a super patriot or a survivalist or a wild-eyed fanatic of any sort dressed in funny clothes. I'm not a preacher or the son of a preacher, however, Travis has been an ordained minister for well over a decade. It's plain and simple: I know that the United States is the best country on earth and well worth protecting and defending. I know there is one God: the Father of our Lord, Jesus who is the Christ. Through Him we have eternal life. May God bless America and keep her as our national anthem says "...the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Part of the time at home over Christmas was spent getting new TDY orders and more advance and accumulated TDY pay. All too soon on Monday, December 26th, I was again on an airliner headed for Seattle, Washington and Fairchild AFB. The trip was lengthened by a five-hour layover at St. Paul, Minnesota. This time I was the troop commander for the three NCOs that accompanied me and was responsible for getting them back to Shemya. From Fairchild to Eielson on December 28th was by KC-135A tanker again. The last leg back to Shemya, again delayed because of Shemya's weather, was on the turn tanker on December 30th, back to what would be another almost four months of loneliness and yearning.

The very next day, on New Year's Eve, we launched on a test-hop sortie in mid-afternoon. We buzzed another Soviet trawler, and I took movies of it. Whenever we did happen to run across a "trawler," or any other ship, we always flew with it off to our left so they could not see the radome. However, the ship's crew could certainly still see the SEPP and the heat exchanger pods under the wings! This probably caused the report that Lisa Ann had sixTF-33 engines as even some current Russian web sites report! Happily this flight was only 2 hours long. The Soviets seemed to like to launch us on real sorties on our holidays just to irritate us. We flew the days before and after, and on Thanksgiving Day. The days before and after both netted missiles but Thanksgiving Day was just another tuna. The day after even had ESV telemetry, but it was also an RON to Eielson. Thanksgiving Day was another tuna. Maybe the Soviets just wanted to make life miserable by interrupting our holidays. If that had been the intention, it worked. We most certainly were irritated.

On New Year's Day the winds picked up, and on January 2nd the winds reached 115 mph and were coupled with rain. Rain with that kind of wind really stings! Very early on the 2nd the power went out and left the hangar without heat. Only one of the three phases of the power failed, so we did have light and power in a few spots. Unhappily the power for my electric blanket was out, too. The outside temperature was only 33o, and before long everything inside was chilly, too. Fortunately power was restored before everyone froze.

Electric power was almost never out for more than just a few hours, but light bulbs didn't seem to last very long. When I checked the wall socket, the voltage was about 135 volts instead of the nominal 120. I submitted a suggestion that was called a "Big-R" (for cost Reduction) to lower the voltage in the hangar. The voltage was lowered to normal, bulbs lasted much longer, and I was awarded a $25 US Savings Bond for my efforts, and a certificate suitable for framing. Actually, I never framed any of those certificates so suited! As part of my tinkering, Dunc said I was knocked on my behind when I checked an electrical outlet with a screw driver to see if it was hot! I don't remember that one! Another tinkering incident was my installation of an unauthorized phone line for the hangar. Everyone appreciated the added convenience. However, the "phone police" caught me some way or another.

On October 24 Pete had open chest surgery, and the doctors discovered that he had a viral condition that could be cleared by antibiotics. He then came back to Bellevue for several months' recovery at home. By great good fortune, Pete was given a clean bill of health and was able to rejoin us on February 23rd. The very next day he flew his first ops sortie. Pete and I alternated flying the telemetry station. He was quite disappointed at not being allowed to fly the radar stations, and rightfully so. This is what we had trained for. But, like so many other situations, we all managed to survive. Pete rose to the occasion, in spite of it all, and did well with the equipment.

Pete's first sortie also had 4157th stan-eval evaluators on board, Major Horace G. Martineau and Major Roger K. Wasmer. Martineau's claim to fame was that he had failed every pilot at Eielson. Wasmer was a feared and disliked little buzz saw with no friends anywhere. He was sure we "untouchables" out at Shemya were getting away with something, and he tried valiantly to insert himself into our equation to teach us a thing or two about "accountability." His point, which later we came to accept, was that we "chosen few" had the benefits of factory training but later crews wouldn't, and there would have to be some level of standardization. By the end of our TDY Martineau and he were assigned to CEG. Later Wasmer, Dick, and Dunc spent several months at Greenville writing the classified operating manual for Lisa Ann. It was a real grind because Wasmer needed only an hour or two of sleep a night and everyone had to work around his schedule.

Over the months I accumulated not a little excess baggage from the dump and abandoned buildings on Shemya. Soon the volume of the stuff exceeded my luggage capacity, and I mailed at least three packages home. Actually, at the price of scrap copper back then, I could have mailed motors, radiators, and other copper items back home and still made a profit.

Somewhere in early March we were joined by what would become part of the next crews for Lisa Ann. We all did our best to train them while still flying our ops sorties. Doing your job in the air and instructing about the why's and wherefore's of it is a challenge, particularly in a stressful situation when every moment counts when trying to intercept and record data. This was really on-the-job-training. There were at least four of them, all eager to learn everything needed about this most unusual airplane. Some we would never see again. They would be on Lisa Ann when she was lost a little over two years later. Also in early March LtCol Weaver arrived on Shemya to replace LtCol Ogden as the Det 1 commander.

After many false going-home rumors the long-anticipated word came from "On High," and we packed everything and finally headed home with such great expectation. Thus it was that on Thursday, April 27, 1967, that I saw Lisa Ann for the last time. It is interesting to note that the first and last times to see Shemya, while associated with Lisa Ann, were on Thursdays. There was some sadness to end such a great adventure, but mostly it was relief and joy to be going back. Back to home. Back to family. Oh, the anticipation! No more homesickness and longing!

The first leg home was from Shemya to Eielson on the turn tanker. The next day we caught another tanker to Forbes and this time transferred to a commercial airliner for the final passage home. When we left Shemya and Eielson, the weather was still cold enough for parkas. Forbes' temperature was probably in the 60s and much too hot for anything but short sleeves because we were still acclimated to the colder Alaskan temperatures. Parkas and other cold weather gear were hurriedly stuffed into already bulging bags. At last, on Saturday, April 29, 1967, after 22 hours enroute, most of us were finally HOME! My 218 days of TDY were at an end. For reasons I can't remember, Dunc came later on the 30th and George earlier on the 25th. We had done it all and were still standing! There was certainly joy in Mudville that night! Readjusting to the six-hour time change was actually a pleasure. Probably the second night back I stayed up until 2 a.m. just watching television to help adjust. There was a lot of other catching up to do, too!

After the dust settled from the TDY, we were given the option of staying with the E model program, going to the 343rd SRS at Offutt, or maybe something else. Going PCS to Eielson would mean making every-other-week trips to Shemya for a nominal three-year tour of duty. Charlie, George, Pete, and I elected not to continue. Charlie was sent to SAC HQ to a reconnaissance shop, probably the SAC Recon Center. George went to Wright-Patterson to be the SAC recon representative. Later, he returned to Offutt and SAC Headquarters to the same office with Charlie and Dick. Dick first went PCS to Eielson where he was put in charge of the Lisa Ann project until the plane was lost in 1969. He was then reassigned to SAC Headquarters. Dunc also went to Eielson and was part of a Lisa Ann crew. Pete got an Air Force Command and Staff school assignment. I elected to stay in Bellevue, go to the 343rd, and started training as a Raven 3, Specialist, in the RC-135C, Big Team, aircraft on June 20, 1967. There I would meet not a few former EB-47E Ravens from Lockbourne that had been sent to the 55th about the time when we had first encountered Lisa Ann. But, that is another story, maybe.

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)
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