Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Summer 1965

 First Platoon, F Company,  Summer 1967
On my nineteenth birthday, while on Christmas Vacation from Westtown School, I drove down to the Marine Corps Officers Selection Office in Washington D.C.  When I returned home that evening I had enlisted in the Marine Platoon Leaders Course. Officially I was a PFC in the Marine Corps!  I was just a kid, doing what was expected of kids in that day, signing up to serve our country.  I had been living a sheltered life in a wonderful Friends boarding school in Pennsylvania.  My attempts to be accepted at Annapolis had been  thwarted by a lack of a local congressman to give me an appointment.  My family, who were living overseas had no local US address so I had no Congressman.
Now, as a PLC I would attend OCS-like training at Quantico, Virginia during my Freshman and Junior summers at Dartmouth.  These two training periods were both the most physically and mentally challenging experiences of my young life.  They were also the most rewarding. After all our training, where our Platoon Sergeant had treated us as lowly maggots, unfit to wear the Marine Uniform, Staff Sergeant Parker came up to me, shook my hand, and said he would be proud to serve under me in the future.  There could be no greater compliment; there could be no greater feeling of accomplishment.
During these Summers I met some strong leaders and friends. Friends who worked and suffered together. I also learned a great deal about myself.  I learned the difference of being one of the guys and being a leader who  trusts, values and learns from the troops he leads
I will recall some of the highlights of these summers:

At Camp Upshur, an aging and recently reactivated camp of ancient Quonset huts, located in the boonies of the Quantico Base training areas I first learned about a place called Vietnam. Both our Platoon Sergeant and Sergeant Instructor had recently returned from Nam. Staff Sergeant Ally was a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam and walked showing the affect of shrapnel collected in Korea.

The Hill Trail is a place or event known and remembered with dread by all candidates who passed through Quantico.  This trail hilly runs through the rugged woods over red clay near Mainside.  During the Summer the heat of Virginia is staggering due to the temperatures approaching 100 degrees with the humidity close behind.  The Marine Corps had a system to control what activities were allowed at certain heat levels.  A Black Flag meant  no physical activity was permitted.  However, most days were under red-flag conditions that required Corpsmen to be nearby with children's swimming pools full of ice loaded on six-buys (trucks).  Fortunately,  I was a track and cross country runner who knew to gobble down tons of salt tablets and water.  I actually enjoyed running the Hill Trail with pack, helmet and M-14.  Sometimes the heat was so bad it looked like a sniper was in the woods as candidates fell and collapsed from the heat.  The Navy Corpsmen quickly dragged the heat victims int mud puddles or the pools of ice to get the body temperature from rising to the dreaded 105 degrees that causes brain damage.  The last thing you ever wanted to be was a straggler.

Night in the Squad-Bay was a quite a scene.  There, in two rows of bunk-beds (racks), slept about 40 exhausted and stressed candidates.  At 2000 we were given the order to mount our racks. We said a prayer to Chest Puller, asked God to bless the Marine Corps and then our Sergeant would give the order:  "READY SLEEP".  And that we did - kind of.  If you were awake during the night or had the fire-watch duty you would hear many talking in their sleep.  One candidate would, while sound asleep, get out of his top rack and march down to the Sergeant Instructor's office which was empty at this hour.  He would then carry on a long conversation and then return to his rack, crawl in, and continue to sleep.  Candidate Thompson was DOR'd -dropped out- because, for some reason, the Corps did not think it wise to have an officer sleep walking through the jungles of Nam.  One night I woke up in the middle of the night to find myself fully dressed in my utility uniform and boots standing at attention at the bottom of my rack.  It took me a minute to figure out where I was and what I was doing.  I then heard Candidate Girard, sound asleep, in the rack next to mine yelling, in the best Platoon Sergeant's voice;  "GET UP, GET UP, GET YOUR ASSES OUT OF THE RACK!"  I had heard the order in my sleep and like a good Marine responded even though both Girard and I were sound asleep.  We were always exhausted.  As we marched to class or chow I would look ahead and see how far it was until we would have to turn or do some other maneuver.  I would then close my eyes and "nap" as we marched.

The Rifle Range.  Every Marine is a rifleman as explained by a by a Marine Fighter Pilot during the Korean War.  He was being interviewed and was asked what his duties were.  His response; " I am a Marine Rifleman but at the moment I am flying F-86s."

The Marines take marksmanship very seriously.  A full week was dedicated to qualifying with our M-14 rifles.  We were hauled from our barracks to the Rifle Range at 0 Dark Thirty in the morning.  For the first two days we did not fire a round.  We snapped in.  That is, we sat in large circles around 50 gallon drums with targets painted all around them.  We would practice sighting in on these little targets from the various shooting positions: prone, sitting, and off-hand.  In each position there is an exact method of tightly wrapping the rifle sling around your arm so the weapon becomes a part of your body and will move back to where you were aiming after the rifle recoils from a shot.  After  couple of days of this painful contorting of the body we finally got to shoot.
While half of us were on the firing line the other half were in the butts working the targets.  After each shot the target is hauled down and the shot marked with a sticker so the shooter will know where he hit and can make appropriate adjustments of windage and range. If the shooter misses the target completely the Marine waves Maggy's Drawers - a red flag on a stick.  It is quite an experience to be working below the target berm when 50 Marines open up with 50 rounds of rapid fire whizzing over your head.
I started out really well  on qualification week and was shooting in the Sharpshooter - almost Expert range.  But I choked on Qual. Day and only shot Marksman.

More to Come..............................................

The Night Compass March

Rifle Inspection


Sunday, June 3, 2012


I just finished the book "THE BLOODY BATTLE OF SURIBACHI" by Richard Wheeler, a young Marine Corporal who served with EASY Company on Iwo Jima.  Wheeler was in an early wave of Marines assaulting the island.  Easy Company's Regiment had the mission to cut off Mt Suribachi from the rest of the Island  and then assault the mountain and reach the crater on top.  Suribachi was honeycombed with Japanese caves, bunkers and pillboxes defended by Japanese soldiers knowing they were fighting till their death.  Days of naval bombardment and aerial bombing had done little to weaken the brave Japanese defenders.  Reading of the courage of these men is awe inspiring and heart wrenching.  In the face of overwhelming odds the Marines fought inch by inch up the black sand of the volcano.  Wheeler was seriously wounded and evacuated early in the climb. Much of his book was related to him by his surviving friends in Easy Company who finally took Suribachi and raised the first flag atop the mountain. This Battalion took over 91% casualties.  There was true purpose in this assault. It was no mere photo-op. The volcano had to be taken to eliminate Japanese observation and artillery spotting over  the rest of the Island which would be fought over for the next 31 days.  Iwo needed to be taken to allow US aircraft to have access to the home islands of Japan.

Marines raise the first flag on Mt Suribachi

This book got me to thinking and to realize this country has not fought a war since WWII that was worth the life of a single Sailor, Soldier, Airman or Marine.  The people of the United States certainly have made no sacrifice to support our combat since WWII.  This truly was the Greatest Generation on the battlefield and, importantly, on the home front.

A larger flag was soon raised. The photograph of the second  became famous worldwide.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


My brother just gave me a book for my birthday!  In two days I devoured "THE LIMIT, Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit" by Michael Cannell.  This incredible read, of the relatively earl days of F-1 racing, awakened my early memories and love for the sport.

As a 5th and 6th Grader in Chevy Chase, Maryland I became friends with Gary Jani who was  the Playground Director at the Lafayette playground which occupied the space of two city blocks - right across the street from our home.   At that time I had a nice set of Soap Box Derby wheels upon which I built several cars.  I remember hurtling down 33rd Street, past our house and down another two blocks to my friend Bob Hanson's house.  It turned out that Gary was a member of the Sports Car Club of America and was active at the nearby Marlboro Raceway.  He drove an old silver Porsche Speedster with a red leather interior.  With his help we built  a body for my wheels that resembled the current Le Mans style Porsche Racing car.  Gary hand painted the Porsche emblem which was proudly attached the paper mache' nose of my racing machine!

Several times I accompanied Gary to the race track where I was able to "work" the flag stations with him.   One day there was a great celebration and demonstration of the new Austin 850 - a precursor of the Mini Cooper of today.  There were several races for people to witness the abilities of this neat little car.  Sterling Moss, one of the all time great British  racing drivers was one of the racers.  I was up close and personal to this world renowned hero!   I saw him flip a little Austin when it was filled with the extra ballast of 3 News reporters! My days at the track awakened my desire to drive fast!  I will never forget the growl of the AC Bristols, the tiny red bubble-top Fiat Abarths, the bug eye Sprites and the Ferraris and Birdcage Maserati that showed up.  As a seventh  grader I read book on  Car Racing by or about Juan Manuel Fangio.

Bug Eye Sprite Leading an MGA and Sunbeam Alpine

A nicely restored Fiat Abarth

Mt favorite: The Macho AC Bristol precursor to the Shelby Cobra
"THE LIMIT" revealed to me the carnage of those early F-1 days when often more than one driver was killed in a single race while many spectators were also killed.  In the early 1950's Mercedes quit racing after a terrible crash at Le Mans  where 82 spectators were killed and over 100 more were injured.  These cars with no roll bars, no seat belts and flimsy tin bodies raced at speeds around 185MPH.    Today's F-1 cars are miracles of technology with incredible down force holding them on the track, cockpits built to shield and chassis built to shed parts in a crash to dissipate energy- all to protect the driver. 


About five years ago I went to several driving schools, I do not have the driving skills of Alonso, Vettel or even the "older"  Rubens Barichella.   However I did enjoy a most thrilling experience which I will report in my next post!..............

Friday, December 30, 2011


I have always had a love for machinery and cars.  I first learned to drive tractors as a kid working on the dairy farm I described in an earlier post.  At that time I was introduced to an old WWII Dodge Power-Wagon. I learned to drive this truck where every shift required double clutching because the transmission had no synchromesh.  During my 17th summer I terrorized the back-roads of Chester County, Pennsylvania in my brother's 1959 VW Beetle.  I was "caring for it" while he was touring Europe.

I bought my first car just before graduating from College.  The dealer let me have it with no payments due until I started flight training in the Summer!  Of all the cars I have owned I think this is the one I would like to have back!   She was a sea-foam green Mustang-289 with the standard 3-speed on the floor.  She was decked out with an 8-track with  box of great tapes such as Johnny Rivers and Merle Haggard.  I soon replaced the bias-ply tires with the brand new technology: Michelin Radials!  Check out those driving lights in the grill.  These were 400,000 candlepower aircraft landing lights from J.C. Whitney! You could feel the heat from them through your jeans standing 3 feet in front of the car.  They would light up the highway for miles which was a good thing because it was fairly regularly she saw over 110MPH returning to Whiting Field from Pensacola on a barely used new section of interstate.  At that time most of us didn't worry that smoking and speeding were hazardous to our  health..... We thought we were all headed to 'Nam probably with  one-way tickets.

The Mustang carried me from Vermont to Florida to California accumulating over 60,000 miles in  18 months.

Of all my cars this was the best... costing about what my Specialized Roubaix road bicycle costs today!


While stationed in Okinawa and Japan I ferried helicopters between the two islands.  We usually bought a couple of motorcycles in Atsugi, Japan and "brought" them to Okinawa on the aft ramp of our CH-46-s.  If we developed engine problems - the bikes would be the first things tossed overboard into the sea.  My bike was a Yamaha-250 Enduro.  We would ride these dirt bikes all over the Northern Training areas of Okinawa which were set aside as tank and artillery training areas.  I sold the 250 just before I rotated home. I bought a Yamaha-360 which I shipped home.  I rode it a week before selling it - knowing it was more than I could handle... I got rid of it before it killed me!

 Heading to the BOQ at MCAS Futema, Okinawa

Before returning from overseas I took advantage of a special deal for returning GIs.  I ordered a beautiful Red MGB with a black removable hard top and fog lights - direct from the manufacturer in England.  I would pick up the car at Boston harbor when she arrived.  It is a sad story.... The delivery was about 2 months late so I had to rent a car at my new duty station, Cherry Point, NC just to get around.... but I new the wait would be well worth it!  Finally the big day came. I drove up to Boston and went down to the docks.  I checked in at the trailer where the stevedores worked at unloading all the cars.  The supervisor asked me what my MG looked like so he could find it quickly in the dock covered with newly unloaded MGs.  I described the red car and black extra roof.  Oh Shit! was his response. "One car was smashed against the side of the ship due to a mishap with the crane - it was yours. It is totaled."

To make a long story short, I traded my wreck and a few bucks for a new British Racing Green MG at a sympathetic dealer in  Wellsley who had been at the docks when I learned of the disaster!

I was soon back in North Carolina in my new MG!

A car similar to my MGB.  Mine did not have the classy wire wheels.

The MG did not last past its first oil change!  While at the MG dealer I lost my heart to a used Lotus Europa even though it was an ugly yellowish color.  It had a Renault double overhead cam engine with dual Weber carbs.  The story was the steering wheel had come off the car Jim Clark drove at Indy.  (I now doubt this)  This mid-engine car was quick and handled like it was on rails.
The Lotus came to its demise when a carburetor bolt sheared off while driving down the main drag at MCB Quantico.  The carbs jammed at full throttle and I finally pulled over and jumped out as the RPMs passed through 11,000, about to blow up! Some Marines in the Motor-T shop at my squadron rebuilt the engine. 

My First Lotus

Hale's Lotus Europa John Player Special Commemorative
Of course I did the only logical thing and traded it for a brand new Lotus John Player Special, a black car with gold pin striping commemorating Emerson Fitipaldi's recent Formula-1 Championship driving a Lotus F-1 car.  This car had all the British car quality problems so I bought a VW Super Beetle as my back-up car!  Remember the bumper sticker:  All the parts falling off this car are Genuine Lucas!
Emerson Fittapaldi in the Lotus F-1

In recent years I have attempted to rekindle the feeling of some of the higher performance cars of my past. 

FORD FOCUS S.V.T.  Built by Ford's Special Vehicle Team
MINI COOPER S ... A high performer built by BMW

Both of these cars were high performance vehicles due to modern technology: Electronic controlled systems, performance suspensions and 6 gear gearboxes.  However, the reliability and performance could not match the emotional feel attached to the early Mustang, MG and Lotuses.

Stay tuned for a blog about my very 
early love for sports car racing to recent experiences at the 
Bondurant  School for High Performance Driving


Sunday, November 6, 2011


As I have mentioned before the helicopter I most liked to fly and new the very best was the CH-46 Sea Knight built by Boeing-Vertol in Morton, Pennsylvania.  You used to be able to see the Plant and Helicopters below you as you drove West on the Ben Franklin Bridge headed for Philly from New Jersey.

At HMX-1 we had four "46s".  There numbers were  MX-19, MX-20, MX-21 and MX-22   These were great aircraft that were flown on numerous missions from carrying Secret Service and support staff along with the Presidential birds.  We had a cool  squadron-made  VIP module we could roll in the back should we want to carry a small number in relative comfort.  The module had a couple of airline type seats, carpet and extra sound proofing.  The same aircraft were used for combat support on training missions for officers attending the Marine Officers Basic School at Quantico.  We also used these on testing equipment and technology in conjunction with the Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River or the Navy Weapons Center at Dahlgren, Virginia.


When we flew these aircraft our call signs would vary depending on the current mission.
  • When flying in support of the White House or flying in the Washington area we were: NIGHTHAWK-19.
  • When flying in support of troops at Quantico we were called SHORTSTUFF- 20 by the "grunts on the ground.
  • When flying outside of the area on an FAA flight plan we would be known as MARINE HELO MX-21
What made it more interesting was the need  talk to the various units or organizations with whom we communicated on different radios and frequencies - all at the same time:
UHF  (Uniform) for the tower and Air Traffic Controllers,  FM  (Fox Mike) for the troops on the ground or other aircraft in your formation.  Fortunately we had ADF Radios so we could listen to good country radio stations all the time - as background!

The most memorable mission I flew in the CH-46, or in any aircraft for that matter, took place when the Prisoners of War were released from North Vietnam.  These men were flown from Hanoi to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.  From there the were flown to bases near their homes in the United States.  I was the aircraft commander waiting late at night at Andrews Air Force base for the return of a Navy Commander who had spent seven years in the Hanoi Hilton.  (I am so upset that I have lost my log books and my memory fails me on recalling his name.)  After the briefest welcome as he stepped off the Air Force jet,  he boarded our "46", MX-19. He shook our hands and we welcomed him home.  I recall that he was cold, having not an ounce of natural insulation left on his body, so I lent him my flight jacket.  With tears in my eyes I lifted off of the tarmac at Andrews and headed toward DC.  I called Washington Tower and requested clearance  for the helicopter route to Bethesda Naval Hospital.  I told them that Commander "Anderson" was on board, returning from 7 years in the Hanoi Hilton.  The response was:  "Nighthawk-19 you are cleared anywhere you want over Washington. Welcome the Commander home from all of  us in Washington Tower."  This was unprecedented in an area of numerous restricted areas and busy commercial traffic.  We gave our hero a beautiful flight right across Washington,  an unbelievable sight at night from a slow moving helo flying at 1000 feet.  If I was not choked up enough I was really in tears after we landed on the Bethesda Helo Pad.  He thanked us again,  returned my jacket and stepped off the bird into the arms of his wife and two young children - Home  at last -after seven years in Hell!....

More Tales of CH-46 Missions will follow in the days to come................ over.

Monday, October 17, 2011


We have now really bonded with our wonderful cat.  He has now been officially named Speedy, Sammy Sanchez the Ridge-backed, Ring-tailed Red Cat.  At informal occasions he is known as Sammy.


Sammy Sanchez checks out Kate's Clay Cat
Notice the large snout and ringed tail which characterize the the Eastern Red Ringtail.

Look what I found in my In-Box.
Sure prefer finding Sammy instead of more bills!

Now Squirrely is out front!

The Padre with his white collar

Hard at Work

While not watching the real Blackfeather, Sammy rests with his Raven pillow

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I had the remarkable opportunity to serve as a pilot in Marine Helicopter Squadron-One.  When I checked into the squadron on 17 April 1972 I was the youngest and most junior officer, a First Lieutenant, on board!  I think our C.O., Lt/Col. Richard Kuci, was a bit concerned about the kid who escaped the boonies of Cherry Point, N.C. and  showed up driving a Lotus!  Lucky for me,  he never found out I was stopped for speeding on my way north to Quantico and had to drop a bit of cash with the local sheriff to continue on my way.


As most people know HMX-1 is known best for its glamor mission of providing all helicopter transport for POTUS (President of the United States).  However, there are other very important missions  which include Research and Development of systems and tactics relating to rotary wing aircraft, providing transport for lesser dignitaries such as the Vice President, Foreign Dignitaries,  Admirals and Generals of all kinds.  In addition we got the exciting flying involved in providing helicopter support in combat training for new  Second Lieutenants attending the Marine Cops Officers Basic School in regular fleet combat type aircraft.  One day you could be flying the president, who in my day was Richard Nixon, from the White House Lawn to Andrews Air Force Base where he boarded Air Force One.  The next night you might be flying a CH-46 inserting a squad of Marines into a dark and tiny LZ in the tihck forests west of Quantico.  "Spit and polish" to "down and dirty" in 24 hours!
Unlike every other Marine Squadron where there is only one type of aircraft assigned, HMX-1 had four different types and a couple different models of one.  While I was there I was an Aircraft Commander and Post Maintenance Test Pilot in the CH-46, SH-3, and the UH1E twin engined Huey.  I also sometimes flew as copilot in the CH-53 Sea Stallion - the first bird to fly over 200 MPH.  Flying the huge and cumbersome "53", to me, was like driving a pig!  There was never time for anything to become routine!

A quote I recently heard from a current HMX-1 Commanding Officer was: "This Squadron is a group of unremarkable Marines performing a remarkable mission."

I will be relating many of my memories of my tour with HMX-1.

A look at this video will prepare you for the sea-stories that will follow.

Official Photo of Marine-One leaving the White House

Unofficial shot of an alert bird going out for its daily exercise.
Every co-pilot on Marine-one was required to have minimum of 1,000 flight hours.  Because I had spent my previous year flying a desk at Cherry Point I was bit short of flight-time;  I was assigned to fly every mission possible so I could quickly become qualified as a Presidential Co-pilot.   I then went through "Saturation Training".  At the time the country  was  living under the threat of the H-Bomb and the Cold War.   There is nothing quite like being jarred awake by a siren and  lights flashing on - jumping into your flight suit and boots- running down the stairs and running to one of the three aircraft which were being towed from the hanger.  Anyway,  the result is a heart rate of around 185 B.P.M. and the realization that you are now  awake and flying an aircraft at about 150 feet  and 130 knots over Haines Point  in route to the designated pick-up point!  We joked about the black tire marks our birds would make on the Washington Monument as we cranked in a sharp steep turn headed for the Capitol building.

As you know "the bomb" never went off but we were all ready to play our part in the ridiculous scenario should it have! 

It has a different feeling in the black of night - barely awake from a sound sleep - before the SAS, stabilization equipment, warms up and comes on line!

In addition to the normal activities of flying my experience was made more memorable by the stresses and variables created in the White House due to the Watergate Scandal.  I remember a friend flying John Erlichmann and HR Halderman to Camp David where the President fired them!  I flew the President and Pat Nixon back to the White House Lawn late the night after he fired Special Watergate Prosecutor, Archibald Cox.  The President's world was crumbling and I could see the weight in the way he and his poor wife walked alone from the aircraft across the lawn to the White House.

 Enough for now. .....More later