I had a teacher named Joe Troutman and he came to me one day and said someone who wanted to remain anonymous had given him some money to buy me some clothes with. He took me to the store and I got some underwear and a shirt and some pants. It was sure a surprise to me. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized that that someone was Mr. Troutman. I never got to tell him thanks but I never forgot it. What a treat it was for me. I still try to give anonymous gift at least once a year to someone. Hmmm…another life lesson….It is more blessed to give than receive.

You will never know how good it can make you feel to give someone an anonymous gift until you do it. It is tough to do as we all want credit but try it. It will amaze you. You do it just because someone needs your help. Make a difference when you can.


My summer jobs weren’t as good. I worked as a cabinet maker, as a subject for my brother’s psychology class experiments, as a roach coach driver and in a record store (music used to come on things called a record). I also worked in a pickle factory and had my first experience with a worker’s union. I worked in a machine shop rebuilding transmissions for cars and trucks. The summer I worked in the record store I also worked as a roach coach driver. I was sleeping 4 hours a night and could do nothing but sleep on weekends. It was pretty hard but I needed the money. The minimum wage then was $1 per hour and that is generally what I got paid. Think about this….40 hours of work…$40. Hardly seems worth the effort now but that is all I had. It sure made me want to get an education which I did. The summer I graduated (’66) I was commissioned an officer in the USAF, got married and got to work painting school building as they allowed teachers to do it in the summer for more money. I worked right up to the time I went on active duty….painting the last Friday and driving to Lubbock, Tx to report for active duty on the following Monday. I stopped about halfway, in Little Rock, Ark to stay the night with Jim and his wife, Bonnie. He was already on active duty and I could hardly wait to get started, too. Working only one job and making good money and benefits was something I had not had yet.


On about my 7th or 8th mission I was carrying napalm and on takeoff roll I got a fire light which means the airplane is on fire or about to become on fire. I aborted the takeoff and had to take the barrier. The barrier is a large steel cable at the departure end of the runway that will grab and stop the airplane if there isn’t enough runway left to stop. Fighter planes have a big tail hook. The Navy uses them regularly to stop on the carrier. Well, the air force planes have them too but we only use them in case of an emergency (which probably explains why the Navy always uses them). I had to put the tail hook down and engage the barrier. That was the first time I ever had to do that. Everything went as it was designed and the abort was normal. I got stopped and when the crew released the barrier I taxied back in and didn’t get to go on that mission. I did get a plaque that says I was a member of the tail hook club. It is a fictitious club, made up of anyone who has had to hook the barrier in an emergency. I found out later that there was a crack in the engine and the plane would have really been in flames if I hadn’t aborted. See, God was still taking care of me. Being in the air with 3000 pounds of napalm on board, and 1500 gallons of JP-4 (jet fuel) and being on fire isn’t the best way to start your day. I was glad that everything went as planned and I didn’t goof it up. It was a real confidence builder for me, to calmly and coolly handle an emergency in a single seat fighter, in a war zone, under trying conditions. Everyday the wing commander gets a briefing on the previous day’s events and I am sure this made the briefing. It was the first time my name was brought up before all the colonels on the base and I had done it all right….and a new guy, too. Thanks, God.  


One of the most dangerous missions we were assigned was to take two airplanes up to Laos and do what we called road recce. Road recce is where we took two points along a road and fly a snaking, turning course line along the road to see what we could find. This mission was done at night. A single seat fighter is not the best choice for this mission as flying is somewhat demanding in itself. When done at night it becomes much more difficult. Now add in a lot of turning, climbing and diving while looking outside to see if there is any ground fire and you have your hands full for sure. Our plan was to have one guy turn on his lights and fly a smooth turning course while the other plane flew a mile back and above the leader to be able to roll in and drop a bomb on any ground fire that came up at the lead aircraft. We called that trolling for gun fire. That is pretty dumb even in the daytime but absolutely, positively insane at night. One guy was the “troller” one way and we would switch positions on the way back. Gary Michaels and I were on one of these missions and at the end we were heading home and I was going to join on Gary for the return flight. I could have sworn I saw him, just a light in the sky. It was a totally dark, moonless night. I started joining up and after a little while it seemed I wasn’t getting any closer so I asked him to light his afterburner. That creates a large flame out the back of the plane and was unmistakable. Well, I saw his afterburner bright and shinning about 5000’ above me. The light I was joining up on was a light on the ground and if I had continued I would have been a smoking hole somewhere in the jungle of Laos. That night our debriefing contained the comment that this mission was going to get someone killed and single seat planes should not be tasked to do it. This was the same comment we had been making for several weeks. Two nights later a pilot flew into the ground and the missions were stopped. What a waste.


I did almost die in Vietnam…well, I actually almost killed myself on a mission. It was up in Laos where we always had good targets to hit. I was feeling pretty cocky about my bomb dropping ability and my “fighter piloting” in general. This day we were in a flight of four and I think I was the lead plane. The FAC gave us the briefing…it was so good it was like listening to the Lord’s Prayer. According to him, this was the target that would end the war and we could all go home…at least that is how he made it sound. His briefing was so good, I could almost see the headlines about how we had struck the final blow for freedom. Well, the target was supposed to be a supply storage area where, he assured us, we would get secondary explosions. Most targets were trees as far as we could see so the possibility of secondary explosions was a real treat for us. We were to make our run in from the north to the south. The target area was at the base of a cliff about 800’ high. So we were to make our run pulling off above the cliff. I rolled in, adjusted my aim…..still not just right so I adjusted again and released 4 X 750 pound bombs. Now a side note here…when you drop bombs they have to fall for a couple seconds to gain separation from the airplane before they are actually armed. This prevents a bomb from prematurely going off right after it leaves your airplane. We also had minimum pull out altitudes that kept you from flying through the shrapnel of an exploding bomb and knocking yourself out of the sky. As I started my pull off I realized I had done too much “adjusting” and was dangerously close to the ground. I looked up to see the horizon above my canopy and trees just off the wingtips. I pulled for all I was worth. The F-100 is stressed for 7 g’s and we normally used about 4 g’s to recover from a bombing pass, but I pulled over 9 g’s to avoid hitting the ground. I even said “Jerry, you have killed yourself.” Well, pulling that many g’s had the effect of draining the blood from my eyes so I grayed out, meaning I was conscious but could not see. Of course, when you ease up on the g’s your eyesight returns and when mine did I saw that I was pointed straight up….but still alive. I thought for sure I was going to hit the trees. I looked back at the bomb impact and saw two of my bombs explode long of the target and two hit on top of the cliff. The two that hit on top of the cliff were duds. I had released them so close to the ground that had not had time to arm. So I had completely missed the target of a lifetime. The number two guy came in behind me and dropped a bulls eye. He put all of his bombs right on target and guess what???? See page 43 of War Stories and other lies for the answer.....


Then the US was visited by the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. 

The attack on the World Trade Center was one of those events that will forever remain burned in my mind. I was flying that day. As I was leaving home, I said I don’t think I will take my suitcase since I am only going to Chicago and back. But Tere said, "Oh, take it anyway. You never know what will happen." So off I went to work with clothes and toothbrush which came in very handy. As we were leaving Newark that morning, I remarked to my first officer what a beautiful day it was. You could see the NYC skyline as clear as anything. We never realized we would never see that exact skyline again. When we got to Chicago, the ops girl said "Have the Captain come to operations immediately". That was strange as I always have to go to ops to get the paperwork for the return trip. When I got there she told me the World Trade Center had been struck by airplanes. As we watched the TV, they reported that there was another plane that had just struck the Pentagon and there was a forth plane missing over Pennsylvania. The first officer that was flying with me was a helicopter pilot in the New York Army National Guard so he called his home unit to see what he could learn. When he told them he was on a trip with Continental and we had just landed in Chicago, they said they had a helicopter at the field across town there in Chicago and he was to immediately go there and fly the helicopter back to NY. So, off he went and to this day I have never seen him again. The three flight attendants and myself went to the hotel, me with my suitcase and them with nothing. They ended up having to buy clothes at the Wal-Mart and they even changed with each other every day so they would not have to be seen with the same outfit on. It was pretty funny. The flight attendants didn’t make a lot of money and this was an unexpected expense so I ended up taking them out for one good meal each day we were there. Once was to the Olive Garden and once to a mall food court. Each day we went somewhere different. When we finally got back to Newark about 5 or 6 days later they all gave me a thank you card they had signed. It was cool. On our trip back home we flew right over the smoking hole in NYC. I will never forget that sight. What a sad time in our history. For weeks when we drove by the park and ride in our area we would see vehicles that were still parked and not moved from people that had gone to work that day and never returned home. Time for another life lesson. Life is short and can be snuffed out so easily. Never take life for granted. Never take loved ones for granted. We have no guarantee of tomorrow so be good to others, be kind to yourself and put your trust in God daily.


I do miss the fighter flying but I have a small airplane which is as close as I will ever come to the fighter again. It has a side stick controller and the seating is front and back. It is a hoot to fly. It is called a Long EZ and was designed by a guy named Burt Rutan. Burt has many incredible aircraft designs and he has single handedly influenced the aviation community more than any one person since the Wright brothers. He is an incredible designer, having designed the Space Ship One aircraft, the first civilian space ship. Now I mention this because I flew with his brother, Dick Rutan, who became famous for a non refueled flight around the world. He also has set many flying records and is very well known today. We were stationed at Lakenheath, England in the same squadron. Dick was a couple years older than me and flew the "Misty" mission in Vietnam about a year before I got there. The Misty pilots are true heroes and did incredible things in Vietnam. Dick also ejected out of a couple of crippled F-100’s in his career. I consider Dick a great pilot and very heroic military flyer.


The war with Iraq started in 2003 and the military didn’t have enough transport support to move all the troops and supplies they needed to that part of the world. There is a federal program called CRAF (Civilian Reserve Air Fleet) and that allows the government to charter civilian airlines to fly some of the troops and support equipment to an area of the world that is needed. That is what happened and I volunteered to take as many of those trips as I could. The typical scenario was to go to Spain or Germany and wait for another crew to bring an airplane full of troops to us and we then took them the rest of the way to the war zone. Well, we actually flew them into Kuwait City, Kuwait. I ended up making about ten of these trips. We would fly over the Mediterranean Sea and south of Saudi Arabia, back up the Persian Gulf to Kuwait. Then we would wait for the offload and then back to Spain, Italy or Germany. The entire trip took about 18-20 hours. It was very rewarding to meet all our military troops. They are the greatest group of men and women anywhere. I am so proud of them. They deserve all the praise we can heap on them. What incredible patriots they are.

On one of these trips as we waited in Kuwait for the offload, Saddam sent a SCUD missile south and it hit on the airport where we were. We had been issued gas masks and protective gear but while waiting I had gone to the local duty free shop. I didn’t take my gear with me and when the sirens went off someone asked me what I would do if the attack was a gas attack. I said I was stronger than the flight attendants that went with me so I would just take one of theirs if I needed to. It was just a joke. I was never in any real danger.