Howie

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The other day I was on one of the groups on Facebook where  I posted this picture awhile back. The subject is Major Howard (nmi) Seaboldt, who was my aircraft commander when I was assigned to the 29th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Clark AB, Philippines in 1969-70. I first heard about Howie when I went in country on my first shuttle at Tan Son Nhut right after I got to Clark in early February 1969. The crew I was with was Howie’s crew, but he wasn’t with us. He was on a stint as an airlift mission commander and our squadron operations officer was the AC. Chick Anderson was Howie’s engineer and he told me all about him. I met him a few weeks later when I was on duty NCO one Saturday morning and he came in after returning from a trip to the US to take an airplane for modification work.

Sometime around September I found myself without a crew after my crew got into trouble while I wasn’t with them and were all busted back to student status. I had joined that crew after I was qualified on the M-121 bomb – http://www.sammcgowan.com/bomber.html. It turned out that Howie’s loadmaster had just left to return to the US. Howie was without a loadmaster and I was without a crew. One Saturday morning we were at the squadron for commander’s call. After it was over, I was standing in the hall in front of the operations desk when Chick and Howie came over to me. “Sam, we want you on our crew,” said Chick. From that time until I went to Stan/Eval nine months later, I was part of Seaboldt’s Flying Circus.

There is one word that describes Howie Seaboldt; he was a character. He’d been in the Air Force for about twenty years when I first met him. I found out later that he had started out as an enlisted man then had gone to cadets. He started out flying F-84 fighter/bombers in SAC, then went to B-47s and finally into B-52s. He was based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana when he got orders to C-130s at Clark. It turned out to be a marriage made in heaven.

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Howie got to Clark just as the Vietnam War was escalating dramatically and he found himself involved in intense combat. One one mission into an airfield in I Corps, a round came up through the floor and hit  his navigator in the ass. Howie told me years later that he thought Vietnam flying was like that all the time. He also found himself in a bit of a sticky situation. The 29th commander was Lt. Col. Bill Coleman, who had been Howie’s commander at Barksdale and was an old friend. When he reported to the squadron, Col. Coleman told Howie he wanted him to conduct an investigation of the first sergeant, who was involved in the black market. They were just about to arrest him when he suddenly went berserk on an airplane while on the way to Saigon and was hauled away in a straitjacket. Consequently, the man was never prosecuted. Howie had been at Clark for about fourteen months when I joined the crew.

By this time I had been in the Air Force for a little over six years and had been on flying status for five. I had already had an overseas tour at Naha AB, Okinawa and flying in country was old hat to me. I think that was one reason Chick told Howie they ought to ask for me for their crew. Another was that I was laid back while their previous loadmaster had been high maintenance. That I was asked to join the crew was a great honor for me. In the past, operations had simply put me on a crew. Most of the crews I had been with were a pleasure to fly with but my first crew at Clark was commanded by an idiot. (That wasn’t the crew that was busted, although that AC was sent to supply after he made a major boo-boo at a Marine airfield in Vietnam.) The crew had a reputation because of Howie. He was one of these people that you either love or hate. Most people loved him but there were some officers – and officers wives – who looked askance at the way he conducted himself. He was divorced but lived off base with a beautiful Filipina and had a daughter with her. He was a major but didn’t act like one. One night I went to the American Legion with a couple of C-141 flight engineers I had known in the States. We were eating dinner when Howie came in. He saw me and came over. I introduced them. After he left, they said they couldn’t believe he was a major. They said he looked like an old alcoholic airman first class. The alcoholic part was probably right. Howie loved to drink, particularly San Miguel Beer. However, he was never drunk on a flight.

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We were a bomb crew so when we went in country to Cam Ranh Bay where our wing, the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing, had moved its operation, we spent a good part of our time on bombing missions.  I found out later that if our crew was in country, we were number one for bombing missions because of Howie’s reputation. Some people called him “The Mad Bomber. The bombing itself was not particularly exciting. It was actually quite routine. However, once we’d dropped both bombs, we were turned back over to 834th Air Division, the organization responsible for airlift operations in Vietnam, for airlift flying. This meant we got the missions that had popped up during the day, missions that usually meant they were combat essential and were mostly carrying either ammunition or fuel into forward airfields. http://www.sammcgowan.com/bomber.html

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One of Jim Sweeny’s comments about Howie is that he “didn’t fly an airplane, he wore it.” Truer words were never spoken. Howie was a natural born pilot and the master of any airplane he flew. It’s not surprising because he had been flying since he was sixteen. In fact, he had his own airplane, an Ercoupe, and flew it from he and his mother’s home outside of Philadelphia to Miami when his mother decided to move south. We did things that most pilots would think twice about. One morning we went out on a mission to a special forces camp somewhere in the Highlands. When we got there, we found that the airfield was socked in. Howie found a break in the overcast and dropped down through it. We broke out at about 700 feet and found the airfield. This is a picture I took of the tower that day below. Note how the clouds are starting to break up.

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There were about half a dozen airfields that were our “favorites,” meaning they were out in the boonies and surrounded by enemy forces. There were three that were especially noteworthy – Bu Dop, Katum and Tonlecham. They were all right on the Cambodian border and North Vietnamese rocket crews had them zeroed – except that their rockets weren’t very accurate. One day, I think it was a Saturday, our crew didn’t have a bombing mission. Another squadron bomb crew was also in country so they scheduled us to take off at about the same time for Bien Hoa, where we were to spend the day shuttling into Bu Dop. Our crew was just ahead of the other crew on every flight. We’d land, drop off our cargo and get the hell out. The other crew would come in behind us and get caught in a rocket attack. I think they were rocketed at least three times. We never heard or saw a single rocket. We were told that it took the rocket crews more than five minutes to get ready so if we could get in and out in five minutes, we were safe. Apparently the rocketeers would set up for us and would be primed for the other airplane that came in right behind us. Fortunately, none of the rockets hit close enough to do any damage. The two crews rode the shuttle bus up to Herky Hill together. There were several older sergeants on the bus. We were kidding the other crew about being snake bit. The other passengers were intent on our conversation. It was the closest to the war they ever got.

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I don’t know the circumstances but Howie somehow was put in charge of the construction of an officers club on Herky Hill. Just before it opened, he called me up in my trailer at Clark and told me he had an important piece of cargo to take to Cam Ranh the next day. It was a velvet nude that he had made to hang behind the bar. The next morning he brought it out and supervised as I tied it down on the ramp. He insisted that I had to come to the club on opening night to see it. I wasn’t too excited about going to an officers club but I went. They treated me like a king. Howie put a drink in my hand as soon as I walked in the door and took me to the bar to see the painting. Although I never saw one, Howie was famous for the skits he put on at the officers club at Clark. My former AC was busted to student by our wing commander, who no one ever saw. He was like Major Major Major in Catch 22. Although the wing commander made the decision, Steve never saw the colonel. One night, Howie and Steve put on a skit about it.

Although I never saw it, Howie somehow managed to scrounge a Jeep that he kept somewhere, I think at Nha Trang. I’m not sure I heard how he got it other than that it was while he was on his mission commander duty. There was also a rumor that he had a helicopter stashed somewhere. I don’t know if he was helicopter-qualified or not.

Howie had a reputation as a fantastic pilot but for some reason he refused to accept designation as an instructor pilot. He may not have been an IP but the squadron put new copilots with us to break them in. Our crew consisted of Howie, Dick Sullivan as navigator, Chick as engineer and me as loadmaster. All of us but Howie were instructors. We never had an assigned copilot but instead had new copilots with us for a couple of shuttles. One young pilot who flew with us on several shuttles was Bill Leneave, who was also from West Tennessee. Bill’s family had a bottling company in either Fulton, KY or South Fulton, TN. They lived in Tennessee. Bill liked to talk on the radio and often carried on conversations with air traffic controllers and GCI operators. Bill went with us to on our stateside trip. We were flying along somewhere over the West when Bill got into a conversation with an air traffic controller. It was late at night and there was little traffic. Bill said to the guy, “Say, you’re from Hazard, Kentucky. I can tell from your accent.” The guy said he was. Bill then told us “They drink more Pepsi in Hazard per capita than anywhere in the world.” Howie was flabbergasted. When I saw him years later, he brought up Bill’s Hazard comment.

In early 1970 we had two plum missions. The first was to take a mod bird back to the Lockheed factory for modification and inspection. We took off out of California and learned that the airfield at Dobbins was closed until 7:00 AM. We diverted to Robins, where I had been stationed. A guy I knew at Robins came through Clark and told me that someone had sworn out a peace warrant on me. A woman I knew casually told her husband, who was overseas at the time, that she had been having an affair with me to protect the guy she was actually involved with. She gave him my name because I had already left for overseas myself. I wasn’t too happy about landing at Robins but Howie thought it was a hoot that his loadmaster had a peace warrant out on him. As it turned out, we hardly saw a soul. We sat on the ramp until time to takeoff so as to land at Dobbins when the tower opened There wasn’t an airplane ready for us to take back so we went back on a MAC contract flight. When I got to Travis, the first person I saw was Howie. He rushed me to the pax service rep and made sure he got me on the flight with him. We were both dressed in our Class A blue uniform. Everybody in the place was looking at us and wondering what was so special about this staff sergeant who had a major with him, We went into the civilian side at Hickam. Howie and I went to the bar and sat with a bunch of young Marines on their way to Vietnam. They couldn’t believe Howie was giving them the time of day. Howie loved Marines His son was one. The second was to Sidney, Australia to take some communications people for one of the space shots. We were only supposed to be on the ground for 12 hours. Everyone was disappointed and we were all hoping the airplane would break or something so we could have  a chance to go to town. As we were on approach, I looked down and saw two beady little eyes looking up at me. We had a mouse on the airplane! Believe it or not, a rodent on an airplane is a grounding item. We ended up getting two nights at Richmond RAAF Station and got to go to Sidney. Then we had a few nights at Townsville due to an oil leak. We were supposed to go in country on Sunday. Howie was on the phone to Clark daily, Col. Wolfe, our wing commander, told Howie he wanted to see the two of us in his office as soon as we got back. He said, “Tell McGowan he’d better have a damn mouse.” We never saw the colonel. We got back to Clark on Sunday and left for Cam Ranh early the next morning.

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Not long after the Australia trip our crew went to Kadena, Okinawa for two weeks of alert duty. While we were there, MACV invaded Cambodia. Two 15,000 pound bombs kicked off the operation. Howie was fit to be tied that we weren’t there. We went in country soon after we got back and found an entirely different war. Before, if a C-130 was on the ground for more than five minutes, the crew could count on a rocket attack. Now, those forward fields were secure. We were able to shut down engines and offload our pallets one at a time with a forklift. It was like being at a country airport in Georgia. I took the above picture at Quan Loi.

When my tour at Clark was up, Howie was there to send me off. The night before, he had gone to the NCO Club with me, a young WAF I was hanging out with and my buddy Chuck who Howie had picked to replace me because he was an airline pilot in civilian life. We went to the club again the next morning for breakfast and Bloody Marys. We went from the club to get my bags and then to the passenger terminal where they waited to see me off,

I saw Howie again twice in 2000 and 2003. Howie retired in the Philippines and initially worked for Bird Air flying missions into Cambodia on USAF C-130s. He was there the day the war ended. He went back to the Philippines and settled in Baguio, where he edited the base paper at John Hay Air Force Station. His Filipina wife got involved with some kind of religious group and started giving them all their money so he left her and moved to Angeles City. He’d come to the States every year to check on his property in Miami and have a physical at the VA hospital since the US military had left the Philippines . I had  a trip to West Palm while he was there and drove down to see him. He was the same old Howie, but older. We went to an Irish pub by the airport where he told me about the movie he had made about C-130 flying in Vietnam, then to his house. In 2003 I happened to have a few days at MIA while he was there for what turned out to be his last visit. He was selling his property and gave me some pictures of the original bomb crew. He said he wanted to come and stay with me in Houston the next year and get together with Chick Anderson and some of his other close friends. It never happened, Howie died of kidney failure the following spring. By chance, I had a trip to Sun Valley the next weekend and was able to drive over to Boise and visit with Chick. Our main topic of conversation was Howie.

I learned a lot from Howie. I believe the most important thing is to never ask for permission. Tell whoever is in charge what you’re going to do and they’ll most likely approve it. If they have a problem with it, they’ll tell you.

My novel “Mortar Magnets” is based on my experiences with Howie – http://www.sammcgowan.com/mortarmagnets.html.

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Roy Clark may not have picked cotton, but I did

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Although cotton is associated with large plantations, much cotton production in the South was and still is by small farmers with only a few acres of cotton land. While slave labor was used on larger farms and plantations, many farmers and their families provided their own labor.  After slavery was abolished, Although some call it a tree, cotton is actually a shrub that grows in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Along with corn, or maize, it’s native to the Americas where its fibrous seed protector has been woven into cloth for at least 15,000 years. Cotton was the product that made the United States into an economic power and it was cotton, not slavery, that led to the secession of eleven states from the Union thus precipitating the war now commonly – but erroneously – called the Civil War.

Although cotton is associated with large plantations, much cotton production in the South was and still is by small farmers with only a few acres of cotton land. While slave labor was used on larger farms and plantations, many farmers and their families provided their own labor.  After slavery was abolished, many land-owners contracted with landless farmers, white as well as black, to farm their land for a share of the production. The land-owner typically footed the bill for all of the production costs and the sharecropper got part of the proceeds from the sale of the cotton. Another method was to rent land out to tenants.

Although cotton cloth has been produced for thousands of years in various parts of the world, it wasn’t until Eli Whitney invented his cotton gin that cotton production finally became economical. Prior to Whitney’s invention, cotton seeds had to be separated from the locks in which they grew by hand, a tedious and time-consuming task. Once seeds could be separated mechanically, the production of cotton became a major crop in the southern portion of the new United States because American cotton was found to be superior to varieties found elsewhere in the world. Reportedly, by 1860 cotton accounted for three/quarters of US exports and was the driving force behind the US economy. Although cotton could not be grown in New England, the region had become dependent on Southern cotton for fiber for its mills, most of which were water powered.

Modern Americans commonly believe that growing cotton was a laborious task involving the labor of thousands of slaves working in the hot sun. In reality, this is not true. Yes, some aspects of cotton production required manual labor, specifically the hoeing of the rows to remove grass and weeds and the harvesting of the mature locks, but much of the actual labor was provided by animals, particularly mules. Mules and horses, and sometimes oxen, pulled the plows that broke up the soil in springtime and the cultivators used to plow the rows until the plants were large enough to shade out the grasses and weeds that came up in the fields. Until mechanical cotton planters were developed, planting was by hand as was hoeing, commonly known as “chopping.” Hoes are metal blades attached to wooden handles that are used to cut grasses and weeds at the roots. Once cotton plants reach a significant height, the fields are “laid by” and receive no more attention until picking time.

Although cotton is a perennial plant in the wild, it became an annual in North America due to winter temperatures that kill the stalk. Cotton is planted when the danger of frost has passed; the tiny fragile plants are killed if temperatures drop to the freezing level. This can be as early as February in Texas and the Deep South or as late as April or early May in Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. Once the seeds have sprouted and have emerged from the soil, the plants may be thinned although modern farming practices have made this unnecessary. Neither is hoeing necessary due to the use of “pre-emergence” chemicals that are placed in the ground at the time of planting to prevent the growth of grass and weeds.

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In the Twentieth Century farmers discovered that their production could be increased by defoliating the plants, thus allowing sunlight to reach the bolls thus causing them to open sooner and more fully. The advent of the airplane allowed defoliating chemicals as well as insecticides to be dispensed quickly without damage to the plants. Insecticides became an important part of cotton farming to fight boll weevils, which can destroy a cotton crop if they aren’t eradicated. Prior to the development of insecticides, boll weevils had to be picked off by hand.

For a century after the abolishment of slavery, cotton production was essentially the same, although by the 1930s farmers were using tractors instead of horses and mules for land preparation and cultivation. Fields still had to be hoed and picking was mostly by hand. However, by the 1960s farmers were starting to use mechanical cotton pickers as they became more readily available at more reasonable prices. Wealthier farmers had started using them by the 1950s. The proliferation of mechanical cotton pickers came about at the same time as the civil rights movement and probably had a lot to do with it.  Cotton pickers eliminated the need for human pickers and thus put a lot of share croppers out of work. With no need for share croppers, landowners told them to get off of their land. Many ended up in tent cities until they were moved into towns or migrated to cities such as Memphis and St. Louis or to the North where many became part of a new welfare class when they were unable to find work due to lack of education and employability beyond the performance of menial tasks.

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As I said in the title, Roy Clark may not have picked cotton but I did. In fact, I was involved in every aspect of the growing and picking of cotton as a boy growing up in West Tennessee except planting, and then only because Daddy wanted to do it himself. We were mechanized farmers, except that we didn’t have a cotton picker. Daddy got one a year after I left home for the Air Force. As soon as I was old enough, at about ten or eleven, I started driving a tractor. At first, I mostly pulled a harrow but I eventually began disking and eventually breaking ground in the spring. Our plows were disc breakers rather than conventional turning plows but they did the same thing. Once the ground had been turned over, we went over it with a disc harrow, an implement with several rows of discs that broke up the ground into small clods. Sometimes we drug a spike harrow behind the disc to break the clods into smaller ones but sometimes we went back with the disc. Once the ground was prepared, the cotton was planted. We had a set of cotton planters that mounted on the sides of the tractor. Each side had two hoppers, one for fertilize and one for seed. The planters had plates on the bottom that were designed to space the seeds a certain distance apart.

Once the cotton was “big enough to plow,” meaning the stalks were tall enough that they wouldn’t be covered by dirt tossed up by the cultivators, we went through the fields row by row. We usually used scratchers, which were basically metal spring leafs with a small plow point on the end but we also had cultivators that used small plows. Plowing broke the surface and allowed air into the ground; it also covered the grass and weeds in the rows and cleared those from in between them. We plowed for the last time around the first of July then left the fields alone except for monitoring for boll weevils and other insects or blights.

Hoeing cotton or corn is not particularly strenuous work. We went down the rows, usually taking two at a time, and cut out the weeds and grass. I personally preferred to how corn because young cotton stalks are easy to catch with the corner of the hoe. We usually hoed in May and June when the weather wasn’t terribly hot yet. We had no hired hands so we did all of the work ourselves, sometimes with assistance from my aunts and uncles. We had a split vacation from school. We got out at the beginning of May and remained out until early July when the cotton would be laid by. We went back to school for the new year and remained in school until late September, when we got out for “cotton picking.” We were out for six weeks then went back to school in early November. Not only did those of us who lived on farms pick cotton, so did boys and girls from the surrounding towns as well as those who lived in the country but whose fathers weren’t farmers. As I recall, the going rate for cotton pickers was a nickel a pound. An average of 100 pounds a day was a pretty good average, with some pickers doing a lot better and others doing less. I knew a few people who could pick 200 pounds a day – sometimes – but they had to get to the field early and leave late to do it. I once saw something on the Internet where someone claimed they picked 600 pounds a day – uh, uh!

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While I can’t speak for those who picked cotton in the Deep South, in West Tennessee the weather conditions at picking time were pleasant. We’d start picking around the end of September and be finished by early November, although we’d go back again to pull bolls. Morning temperatures were cool and were usually in the seventies or low eighties during the day. Because wet cotton causes problems with the gin, we didn’t start picking until after the dew had burned off, usually around 10:00 AM. We stayed in the field until it was getting too dark to pick or Daddy decided it was time to quit for the day. We had no hired hands but family and neighbors often helped us, usually teenagers and older children. Some kids picked cotton to make money for school clothes but I’m sure some were boosting their family income. Picking cotton was not an unpleasant experience. Yes, we pulled a cotton sack behind us and we often were on our knees, depending on the height of the stalks, but cotton isn’t very heavy and a full sack didn’t usually weigh much more than fifty pounds. When someone’s sacks started getting full, we’d head for the trailer to weigh-in and empty it. The first weigh-in was around dinner time (lunch to Yankees) so we’d take a break to eat the sack lunch everyone had brought with them. Our family usually ate tuna or potted meat sandwiches – Mother sometimes mixed them together. Sometimes we had Vienna sausage. Some of the neighbor kids would stop by the store to buy something to take to the field with them. Some of those who  picked with us were teenage girls. Some were friends but some I barley knew before I met them in the cotton patch. Having them in the field increased my productivity because I’d pick faster to stay close to them. This is no lie – one girl I knew would come to pick wearing makeup. We were in about eighth grade at the time and I suppose it was for my benefit.

In some respects, picking cotton was a social event not unlike quilting bees and barn-raisings. Someone was always telling a story and we sometimes sang while we picked. Daddy would sometimes talk about his experiences in the war. I picked faster so I could stay close enough to him to hear what he was saying. I’d also pick faster to be closer to some of the older teenage boys (and some of the girls) who picked with us. There was sort of contest to see who picked the most each day. That was something I knew I was never going to win. I only remember a time or two when I broke the 100 lbs a day. I knew full well that I wasn’t going to be a professional cotton picker.

The skies were generally clear. if there were clouds, they were usually high cirrus clouds. Cotton picking time coincided with Indian summer, which is a great time to be outside. My main complaint was that it also coincided with squirrel and dove season. I often prayed for rain so I could go to the woods. If I recall correctly, we picked our fields at least twice then came back to pull bolls. Farmers today only pick a field once, and they use mechanical cotton pickers. Hundreds of dollars worth of cotton is often left lying on the ground where it spilled out when the operator was emptying the bin into the trailer and a lot of cotton is left on the stalks. I guarantee you that our stalks were bare when we finished pulling bolls. We didn’t get as much per pound from the gin for bolls. That money was our Christmas money.

There were potential hazards in the cotton patch, particularly the green caterpillars with the acid-filled spines we called “stinging worms.” if you accidentally brushed against one, you got a painful welt. They were one reason everyone wore  long sleeves. We wore cotton gloves to pull bolls but not to pick the cotton from the boll. Hands got chapped and somebody usually had a bottle of Corn Husker’s oil. Occasionally, someone would see a snake but they were usually non-poisonous. The copperheads were usually in the woods. Most of the snakes we saw were black or blue racers – and they raced off as soon as they were startled.

The cotton patch began changing in the 60s. I left home in July to join the Air Force, which I had wanted to do since I was about 13. It wasn’t but a couple of years later that Daddy bought a cotton picker. It was used, an International Harvester mounted on a Farmall C tractor frame and only picked one row at a time. But that was all it took. I remember being home on leave once right after he got it and thinking that if we’d had one sooner, I might not have left home. He also started growing soybeans which, like corn, are harvested mechanically. (We had neighbors who picked their corn by hand but Daddy bought a corn picker when I was still a little boy. Not only did he pick our corn, he picked corn for others as well.) More and more cotton pickers were appearing all over the South, and their advent meant the end of a lot of things, including share-cropping and split vacations for school children since kids were no longer needed in the fields to pick cotton. In fact, the cotton picker probably had more of an effect in the South than the civil rights movement.

My parents have been dead for some time, my dad since 2003 and my mom since 2008. Daddy farmed as long as he was able then started renting out the land to cotton farmers. After Mother died, their two farms were divided between me and my brothers and sisters. The same farmers who had been growing cotton on my part continued to farm it, until this year. They decided to get out of the business after a couple of bad crop years. Some other farmers are working it now. They’re growing corn.

How I Became a Flyboy

IMGP1858This is how I became the Tennessee Flyboy. I was born a few weeks after World War II ended. My dad had served in the Army Air Corps during the war as a mechanic and aerial gunner on B-24 Liberators. His brother was a B-24 pilot. Naturally, we were an air-minded family. We were also a farm family, which meant we spent a great deal of our time out of doors. Even if we were in the house and heard an airplane go over, we’d run out to see what kind it was. One of my earliest memories is of an airshow we went to at McKellar Field outside of Jackson. I can still see the yellow Piper Cub picking up a guy from the top of a car. We’d count how many airplanes we saw each day.

I can’t remember the exact time when I decided that when I grew up, I was going to fly. When I was in eighth grade, an Air Force radar bomb scoring team set up shop in the Milan Army Ammunition Plant complex a few miles from our house. For about six weeks, we had B-47s and B-52s with an occasional B-36 flying low over our house, starting at 9:00 PM and continuing until mid-morning. They were low, at no more than 500 feet above the ground and were probably as low as 300, mostly at night. The road in front of our house must have been a checkpoint on their flight plan because as soon as they reached it, the pilots would shove up the power and begin the spectacular climbing turn I later learned was called the LABS nuclear delivery method. They weren’t carrying nukes; plotters In the railroad care calculated each crew’s accuracy from the radar plots. A little over a decade later, I’d be working with those very same teams, only we were dropping real bombs, big ones. (www.sammcgowan.com/bomber.html.) There is one thing for certain; by the time Strategic Air Command finished the operation and moved the train, I had decided for certain that I was going to fly airplanes when I grew up.

My first airplane flight was in a Piper Tri-Pacer from the Humboldt, TN airport. My aunt Mary Nell took me and my younger brother to the airport one Sunday afternoon. The pilot, Mickey Spears, let me fly. I took us straight to my grandparent’s farm then to our farm about five miles away. I took one more flight from Humboldt, this time in a Cessna 170. My next flight was in a Braniff Convair 240 when I left Memphis for Air Force basic training at Lackland AFB outside of San Antonio. Yet even though I had joined the Air Force, it wasn’t until almost four years later that I took my first flying lesson. By that time, I was already a flyboy. In the summer of 1964 I cross-trained from aircraft maintenance to the aircraft loadmaster career field and went on flying status as a crewmember on C-130 transports. http://www.sammcgowan.com/military.html One Saturday afternoon, two of my buddies and I got in a Skoshi cab at the main gate at Naha Air Base, Okinawa where we were stationed and rode some twelve miles to Yomitan Airfield, where the Kadena Aero Club was based to start flying lessons.

I wish I could say that my introduction to flying was a pleasant experience. It wasn’t. My first instructor was a screamer. He was a DOD civilian who had some kind of job there on the island. He had me do a spin on my very first lesson. We were flying a yellow Piper J-3 Cub, which is soloed from the rear seat. I flew the airplane from the back seat and the instructor was in front. It was hard to see over him. I was only able to fly every seventeen days or so because most of my duties were in Southeast Asia. We’d be sent to Cam Ranh Bay or Bangkok for sixteen days so I’d schedule a lesson for one of the three days of free time I was entitled to after each stint of temporary duty. I took about three lessons in the Cub then switched to an Aeronca Champ. I also switched instructors. My new one was a young Army Specialist Fourth Class. The difference between him and my first instructor was like night and day. The Champ was different too. Champs are soloed from the front seat so I now sat in front with the instruments right in front of me. I desperately wanted to solo before I left Okinawa but I was having a little trouble with landings. In July I left Naha for a new assignment at Robins AFB, Georgia where I would be flying on C-141s.

While I was home on leave, I went to the nearest airport between Milan and Trenton, Tennessee and took a few lessons. Once again, I was in a different type of airplane, a Cessna 150, a fairly new one. I took four or five lessons but still hadn’t soloed when I left home to drive to my assignment at Warner Robins. I was happy to learn when I got there that the base had an aero club. At the time, it was at Wilson Field just outside of Macon. The club had a variety of airplanes but the primary trainers were Cessna 150s. However, they were older than the ones at Gibson County. My new instructor was Van Thaxton, a civilian who worked on the base. Van was a good instructor. One day we were practicing takeoffs and landings. After one landing he told me to pull off and let him out. Then he sent me off on my first solo flight. Van told me to make two touch and goes and a landing, but the nose wheel started shimmying after my first landing so I made a full stop and taxied to the ramp. It wasn’t a big deal. All I needed to do was ease back on the yoke and take the weight of the nose wheel but Van and the club manager, a retired major, said I made the right decision. Regardless, I had made my first solo flight. For some reason, no one thought to cut off my shirt tail and hang it on the wall. Personally, I wasn’t upset that they didn’t. I was wearing one of the Thai silk shirts I had made up a couple of years before when I was TDY to Ubon, Thailand. I went up with Van again, probably the next day, and he soloed me again. He endorsed my student license and my log book for unsupervised solo.

For the next year, I continued working on my private pilot’s license. It took me longer than most because of my schedule. I was flying as a crewmember on C-141s and was rarely at home for more than three or four days at a time. We were required to have on hour of free time for every three hours we spent away from home station, up to a maximum of 72 hours. If I was out long enough to get the full three days, I usually hopped in my Cougar and hit the road for West Tennessee. When I flew solo, I practiced the private pilot maneuvers. Sometimes Van flew with me. I had been at Robins for exactly a year when I got word that I was going back overseas, this time to Clark Field in the Philippines. Moreover, I was supposed to be at Sewart AFB, Tennessee in two weeks for C-130 training. I was told that because I had previous C-130 experience, Military Airlift Command was requesting a waiver of the school because so many loadmasters had just received orders that a shortage was developing. I was getting ready to leave that night on leave to go to West Tennessee for my sister’s wedding. My NCOIC told me to go on home and he’d let me know if I needed to come back early.

Lawrence Browning

I had already passed the FAA written test. I took it and my logbook with me. I went to Milan and told Lawrence Browning, who ran the airport, that I wanted to take the practical test. Lawrence was busy with crop dusting so he put me with Mike Jones, a local boy who worked at ITT and was a CFI. Now, I had already completed all of the requirements to take the practical test but the FAA required that I have a recommendation from an instructor. Looking back, I can see that Mike should have flown with me one time then set me up for the flight check. He probably needed the money or wanted the flight time because he insisted on flying with me at least three times. Finally, he set me up for a flight check with an FAA examiner from Paris, Tennessee, about fifty miles away. I’ve forgotten the man’s name. On the appointed day, I got in Lawrence’s Cessna 150 and flew to Paris where the examiner was waiting at the airport. He asked me a few questions and had me lay out a flight plan to Dyersburg. When I was ready, we got in the airplane and started out on the flight. A few minutes into the flight, we passed over a town. I looked down at my map and said it was my first checkpoint. He said, okay, let’s break off and do some air work. He had me do a stall and a turn and then said to head back to the airport. I thought I had done something wrong but when we got on the ground, he asked for my student pilot license and began writing out a temporary private pilot certificate. A few minutes later, I was in the airplane with a brand new license in my wallet. When I got to the end of the runway, I noticed that the directional gyro was off by ten degrees. I looked at my map and realized that the cluster of buildings I thought was my checkpoint was actually a little south of my route. Oh well, I had the ticket in my pocket!

As it turned out, MAC got the extension and I stayed at Robins until November instead of leaving in two weeks. Van wasn’t happy that I had taken the flight check while I was on leave but I felt I had no choice. CFI’s get credit for students they recommend who pass the flight check so he lost credit for mine (Mike Jones got it.) By this time, the aero club had moved from Wilson Field to the Air Force Base. I took at least one of my buddies for a ride. Stony Burk caught the flying bug and eventually became a pilot himself. We both had orders to Clark and went to the same squadron. I left Warner Robins the night before Thanksgiving. In early February, 1969, I arrived at Clark and a new chapter of my life as a flyboy.

(For the full story of my flying career, read my book Two Years in the Sky – http://www.sammcgowan.com/twoyears.html)

The flag is down but what does it change?

http://www.constitution.org/csa/ordinances_secession.htm#South%20Carolina

South Carolina politicians have spoken (the people had nothing to do with it. If they were intended to have a voice, there would have been a referendum.) Pundits and activists are claiming that now that South Carolina’s Sikh governor has had her way, the world will be a better place. (Sikhs are members of an Indian religious group. Although Haley says she’s a Methodist and is a board member of her husband’s Methodist church, she attends Sikh services. Her full name is Nimrata Nikki Randhawa.) Don’t bet on it. None of these “earth-shaking” events ever amount to anything. Personally, I could care less whether a Confederate flag ever flies over anything, including over the cemeteries containing the remains of Confederate soldiers and/or veterans, but I am deeply concerned about how the media and politicians are so damned concerned about symbols. I am most concerned about how northern historians are coming out of the woodwork claiming once again that the South seceded over slavery and that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. Neither assertion is true. The above link shows the articles of secession of each of the eleven states of the Confederacy and the two other states that also voted to secede but remained in the Union (after Lincoln declared martial law and sent troops to occupy them and suspended habeas corpus.)Yes, some of the Southern states seceded because they feared that New England abolitionists were going to force Congress to pass laws abolishing slavery nationally (states in the North had abolished slavery with state laws, not national laws) but that was only part of the reason. The states that seceded before Fort Sumter did so because they believed that the non-slave states were ignoring the Constitution and Federal laws and no longer wanted to be part of an organization with them.

Although slavery was a factor in secession, the Civil War was initiated by the United States after South Carolina troops fired on Fort Sumter – after Lincoln refused to withdraw its garrison as requested by the South Carolina governor – in an attempt to force the seceded states back into the Union. In spite of claims by northern academics, this is well-documented. In fact, five of the states that joined the Confederacy plus Kentucky and Missouri only voted to secede after Lincoln demanded troops to “put down the rebellion.” Lincoln chose Virginian Robert E. Lee to command his army. When Lee refused and stated that his loyalties were to Virginia, the irate Lincoln proclaimed that Lee’s wife’s ancestral home would be turned into a cemetery. He used subterfuge to take possession of the estate for non-payment of taxes even though Lee’s wife had sent the payments by an agent. (In 1884 the US Supreme Court ruled that Lincoln’s actions were illegal and returned possession to Lee’s son. However, the property had been turned into a graveyard and he was forced to sell the land to the United States.) Lincoln’s object in going to war was NOT to destroy slavery, but to force the seceded states to return to the Union. This is evident by the US Army’s actions regarding slaves during the first two years of the war. Instead of freeing slaves in areas they came to control, they left them where they were. Those slaves who sought to follow after them, were considered as contraband and while some of the men were used as laborers, the rest and the women and children were placed in contraband camps.

In September 1862, Lincoln announced that if the seceded states didn’t return to the Union by the end of they year, he was going to order his commanders to free all slaves in areas that came under Union control. The order did NOT emancipate slaves, as is commonly believed. Slaves in Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri, which were part of the Union, were not affected. Neither were slaves in Tennessee, much of which was under Union control due to the Confederate strategy of withdrawing south into Alabama and Mississippi. No forethought was given as to what do with freed slaves once they had been emancipated. They were left confused and wondering what to do. Lincoln seized on the opportunity to use freed slaves to alleviate a shortage of manpower and authorized the raising of colored regiments in addition to the labor battalions he had already authorized. The families of the new colored troops followed after them and set up camps near the army camps. (This was also true of white soldiers.) Hundreds of young black women became prostitutes. Nashville alone had over 1,500 prostitutes and many of them were black. In the spring of 1864 Union cavalry made an excursion from Memphis into Mississippi, freeing thousands of slaves along the way. Confederate cavalry under Gen. N.B. Forrest defeated the Federals and drove them back to Memphis. The just-freed blacks panicked and fled into Alabama headed for Georgia until they found their way blocked by a river after Federal troops destroyed the bridge. Many rushed into the river and drowned. Lincoln’s proclamation didn’t work. The war continued for almost two and a half years. Yet even though the North eventually defeated the South, slavery wasn’t officially abolished until December 1865 when the Georgia legislature (made up of Unionists and blacks because anyone who had supported secession was forbidden from voting) ratified the Thirteenth Amendment.

With the war over, the writing of history began. Northern educators knew that they couldn’t justify the northern invasion of the South on the basis of it being to “preserve the Union” so they made it a noble cause by claiming the war was fought “to free the slaves.” It made for a better story.

The Civil War has been over for just over 150 years and the painful era of “reconstruction” that followed has been over for almost 140 years. Not a single Southerner has owned a slave since 1865.  Reconstruction was made painful because of the efforts of “radical” Republicans in both North and South who sat out to punish the South, not only for the rebellion but also for its institution of slavery. They conveniently forgot that slavery was practiced in the North as well until only a few decades before the war broke out. They also forgot that the New England states had come close to seceding in protest of the War of 1812. For that matter, they also forgot that their predecessors had rebelled against the British Crown a century before. Now it seems that the descendants of those radical Republican reconstructionists are once again among us. They quickly seized on the presence of a Confederate flag flying over a memorial on the South Carolina capitol grounds as symbol of the unreconstructed South. Even though Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was not carrying a Confederate flag at the time of the shooting and made no mention of the Confedracy in his “manifesto,” neoreconstructionists quickly seized on the flag as something that had to come down, and while at it, get ride of all of those monuments around the South – and elsewhere in the country – as well. “It will promote racial healing,” they claim. Writer after writer associated the Confederate flag with the KKK; never mind that the KKK has it’s own flag and the flag they most identify with at rallies has long been the United States flag. Yes, Klan members sometimes carry Confederate flags but they also carry the US flag right beside it and in a more prominent position.(In the Cohen Brothers movie “O Brother Where Art Thou,” no US flag is shown even though that was the flag the KKK of the period used. Instead, they feature the Confederate flag.)

If anything, the lowering of the Confederate flag in South Carolina has made a lot of people madder than they already were. In the news accounts that I saw, the crowd assembled to watch the lowering of the flag was made up mostly of blacks. All of those I saw interviewed, with one exception, were blacks. One South Carolina Democratic Senator gave an example of “white racism” in his speech during the debate before the vote. He said that a white woman told him that “all you care about are blacks and Mexicans.” Add feminists, LGBTs and labor unions to that and it pretty well sums up the Democratic Party, which, by the way, owes its very existence to the men who fought under that Confederate flag and the KKK that came along after the war. After all, the stated goal of the post-war KKK was to “support the Democratic Party.” Without the klan and its nightriders, there would have been no Democratic party in the South.

Nikki Haley may have felt like a “huge weight was lifted off of my state” when the flag came down but nothing has really changed.

Jonathon

JonathonI’ll never forget the first time I saw him. It was New Year’s Day 1973. I had gone to a party the night before at Jim’s apartment in Building D. It turned out that I was the only one there who either wasn’t with a date or hooked up with one of the single girls that were there. Sometime after midnight, feeling lonely, I left the party and went back to my apartment and poured myself a glass of Jack Daniels over ice and put some bluegrass on my stereo. I drank and listened for awhile then got out my guitar and played and drank some more. The next morning I slept in. Sometime in the afternoon there was a knock on the door. Some girls from the Up Country who had come down for the party were leaving and wanted to tell me goodbye. As they were leaving, I heard my phone ringing. It was Mary, from the airport at Summerville. “Sam, you’re airplane is here. It’s beautiful. The pilot is ready to take your old one as soon as you can get here with the check and paperwork. I invited my roommate to go along and we jumped in my Cougar and headed for Summerville. Mary was right; the airplane really was beautiful. It was blue with a white underbelly with blue stars on the bottom of the wings and a blue and white sunburst on top. The interior was white naugahyde with wood grain on the panel (it was laminate, not real wood.) It had a “greenhouse” roof, meaning part of the roof was Plexiglas.

The blue Citabria was the third and last airplane I ever owned. My foray into aerobatics started in early 1970 at Clark Field where I had a run-in with a young WAF from Tennessee. I’m not sure who dumped who but when she showed up at a party a few nights later, I ignored her and decided right then I was going to become an aerobatic pilot. I left Clark later that year and went to Charleston where I initially spent a lot of time in the NCO Club drinking with other guys who had just returned from overseas. Most of them were married. I wasn’t. Never had been and had zero prospects that I ever would. After a few months of hard drinking, I awoke one day and realized I was headed down the road toward alcoholism. I decided right then that I should use my GI Bill to obtain my commercial pilot license. I went across the field and talked to the aero club manager. He told me that John Shelton, a retired USAF flight engineer who owned Summerville Aviation, was in the process of getting FAA approval for his commercial pilots course. He also told me John had a Cessna Aerobat.

I went to Summerville and started flying. I was one of the first students for the FAA approved course. I took a couple of aerobatic lessons in the Aerobat but all we did was wingovers and spins. Impatient, I decided to learn them on my own. I read the pilot’s manual and then tried the maneuvers, which most people would not consider to be a good idea. I started thinking about buying an aerobatic airplane of my own. My initial plan was to buy a clipped-wing Cub, but John said that was not a good idea because most Cubs had been used as dusters and their wing spars were shot. John had a Champion 7FC Tri-Champ that his mechanics were just finishing rebuilding. He said it would was licenses for aerobatics. I had some moey in my bank account so I paid him most of the $3,600 and borrowed the rest from the base credit union. Not only did they finance cars, they also financed airplanes.

The little Champ was a good little airplane and I learned aerobatics in it – on my own. At first I had a little trouble with aileron rolls but then one day somebody mentioned that you need to raise the nose well above the horizon. After that, I was off. It wasn’t long before I was looping, rolling and doing Cuban 8s. However, the little Champ was somewhat lacking in performance so I decided to find something with more Oomph. I bought a 150 HP Citabria from Hawthorne Flying Service at the Charleston airport. It had Oomph alright, but it didn’t have an inverted fuel and oil system. After a couple of months, I decided to trade it for an airplane that did. It was back to Trade-A-Plane, this time to look for a 7 KCAB Citabria. Originally developed by Champion before the company was purchased by Bellanca, the 7KCAB was the top of the line of the Citabria family. (Bellanca would develop another airplane based on it but it had a new wing and model number, the 8KCAB.) It featured a 150HP Lycoming fuel-injected engine that had been modified with a flop tube in the oil pan so the engine would get oil when the airplane was inverted. Fuel-injected engines aren’t affected by gravity like carbureted engines. The engine on my first Citabria would quit whenever it was upside down. One afternoon I flew my Citabria to Lake Norman, NC to talk to a Citabria dealer. Although he didn’t have a new 7KCAB in stock, he was part of a dealer network. He had two new 7KCABs on his board, a red one and a blue one. Although I like red, for some reason I decided on the blue. It was at Lake Elmo, Minnesota near the Bellanca factory. I told him how much I had paid for the one I had and he said he would allow the same amount on a trade-in. I got back in my airplane so I could fly back to Summerville before dark since it wasn’t equipped for night flying.

All of this took place just before Christmas. I went to the credit union and applied for another airplane loan. It was approved right after Christmas and the check was ready for me to pick up. Since the new airplane was in Minnesota and the old one was in South Carolina, they had to get together. Looking back, I should have took a couple of days leave and flown to Lake Elmo myself, but the dealer had a son in his early twenties who was building time for an airline job and he said he’d fly the new one down and pick up my trade-in. I wasn’t expecting him on New Years Day. The dealer had said he’d be down a day or two after and he’d call first. It turned out they had friends in Tennessee so he flew down there for a visit, then hopped over the mountains the next day and flew on to Summerville. He was supposed to call and let me know he was coming but, if he did, I must have been out of the apartment. We didn’t chat; he was in a hurry to get back across the mountains to Knoxville before dark. I offered to let him spend the night at the apartment but he declined. I saw my old Citabria again years later. It  was parked on the ramp at Nashville.

I’m not sure if I did it that day, but I named my new airplane Jonathon, after Jonathon Livingston Seagull, the character in Richard Bach’s famous book by that name. The chief instructor at Summerville Aviation was Mike Reid, who called himself an “aerobatic fanatic” and was a big Bach fan. I was familiar with Bach myself from his articles in FLYING. The day after the delivery, Tuesday, I was in my office at the base. I made up a label that said “This airplane must be flown upside down every time it leaves the ground” and put it on the inside of the door where anyone who was in the back seat could see it. I had taken a lot of people up for rides in my airplane, most of them female, but few actually enjoyed the aerobatic maneuver I always threw in before going back to the airport. One girl freaked out when I raised the nose and she realized what I was about to do and I had to land and kick her out. That was in the old Citabria. Later on, she did ride through a roll but I don’t think she enjoyed it.

Now that I had an airplane in which I could do the full spectrum of aerobatics without the engine quitting, I became quite good at it, so good that I started doing things that were somewhat dangerous – and illegal. The FAR’s specified a minimum altitude for aerobatic maneuvers but I started doing them right off the ground. Early one morning I was feeling particularly exuberant after a routine of low-altitude aerobatics over the tree farms south of Lake Moultrie and when I got back to the airport, I made a couple of low altitude passes down the runway – upside down. When I landed, I saw John Shelton standing in the door of the office. He was livid. I wasn’t the only one doing aerobatics over the airport and he was afraid the neighbors were going to complain and shut him down. I felt bad because John was a good friend. After that, I never made low-altitude inverted passes over the runway (at least not when John was there.) Earlier, I had started wearing Hush Puppy desert boots because I found out somehow that was what aerobatic pilots wore. The foam rubber soles allowed the wearer to feel the rudder bars. Desert boots also looked good with jeans and shorts.

My new airplane arrived on New Year’s Day. A few weeks later, I went home on leave and flew the airplane. I’d made several flights to West Tennessee by that time and knew the route. The weather was really good going up. I flew low on my final leg after refueling at Jasper, an airport just west of Chattanooga. My return flight followed a winter storm that came through although the weather was beautiful along my route. The winds were strong and I made good time. It was Ground Hog Day and I wanted to be back for a party that night in honor of one of my neighbors. It was her birthday and she’d made me promise to have a party for her. The winds were really strong in Summerville. I landed in a direct crosswind of about 30 knots. Everybody in the FBO came out to watch me land. I guess they thought I was going to wrap my new airplane in a ball. It was a non-event. That night changed my life. There was a girl at the party I had never met, a WAF from the base. We got to talking and I found out that she liked airplanes. It was almost eighteen years before the relationship fell apart. The next day I took her flying and went through a full aerobatic routine. She loved it.

Mike Reid, the chief instructor at Summerville, decided to organize an air show troupe with the aerobatic pilots at the airport. We went to Orangeburg and met an FAA examiner from Columbia, who came down to watch us fly. I went up for a 500-foot waiver. After everyone had flown, he asked for our licenses for the waiver letters. I was about to take my commercial check ride in a few days. Mike told him I was a private pilot but was going to take the commercial ride soon. He asked if he had my folder with my written test. He said if he did, he’d give me the ticket on the basis of my aerobatics. He also said he’d have given me lower if I’d asked for it.

A few weeks later we learned that my squadron was moving to Dover, Delaware in a swap of us and our C-5s for a C-141 squadron. My new girlfriend and I had decided to get married so she could transfer with me. Someone was putting on a party in our honor in her hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. We were going to fly but Mike wanted to use Jonathon for an airshow at Wings and Wheels. We saw him practicing over the airport when we passed by on I-26 on Friday afternoon. The last time I had flown the airplane was on a trip to my folks in Tennessee. On the way back, I noticed a momentary RPM drop but thought nothing about it. When we got back home from Lynchburg, I drove out to the airport on a whim and Jonathon wasn’t there. The next day I learned that the engine had been making a loud metallic noise when Mike landed at Santee that morning. It turned out that a rod bearing had failed. We made the move to Dover without the airplane. Lycoming was saying it wasn’t there problem and Bellanca was saying, yes it was. Hawthorne Aviation was a Lycoming dealer. They said the best they could do would be to ship the engine to the factory for a teardown. If it turned out to be their problem, they’d fix it. If not, I was going to out $8,000 or so – which I didn’t have – for a rebuild. Lycoming looked at the engine and changed their tune when they found that the bearing was defective. They rebuilt the engine then sent it to Bellanca for the modification to the oil system. Meanwhile, we had been transferred to Dover. I got word from John that the airplane was ready but the all hell broke loose in Israel and I was on alert and flying back and forth hauling ammunition for the next four weeks. Finally, I was able to hop the East Coast shuttle C-141 to Charleston to get the airplane. The next day I flew up the East Coast to Delaware.

Things were not the same in Delaware. I had the airplane at another grass strip but it was private and there wasn’t an airport crowd around as there had been at Summerville. I don’t remember doing a lot of aerobatics. Most of my flying was taking my bride up for rides and trying to teach her how to fly again. She’d taken some lessons from Mike at Summerville but we were in a minor accident in my Tri-Champ and she became ground shy. She never did solo. That Thanksgiving we flew to Tennessee for a visit with my folks. The next summer I was approached about towing banners with my airplane and I decided to do it. So far, the airplane had been costing me money. My wife was pregnant and had been discharged so we lost her paycheck. Banner towing paid $50.00 an hour. I damn near got killed in another Citabria, a story in itself. That winter I decided to put the airplane on a lease with the dealer in North Carolina I had purchased it through. The next summer I got out of the Air Force after 12 years and we moved to Tennessee. Right after I got there, I went to North Carolina and picked up Jonathon. for the next two years I used him commercially, mostly giving people tail-wheel checkouts and giving aerobatic instruction. I installed post lights on the instrument panel and a rotating beacon so I could fly him back and forth to Memphis, where I was taking college courses at night. It was fun to fly along in the dark.

Our daughter was born before we left Dover and was still an infant when we moved back to Tennessee. The following summer we learned that my wife was pregnant again. I had a wife and family to support and was in a dead-end job where I had to ask my “employer” for every check I ever got from him. The money I made with Jonathon allowed us to survive. But things started getting tight. I still owed money to the Charleston AFB Credit Union and I had fallen behind on the payments. I was afraid I might lose the airplane so I, regretfully, decided to sell it. I ended up selling it back to Lake Norman Aviation at what was basically a wholesale price. My little daughter rode to North Carolina with me on our last flight. We flew back to Memphis on American Airlines.

Why I Detest Fireworks

Long ago, in a land far away, I saw my share of fireworks, only those fireworks were deadly and every one of them was designed to kill somebody and sometimes that somebody was me. Now, I am sitting here in my den and fireworks are going off all over the place – even though it is against the law and the rules of the HOA for our development to set them off. They are supposed to only be used by professional pyrotechnics experts in carefully monitored displays. But that doesn’t stop these idiots. More than likely some of the booms and bangs we’re hearing are actual gunshots. Every Fourth of July and New Years somebody is hit by a round falling back to earth. Earlier today, we went to friends for burgers and socializing. When we got home, our little dog had diarrhea that was probably caused by fireworks. She is a very sensitive little dog and has always been frightened by them. Our dogs are inside but I guarantee there will people missing their pets in the morning.

Some of the explosions were damn close. One sounded like it went off right over our house. We heard something hit the roof. I went outside to make sure the roof wasn’t on fire. It sounded just like a war, except there were more explosions. Although I was told by a shrink that I don’t have enough symptoms for a diagnosis of PTSD, I became very agitated. I wanted to go upstairs and get my shotgun and go around to my neighbors house and mow the bastards down. They fired off a rocket and it exploded right above me. I could hear particles whistling just over my head.

Yes, fireworks are pretty but for most Americans, that’s all they are. They’ve never been shot at and have never used explosions to kill someone. After all, they’re supposed to represent the rockets seen over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Ironically, no fireworks were shot off on the Fourth of July in 1776. In fact, no one even knew that a group of rebels in Philadelphia had signed a document declaring independence from Britain. For one thing, the document had yet to be signed. The document on display in Washington, DC was signed on August 2, 1776. Supposedly, somebody signed something on July 4 but if they did, no one knows what happened to it.

If you gotta have fireworks, go watch a public display. Don’t fire them over my house!

A Celebration of Treason

Many of the articles written in the current furor over symbols of the Confederacy claim that the men (many of them were boys) who fought for the South were guilty of treason. Never mind that although the United States imprisoned Jefferson Davis and held him for two years, he was released because the government realized it would be unable to convict him. Threats of indictment for treason were made against other Southern officials, including high ranking  officers like Robert E. Lee, but they all came to naught although they were prohibited from holding elected Federal office by the Fourteenth Amendment. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were restored to full citizenship in the 1970s, Davis during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. http://news.yahoo.com/pardon-jefferson-davis-14th-amendment-163609181.html

What those who hold these views are forgetting is that the nation from which eleven of the fifteen Southern states seceded (two others proposed secession articles which didn’t pass) and which we ourselves are citizens of was in fact founded as a result of treason. Tomorrow we celebrate an act that was, under the laws of the day, an act of high treason against the British Crown. John Hancock affixed his name to a document branding him a traitor to the country of which he was a citizen. “Taxation without representation” is one of the reasons given for the decision made by some colonial leaders to rebel against the king to whom they owed allegiance and the nation whose citizenship the enjoyed. (The taxes were actually low, but colonists were upset because they had no representation in Parliament.) Thomas Jefferson rattled off of a list of grievances against King George, grievances some of which seem almost petty in today’s world –

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Bear in mind that while Thomas Jefferson’s words are written as if they are directed at a king from his subjects, they only applied to the subjects in the American colonies, not including those in what became Canada. Nor did they apply to Australia and New Zealand, where England also had colonies, or the British colonies in Central America and the Caribbean. In his words, Jefferson was attempting to justify what he, as a lawyer, knew was an act of treason against the king to whom he was subject. Furthermore, Jefferson was writing in 1776, a decade after American colonists had first rebelled against their king although the rebellion didn’t become openly hostile until 1775 when Massachusetts was declared to be in open rebellion after locals fired on British troops at Concord and Lexington. Later that year, colonial troops invaded Quebec although the invasion was unsuccessful. The Continental Congress appealed to the British parliament to end the conflict but the king refused to read the appeal. He then declared certain colonies in rebellion and branded those involved in the rebellion as traitors.

It is important to remember that the thirteen colonies only existed by permission of the Crown. Each colony was established under a charter obtained from the British government by individuals and corporations. By 1776, most of the colonies had been in existence for well over a century. Their inhabitants were subjects of the king. By declaring the colonies independent, Jefferson and those who signed the declaration were committing high treason – and they knew it. Although they called themselves “patriots,” they were actually rebels and were key figures in a rebellion that had started in 1765 when colonists declared that the Crown had no right to tax them and eventually escalated to armed conflict. The war we now call the Revolutionary War went back and forth until the new government formed an alliance with France which was joined by Spain. With a wider war on their hands, the British reduced the number of troops in the colonies and started recruiting Loyalists and slaves.

We have been led to believe that everyone in the America colonies shared the feelings of those who rebelled against the authority of King George and the British government. In fact, large numbers of colonists were not in sympathy with the revolution that started in the 1760s in protest of British taxes, which the colonists called tyranny. Historians estimate that those who remained loyal to England accounted for approximately 20% of the population. This estimate is probably conservative. There were also large numbers of colonists who didn’t really care whether they were under the Crown or not. This group was the largest of the factions in the colonies. Patriots are estimated to have only accounted for some 45% of the white colonists. At best, Patriots had a bare majority. The war finally ended when the British fleet bringing troops to Yorktown found itself facing the French Navy and retreated to New York. Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown was then defeated in a battle fought primarily by French artillerists. Cornwallis surrendered and even though King George wanted to continue the war, Parliament wasn’t willing to support him. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris brought an end to hostilities and Britain withdrew its remaining troops from its former colonies. The treaty gave the former rebels control of all of North America south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River except Florida. (The Indian tribes who controlled the region west of the Appalachians were not consulted and did not sign the treaty.) Britain ceded Florida back to Spain in a separate treaty.

Of course, all of that happened almost 250 years ago. The second American rebellion, which we now call the Civil War, ended 150 years ago. Those who remained in the Union called those who voted to withdraw “traitors” and accused them of treason, just as King George had done regarding their ancestors a century before. Now, we are all Americans and the British are our best friends (and some consider the French as our enemies.) However, it would do us well to remember tomorrow when we celebrate the birth of our nation that we are actually celebrating treason.