Association with a Legend

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As I write this, it is August 22, 2015. Tomorrow is the anniversary of three important events of my life – August 23, 2003 was the day we buried my father, August 23, 1954 was the birthday of my youngest sister Shirley and on that same day Lockheed’s C-130 Hercules took to the air for the first time. While the first two are events of my life, the third was the one that, some ten years later, would begin to affect my life in a profound way.

I was eight years old the day the YC-130 took to wings for the first time, but as the son of a World War II airman and the nephew of an  Air Force pilot, I was part of an “air-minded” family. Earlier that year, an Air Force C-119 had crashed on the outskirts of the county seat – http://www.sammcgowan.com/c119.html – and seeing the place where four young men and an airplane died made an impression on me. Whether or not I was aware of the event in far-away Burbank, California that day I can’t say but I know that within a few years I was well aware of the new Air Force transport called the C-130. My first “association” with it was probably when I bought a Revelle model of one in the Ben Franklin Store in nearby Milan, Tennessee. By that time, Sewart Air Force Base, Tennessee, where my dad was last stationed during the war, was home to two C-130 wings. We sometimes heard  and saw them fly over, although they were usually at high altitude and I couldn’t tell much about them. They were easy to recognize because of their distinctive sound, they were jet-props and even though they were powered by jet engines, the engines turned large propellers that gave them a sound like that of some kind of machinery.

During my senior year at Trezevant High School (not the one in Memphis – the one in Trezevant, Tennessee), I applied for a Congressional appointment to the new Air Force Academy. I didn’t get the appointment – it was a competitive appointment and another boy received it – but as a result I saw a C-130 up close for the first time. My dad was injured in an automobile accident the day before I was to go to Sewart for a flight physical so my Uncle Larry took me. We drove close to the flight line where a C-130 sat just across the fence with all four engines running. I was back at Sewart a few months later for more examinations and saw more C-130s, and the men who flew them. Some were officers but some were young enlisted men only a few years older than myself.

Blues

After my high school graduation, I enlisted in the Air Force. After basic training and mechanics training, I was assigned to Pope AFB, NC where the 464th Troop Carrier Wing was transitioning into the C-130E after several years of flying C-123s and C-119s. When I went in the Air Force, I wasn’t particularly interested in C-130s but after I got to Amarillo for maintenance training, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be stationed at Sewart since it was only a little over 100 miles from my folks. I also wanted to fly and the best means for an enlisted man to go on flying status was to be assigned to transports since bomber crews were mostly officers and I wasn’t excited about tankers. I arrived at Pope a few days before Christmas 1963. I had to go through several more weeks of training before I would work on those beautiful silver airplanes but I was finally given an assignment as a member of the post dock crew in periodic maintenance. However, a few months later I had an opportunity to fly and I took it. Fifteen young mechanics were selected to crosstrain into the aircraft loadmaster career field and be assigned to flight crews and I took it. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I left the maintenance squadron and went to the 779th Troop Carrier Squadron. Once again, I had to go through training but once I had completed the six-weeks loadmaster training course, my training was in the air. Actually, I had been placed on flying status just before the course started and made my first flight one Sunday afternoon while I was in it.

After ground training and the award of the loadmaster Air Force specialty code, I was qualified for basic aircrew duty as a loadmaster/scanner. Then the fun started. Pope was a Tactical Air Command base in those days and the mission of TAC was combat. Although TAC transports weren’t armed, we had a combat mission which was to deliver US Army and Marine personnel into combat and resupply them either by air-landing or airdrop. Air-landing was fairly simple for everyone on the crew but the pilots, who had to be proficient at maximum performance landings, but airdrop involved training for us loadmasters in the rigging and operation of the airdrop mechanism. Rigging and inspection of loads were performed by loadmasters assigned to the 3rd Aerial Port Squadron, which was separate from the wing administratively but attached to it for operational duty. Aircrew and aerial port loadmasters went through the same training but squadron duties were different. Aircrew loadmasters were assigned to an aircrew while aerial port personnel were assigned to sections in their squadron and while they flew, it was to supplement a “formed” crew from a squadron. Our training consisted of a couple of paratroop training missions – which were very simple as all the loadmaster had to do was open the paratroop doors and extend the jump platforms then retrieve the static lines – and a number of cargo drops. TAC C-130s were not equipped with the 463L cargo handling system at the time. Instead, the “dual rails” were kept in storage and installed in the airplane prior to a drop or palletized cargo mission and it was the loadmaster’s job to install them. It was a pain in the ass. Eventually, TAC got smart and made the rails part of the airplane’s extra equipment but by that time I was no longer in the command. We also made a drop using the old “skate wheels” conveyor system that dated back to the C-82. One skate wheel drop was of a platform and one was of containers.

Tactical training  missions were flown at low altitude, as in at 300 feet above the ground normally and 500 in the mountains. Now, Rising heat causes turbulence and we were subject to it. The airplane bounced around as we flew a training route and a lot of people got sick. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them. Although I got nauseous, I never threw up. The drops themselves were thrilling to watch. An extraction parachute would deploy into the slip stream and pull the load out behind it. The load would just be setting there then all of a sudden it started moving and was gone. Some drops were double and triple extractions of multiple loads. They were even more thrilling to watch. After the drop, we usually went back to Pope or to the assault landing strip on Fort Bragg where the pilots practiced takeoffs and landings. Once we had completed all of the tactical training requirements, we new loadmasters were designated as “combat ready” and assigned to a crew.

A TAC C-130 crew consisted of five men, two pilots, one designated as the aircraft commander, a navigator, a flight mechanic and a loadmaster. On cargo drops, a second loadmaster was assigned, usually from aerial port. On flights recovering at another field where no C-130 maintenance was available, a member of the ground crew would be assigned to accompany the airplane to take care of it on the ground. Although they were on aeronautical orders for hazardous duty pay, ground crew were not members of the flight crew. They had no inflight duties or duties of any kind pertaining to the flight. Their job was to take care of any maintenance items while the airplane was on the ground. Early in C-130 history, the flight mechanic worked on the flight line when he wasn’t flying but that soon changed when crew duty day requirements were established. Another member of the ground crew flew as a scanner but that also changed and scanners were relieved of flight line duties. By the time I started flying in the summer of 1964, scanner and loadmaster duties had been combined and scanners were done away with except in the “school squadron” at Sewart.

Once I was assigned to a crew, I was gone from Pope most of the time. My new crew consisted of Captain Marvin “Gene” Shoupe, AC; Captain Cornelius J. Carney, copilot; Lt. Dereck J. Eller, navigator; A1C Don Sweet, flight mechanic and me. By that time I had been promoted to airman second class. Our first mission was a week dropping experimental loads at the joint Army-Air Force A&E board across the ramp from our squadron. The 779th has just assumed a rotation at Evreux, France and right after the A&E Board stint, we deployed. We deployed a week early because a squadron crew was killed in a night training accident. The loss hit the squadron hard. I knew all of the crewmembers well. We were only in France for about three weeks because the White House decided to mount a bombing campaign against North Vietnam and additional C-130s were needed in the Far East. A squadron from Pope had deployed without notice to Kadena AB, Okinawa and we were to relieve them. From then on, my overseas C-130 flying was all in the Pacific except for a trip to the Congo later that year through Recife, Brazil (where my profile picture was taken.)

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 Flying in the Far East involved mostly flights into Southeast Asia, although by the time our crew got to Kadena, the deployment of troops to South Vietnam was in a lull. We made our first trip into South Vietnam; it was the first for everyone but Capt. Shoupe, who had come to Pope after a year flying C-123s out of Saigon. On July 4, 1965 we left to return to Pope. When we got back, the crew went on leave then came back to Pope expecting to go on rotation to the Congo. However, the White House decided to terminate the Congo mission so we only went over to pick up cargo and personnel and return them to the United States. Right after that, the 779th deployed to Mactan, a tiny island in the south central Philippines just off of Cebu. This time, we got our fill of flying in Vietnam. We also spent two weeks in Bangkok flying around Thailand. We were on a mission into Dong Ha, an airstrip on the demilitarized zone that separated Vietnam into two countries, when I took the above picture. Although we didn’t know it, we were hit by ground fire that day. I found a bullet hole in our left flap when we got on the ground at Mactan. Some of our missions were taking troops into South Vietnam. One mission took the Korean Tiger Brigade from Seoul to Qui Nhon. We were “Chalk One,” meaning we were the lead airplane. The Korean general rode on our airplane, along with his staff, which included his private nurse. Another mission was a week at Vung Tau shuttling Australian troops who had just arrive by ship to their new base near Bien Hoa. We set a record for the most cargo ever carried by a C-130 in a single day during that move. It was something like 350,000 pounds. We flew 24 sorties that day, with most of them only ten minutes in the air. One more would have qualified us for an Air Medal. (I was told by the officer in charge of the operation that I was being put in for a Bronze Star for that week’s work but if I was, I never got it.)

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Tent City

When I got back to Pope after the leave we took after our Mactan tour, I got a shock when I walked into the barracks and the clerk, Willy Singletary, told me that orders had come in for me. I was going to Naha, Okinawa. I had escaped a mass relocation when the 776th left Pope for the Far East on a permanent assignment. Some of my buddies went but I was held back to go into a new mission involving special C-130s. Somebody in TAC personnel thought otherwise and when a sudden need for loadmasters developed at Naha, I was picked for one of two loadmasters from Pope. The other was John Kilcher, who was in 3rd Aerial Port. We were supposed to leave immediately but I had to take a flight evaluation check flight first. Personnel told me to go home and wait. Overseas assignees were supposed to have a 30-day leave but when I left Pope, it was with the expectation of only being at home a few days. However, the travel office at Pope had a hard time getting a seat for me on a MAC flight out of Travis AFB, California due to the volume of personnel traveling to Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the Pacific. I finally went over on a commercial flight out of Seattle, along with a whole passel of loadmasters who, like me, got special orders and were supposed to be high priority. When I got to Naha and reported to my new squadron, the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron, I learned that the reason for my sudden transfer was because the four Naha squadrons were heavily involved in classified missions that required more than one loadmaster. One mission, dropping flares over North Vietnam and Laos, required three additional personnel.  Maintenance personnel had been supplementing the crew as flare kickers but someone in a higher headquarters feared that an airplane might be lost and the loss of men who were not supposed to be flying would cause problems.

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PSP ramp at Cam Ranh

At Pope I had been flying brand new C-130Es. The 6315th Operations Group at Naha  flew C-130As. The A-models were the original C-130s and some of those on the Naha ramp were already ten years old. While there was no difference in operations, the A-models had different systems and were lacking in amenities such as underfloor heat, which meant they got really cold at altitude, especially in the cargo compartment. They were also extremely noisy. When I go to Naha, only a handful of airplanes had yet been painted in camouflage colors. Most were still unpainted, except for a few that had gray anticorrosion paint. After a trip to Cam Ranh Bay to shuttle ammunition into Tuy Hoa and Ban Me Thut in support of some operation, I flew a couple of leaflet missions, one over North Vietnam and another off of North Korea, a trip to Gifu, Japan to take an airplane for paint and pick up another – with some of those “this never happened” missions in between – I went to Ubon, Thailand for the flare mission. The mission had originally operated out of Da Nang but had moved to Thailand shortly after I got to Naha. It was an interesting and potentially dangerous mission. We were shot at it every night, at least we could see it. We were shot at all the time in South Vietnam too, but that was with small arms. The folks in North Vietnam had big stuff although most of what we saw was 37-MM. http://www.sammcgowan.com/flareships.htm

While I was at Ubon, we got word that the 6315th and the 815th TCS at Tachikawa, Japan had started rotating to Cam Ranh. I wasn’t happy to hear the news. I’d been to Cam Ranh, once while TDY to Mactan when the sand dunes were so high you couldn’t see anything but the aluminum runway, and then the two weeks there right after I arrived at Naha. For one thing, Cam Ranh was restricted in that personnel were not allowed too leave the base. There wasn’t anything there anyway, no towns, no bars, no whore houses like there were in Saigon and places like Vung Tau and Nha Trang. It was basically just one big pile of sand. For the next year, most of my time was split between Cam Ranh and Bangkok, where the 6315th had  picked up the Bangkok Shuttle, with a few days at Naha in between (usually very few, not more than three.) Our flying was either scheduled passenger runs or flying cargo from Cam Ranh or Da Nang – sometimes from Saigon or Bien Hoa – into forward airfields where the Army and Marines had established bases. Dong Ha was a frequent destination. Nearly all of the airfields had paved runways;  some were old French or even Japanese airfields and some had been built by Army engineers using pierced aluminum planking or the old Marsden Matting from World War II. There were experiments with “membrane,” which was some kind of  rubberized material that was sprayed over dirt to keep down the dust. I don’t recall going into very many, if any, dirt runways during my Naha tour. A few weeks after I got to Naha, a crew from the 41st suffered a malfunction while landing on the old French airfield at Tuy Hoa and ran off the end of the runway into a ditch. Another C-130A that had been modified to carry drones had a similar malfunction while landing at Bien Hoa and as a result, all C-130As were restricted to paved runways with a combined landing distance – including overruns – of 4,000 feet.

Cam Ranh Sunrise

Cam  Ranh Sunrise

Although Viet Cong took potshots at us every time we flew, our flying was generally “routine,” although routine in Vietnam was a lot different than routine flying anywhere else. We carried a lot of body bags, so many that eventually most people got used to it. Once in awhile, a Viet Cong gunner would get lucky and hit an airplane. One of our crew was hit and a passenger was killed. I had a Marine died on my airplane after we picked him and a couple of dozen others up at Dong Ha one night when we were sent in there on an emergency air evacuation mission. The poor guy was the reason for the mission, him and that the airfield was under attack and the local field hospital was over capacity. We were shot at by AK-47s going in and going back out, but weren’t hit. The Marine died about halfway between Vung Tau and our destination at Da Nang. When we got back to Cam Ranh at daybreak, there was so much blood and gore on the airplane floor that I had to wash it out with a firehouse. The crew chief stuck his head in the door then turned around and started puking. The fire department guys took one look and handed the hose to me. I washed the blood and water run off the back of the ramp. One night we landed at Tan Son Nhut and when the aerial port people came out to meet me, they asked if we knew we were being shot at on the way in. I said no, and they said they had watched us come in and that there were tracers following us all the way to the airfield boundary.

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Ubon, Spring 1966

My enlistment was due to end while I was at Naha so I agreed to extend for six months so I’d get an assignment when my tour ended. Then I decided to reenlist. I reenlisted at Cam Ranh while I was there on duty loadmaster duty. It was a good thing I did because my place of enlistment for my second tour is shown as being in South Vietnam, which saved me a lot of hassle when I applied for a VA disability due to diabetes caused by exposure to herbicides (Agent Orange). My assignment came  in. I was going to Robins AFB, Georgia which came as a surprise to me because I didn’t know there were any airplanes there that used loadmasters. It turned out there was a former Logistics Command squadron there which operated C-124s, but I soon learned that it was converting to C-141s. I left Naha thinking my C-130 days over. I was wrong.

After leave at home in Tennessee, I reported to my squadron at Robins in early September. When I walked up to the door, another loadmaster dressed in fatigues met me there. We recognized each other instantly. It was Stony Burk, who had ridden with me to France over two years before. Stony was stationed in France and had been home on leave. He’d married a French girl and stayed in France then moved to Mildenhall, England. He’d just returned to the States. Almost a year later to the day, Stony and I got orders back to C-130s, only this time to Clark Field, in the Philippines. We were supposed to be at Sewart in two weeks to start C-130 training but MAC got a waiver for the two of us because we had previous C-130 experience. We remained at Robins until November. I left the night before Thanksgiving to go on leave prior to attending survival school in Spokane, Washington right after the first of the year. Stony and I decided to drive out together. We ended up on the same airplane to Clark and when we reported to the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing, we found out that we were going to the 29th Tactical Airlift Squadron, which was commonly known as F Troop.

The Air Force had re-designated all of its troop carrier units as “tactical airlift” just as I was leaving Naha. The 29th had formerly been at Forbes AFB, Kansas where a SAC B-47 wing was shut down and it’s personnel transitioned into C-130s. The 29th was one of eight TAC C-130 squadrons that transferred to 315th Air Division in the Far East in late 1965 and early 1966 and was the least experienced. The squadron had so  many accidents and incidents that it came to be known as F Troop after the TV series that was popular at the time. As I was getting on the airplane in Memphis on my way to Clark, I had a premonition I wouldn’t be coming back. When Stony and I found out we were going to F Troop, I was convinced. At it turned out, the 29th was the best assignment of my USAF career.

Since we hadn’t gone to Sewart, Stony and I arrived at Clark unqualified because we’d been out of C-130s for over a year. A special training program was set up for us, which meant we spent two weeks at the local field training detachment bullshitting then took a check ride. The first thing we did was fly a training mission a few days after we got there. When I walked into the cargo compartment of that C-130B, I felt that I had come home.

During the 18 months since I left Naha, a lot had changed in Vietnam, particularly with the C-130 force. A year before I got to Clark, all hell broke loose when communist troops attacked Khe Sanh then launched their Tet Offensive. The war rapidly escalated and was reaching its peak just as I got back in it. I found that I had suddenly become a hot commodity. A lot of new loadmasters were arriving at Clark but I was the only one with previous 315th Air Division experience except for some who had been TDY from TAC during the Tet Offensive. I had over two years experience in SEA under my belt. Consequently, the squadron lost no time in not only checking me out, but upgrading me to instructor. A few days after I got to Clark, I went in-country with a crew whose AC was TDY to 834th Air Division as an airlift mission commander. The engineer was Chick Anderson, with whom I would become very close. Chick told me that the 463rd was starting a new mission dropping 10,000 pound bombs. That crew had flown the test drops several months before.

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Freddie Banks working on flat tires

The first crew I was assigned to had a real lulu for an AC. I want mention his name but he was the worst aircraft commander I ever flew with, at least in C-130s. One day he screwed up big time when he ignored the engineer’s advice and took an airplane with a low tire into a dirt strip at a Marine base in I Corps. We blew two main gear tires and a Marine colonel ended my AC’s flying career. Another AC was sent in to finish the shuttle and when I got back to Clark, I learned that I was going right back in country to check out on the bomb mission, which was known as COMMANDO VAULT http://www.sammcgowan.com/bomber.html

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Dropping bombs was interesting, if not downright fun. I had visualized turning the C-130 into bomber right after I started flying at Pope when I was on a local and had nothing to do but sit in the cargo compartment and daydream. Now I was actually dropping bombs and they were big ones. I still flew cargo missions and an occasional passenger missions but bomb dropping was what I did most.

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I finally had a good crew with a great AC. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to last. Through a comedy of errors in which I wasn’t involved due to having gone in country early to replace another loadmaster, my crew were busted back to student status and I was without a crew. That’s when I got on Howie’s crew. https://tennesseeflyboy.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/howi-the/

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Bu Dop

My eighteen months at Clark turned out to be some of the best  days of my life, At Naha, I had been gone from home most of the time but at Clark we got more time at home, in part because we had formed crews that flew together nearly all of the time. Because we were a highly qualified crew and a bomb crew, most of our missions were into forward fields along the Cambodian border. After I’d been at Clark for a little over a year, I was asked to extend and go to Stan/Eval. I did but then PACAF disapproved the extension because they said I was too close to my date of my return home to extend. I was told that the wing could pull some strings because of my experience and qualifications but then my orders came in and they were to Charleston, SC which had been my first choice on my dream sheet. This time when I left Clark, I was leaving the C-130  forever. It had been a great time.

To read more about my flying experiences – http://www.sammcgowan.com/haulingtrash.html

To read more about the C-130 – http://www.sammcgowan.com/trashhaulers.html

A Waste of Time

Tonight is the first of what will undoubtedly be dozens of political debates between now and the November 2016 presidential elections. I will not be watching; debates are a major waste of time.

The role of the President of the United States is not to debate, it is to govern. Yes, there is debating in the Congress but that’s where it belongs, not on TV screens where people who don’t have a clue about the real qualifications of the candidates to govern can watch and think they are seeing how capable the person is to perform the Constitutional duties of the chief executive officer of the US government. Debating was not a part of the presidential election process until the 1970s when the television networks saw them as an avenue to attract viewers. The first presidential debate was between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in 1960 but there were no more debates until 1976 when Jimmy Carter debated President Gerald Ford. There had been debates before, but they were not presidential debates with the exception of the 1958 Democratic candidate debate between Adlai Stephenson and Senator Estes Kefauver.

It is commonly known that Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence and is considered one of the Founding Fathers, was no debater. In fact, he was so bad at debating that he gave up the practice of law and became a politician. Even after he was elected to the Continental Congress, he generally kept his mouth shut. His opinions became well known, but only because he was gifted at expressing himself in writing. Jefferson was elected as the third president of the United States and founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which was known as the Republican Party, but he expressed his opinions through pamphlets and in the newspapers of the day. Even after he was elected president, Jefferson made very few public speeches.

The problem with debating is that it gives a false picture of a candidate’s true abilities. Debating is arguing, which may be appropriate in a court room and in a state house, but it has little to do with actual governing and executing, which is what the chief executive is actually supposed to do once he or she takes office. Remember that debating is considered to be essentially a sport, and high schools and colleges have debating teams who participate in contests with other schools. The debater doesn’t even have to know his or her subject; they just have to be able argue their point in such a manner as to “defeat” their opponent. The observer may not even be aware of their knowledge or lack of it; all they see is the candidate’s ability to present themselves, not their position. A more effective means of determining a candidate’s abilities is by scrutinizing their record in government, and I’m not referring to how a member of Congress voted because legislating is not governing. There’s a good reason the US government is divided into three separate but equal branches, one to make laws, one to interpret them and one to execute them. The Executive Branch neither makes or interprets legislation (other than determining how to follow it) but to carry it out. One of the reasons the Obama Administration is ineffective is because the White House basically ignores legislation and writes its own laws through presidential decree.

No doubt a lot of people will tune in to watch the Republican candidates argue but I won’t be one of them. I’m interested in ability to govern, not argue.

Malaysia 370 (I told you so!)

A piece of what is obviously a piece of an airplane wing has been discovered on Reunion, a small island in the Seychelles off the coast of Africa just east of Madagascar some 2,900 nautical miles southwest of the point where the airplane was seen to make a turn and radar contact was lost. At the time, I looked at the information available and determined that if the airplane continued on the course it was on when last picked up by radar, it would go down somewhere in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar. Now that a piece of obvious airplane wreckage was discovered in the surf off Reunion, it appears that my theory is correct. A suitcase was also found in the same vicinity a few days earlier.

Let’s look at the situation again. The Boeing 777 had taken off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. It was over the Gulf of Thailand when it was turned over to Vietnam air traffic control. At the time, it was in a dead zone and the crew was given a point at which to make the contact, which they never made. The radar transponder disappeared from the radar controller’s screen, which is normal because the range of the transponder is only a couple of hundred miles at most. Air traffic control radar only has a range of about the same distance. (I made several trips from Houston to Mexico and Central America. We would lose radar contact shortly after leaving the Texas Gulf Coastline and were required to report our position until we were picked up by Mexican radar. There was also about 100 miles or so when we were not in VHF radio  contact.) Military radar picked up a contact at about the same place where the airplane was last seen and its track was shown to be somewhat in the opposite direction. The military radar was painting the airplane’s skin and other metal components that reflect radar waves. When the object disappeared from the military radar, it was still on the same heading, a heading that would take it over the Indian Ocean toward the African coast. A plot would put the track north of the Seychelles, but not by much.

The radar track never showed the airplane turning to the south. The turn to the south was a theory put forth after the British company that made the airplane’s satellite communications telephone claimed that their satellites had been “pinged” by the airplane’s equipment. The airplane was supposedly equipped to transmit hourly engine information but there was some question as to whether the airline subscribed to the service. The company “plotted” a course based on the signals it’s satellites supposedly received and determined that it turned south and headed over the South Indian Ocean past Australia. Although the authorities bought the theory, not every was convinced.

That the airplane made a turn back toward Malaysia is consistent with some kind of mechanical problem, probably electrical that caused the communications and navigation systems to fail. It is probable that there was also an explosive loss of pressurization and the pilots may have initiated  a descent although there is no way to know since they were not observed by radar. The military track was very faint and had no azimuth. (As   I understand it, the track was discovered several days after the incident and was not observed at the time.) A 777 once experienced a sudden cockpit fire on the copilots side that burned through the side of the airplane in an instant. Fortunately, it happened on the ground. Had this happened inflight, the airplane would have lost pressure immediately, which would have incapacitated the crew before they could get on oxygen and caused an electrical failure. The engines would have continued to run as long as they were getting fuel. (Electrical power is only required to start a jet engine – once the fuel in the burner cans ignites, it keeps burning.) Depending on where the fire was and which electrical systems were affected, the airplane could have still had power which would have perhaps kept the autopilot functioning. There have been instances where airplanes lost pressurization and everyone on board lost consciousness but the airplane flew until it ran out of fuel.

The current media reports are claiming that the wreckage followed ocean currents and ended up in the Seychelles from somewhere off of Australia but I find this doubtful since it often takes years for debris to cross an ocean, not to  mention that debris in the South Indian Ocean usually goes south rather than northwestward. Don’t be  surprised if more debris shows up in the Seychelles, on Madagascar and the African coast.

Sandra Bland and Race in General

The controversy over the death of a young woman named Sandra Bland in the Waller County, Texas jail concerns me greatly. You see, Waller County and the town of Hempstead is only about an hour’s drive from our home. My wife was living off of Texas 290 a few miles southeast of there when we met. She enjoyed the drive to Hempstead and after we met, she took me out there to visit an open-air market. We’ve been there a number of times since then. Hempstead is a typical small Southern town with a diverse residency. Just east of town, which lies just under 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston, is Prairie View A&M University, a historically black school that is part of the Texas A&M system. Sandra Bland, a Chicago-area native, graduated from Prairie View in 2009. She returned to Texas in July of this year to interview for a job with a connection to the school. On the afternoon of July 10 she was pulled over by Texas State Trooper Brian T. Encinia for failing to signal a lane change. The complete dashcam video of the incident is available and it shows beyond a doubt that Ms. Bland failed to signal. It also shows that she failed to stop at a stop sign when she was pulling onto the road where she was pulled over. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaW09Ymr2BA Trooper Encinia pulled her over with, as he stated, the intention of giving her a warning. He was courteous and attentive, and noticed that Ms. Bland seemed to be agitated. When he went back to her car to give her the warning, Ms. Bland became visibly upset and started berating the trooper after he told her to put out a cigarette. She mouthed off and he told her she was under arrest and to get out of the car, but she refused. He opened the door and threatened to pull her out then pulled out his taser and told her he was going to “light you up” at which point she got out of the car. He directed her to the side of the road where he apparently attempted to handcuff her. Ms. Bland fought him until another officer, a black female, arrived and helped Trooper Encinia subdue her. She was then transported to the Waller County jail in Hempstead where she was booked for assaulting an officer of the law and went before a judge who set bail at $5,000. The following Monday morning she was discovered dead in her cell, after strangling herself using a plastic trash can liner. Two woman in the cell next to her said that she seemed despondent and they heard no struggle or anything from Bland’s cell to indicate  that anyone was trying to harm her. They said that she was very emotional and was An autopsy performed by the Harris County pathologist found that the marks on her neck were consistent with a suicide.

Now, there were no racial overtones in this case – until black activists and members of the media invented them. The facts of the case are out there. Granted, the officer became upset when she verbally assaulted him, which is normal. However, the arrest is not the issue. The issue is that black activists and members of her family, including an attorney they hired, claimed that her death was not a suicide but that someone murdered her. There were claims that Waller County is “the most racist county in Texas” and other such proclamations by people who have never set foot in the place and by certain black agitators, particularly one Quanell X, a Black Muslim who misses no opportunity to get before the television cameras. http://www.houstonpress.com/news/would-you-buy-a-revolution-from-this-man-6574627 In short order, a tragedy became a national issue as members of the black press and others ranted about how Ms. Bland had not committed suicide and the real cause of her death was being covered up.

Actually, it is not surprising that certain people decided to make Sandra Bland’s suicide a racial issue. After all, that is what they do. It started with the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, when he was shot by a mixed-race neighbor of his father, whom he was visiting, after he apparently attacked the man and somehow knocked him to the ground. Witnesses told police that Martin was on top of George Zimmerman when he was shot. Local authorities determined that there was no reason to charge Zimmerman in a case that witnesses said was self-defense. However, the family hired a lawyer and began a national campaign to have Zimmerman arrested, tried and convicted. The Florida governor got into the act an appointed a politically ambitious district attorney from out of the area as a special prosecutor. Instead or presenting evidence to a grand jury, she decided she would indict Zimmerman herself. The case went to trial and the jury found that the evidence indicated that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense. Martin’s family and their lawyer caused millions to be spent on an investigation and trial and ruined Zimmerman’s life. Then there was the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, who was found to have been high on pot at the time, attacked a young police officer who shot and killed him. A grand jury and the FBI investigated the case and found that there was no evidence to indict the police officer, although he resigned from the Ferguson police department and left the area. Then there was the case in Baltimore where a young black man was arrested and died in a police transport (driven by a black officer.) There were also a couple of cases in New York where black men died in altercations with police. (Actually, black men die in altercations with police practically every day but only a handful of the cases attract national attention.)

Believe it or not, race has become an industry. Dozens of black journalists and media figures devote their full energies to racial issues – and little else. Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was started by white political progressives in the Northeast, and the Southern Poverty Law Center exist solely for the perpetration of issues pertaining to race as does the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the B’Nai B’rith and the Jewish Defense League. Take away race and these organization’s reason for existence vanishes, thus it is in their best interests to keep racial issues alive, even if they have to invent them. Each of these organizations takes in millions of dollars each year in dues, grants and donations. The NAACP collects close to $9 million  a year in dues from its members, not to mention the millions it generates through donations. It’s no wonder that they seek to keep the issue of race alive.

When it comes to blacks, there has been a concerted effort since early in the Twentieth Century to convince young blacks people that all of their problems are caused by whites. The Nation of Islam, which was founded by a mysterious white man who was last heard from in 1934, teaches that the human race was originally black until an evil scientist started breeding out the blackness and created a race of whites, an evil race. People such as Quanell X teach this to impressionable young blacks in urban areas such as Chicago, Detroit and Houston. http://www.houstonpress.com/news/would-you-buy-a-revolution-from-this-man-6574627  They hold that whites brought blacks to America as slaves without acknowledging that the people who went out into the African interior and captured the tribesmen who were then sold to masters of slave ships were themselves African. To do so would take away from their philosophy of blaming whites for everything. The story of the Atlantic slave trade glosses over the fact that it was Hispanics who started it, Spaniards and Portuguese who needed laborers for their sugar plantations in the Caribbean and South America. Black activists – and many whites in the North – blame slavery on the Southern cotton planters, whose dependence on slavery was confined to a period of roughly half a century after the cotton gin was invented and a market for American cotton developed both in England and New England. They also conveniently leave out that slavery was legal in all of the northern states except Rhode Island and that slave owners in the North took their slaves to the South and sold them when their states abolished slavery. They act as if modern Americans, or our immediate ancestors at least, owned slaves when in fact slavery was abolished 150 years or almost four generations ago. Not a single white (or black) person has owned another person in America since 1865.The slave-owning ancestors of the oldest Americans living today would  be great-great grandparents. Incidentally, some of those slave-owning ancestors had African blood, and not all of it was due to masters having children with slave women. Many blacks, particularly in Louisiana and South Carolina, owned slaves. Some of them owned large numbers of slaves.

There is only one way to do away with racial issues and that is to forget about race. So what that Africans were brought to America as slaves? Tens of thousands of Africans died of disease and in tribal wars during that same period. In fact, the descendants of those slaves are better off in most respects than modern Africans. There’s a good reason that so many Africans today seek new lives elsewhere, particularly in Europe. Africa is still plagued by disease such as AIDS and Ebola while war between rival warlords and political factions is constant. Slavery is still practiced in Africa and in coastal Africa, piracy is rampant. South Africa has the highest murder rate in the world. As far as American negroes are concerned – their only connection to Africa is that some of their ancestors were brought to America, or came voluntarily, some 400 years ago – they need to stop thinking of themselves as African-Americans but as Americans. Booker T. Washington believed that the only way negroes could become productive citizens was through education and that integration should be gradual to avoid problems with whites. He was opposed by W.E.B. Du Bois, who believed in political power. While Washington was from the South and had been born into slavery, Dubois was from Massachusetts and wasn’t born until 1868. Dubois eventually became a socialist and flirted with communism. Du Bois and other black and white political progressives advocated activism as the vehicle for blacks to attain social equality.  Du Bois eventually prevailed and the NAACP, of which he was a founder, became the primary “voice” for American blacks. Perhaps its time for blacks to return to Booker T. Washington’s philosophy.

According to her mother, Sandra Bland came to Texas with a mission – to stop social injustice in the South. If she truly believed she was on a mission, she must have been confounded when she found herself spending a weekend in jail for an altercation that started because she failed to signal a lane change. (So far, no attention has been paid to her having failed to stop when she pulled out from a side road.) If she believed such a thing, and there is evidence that she did, she may have had a martyr complex. She apparently ranted on social media about injustice, particularly on the part of police against blacks. It turns out that she had a history with police in both her home state of Illinois and Texas, including having pled guilty to drug charges in Texas. At the time of her death, she owed over $7,500 in fines in Illinois – http://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations/Suburban-Woman-Found-Dead-in-Jail-Had-Previous-Encounters-With-Police-316025661.html In short, Ms. Bland was not the model citizen her fans have tried to paint her to be.

The most disturbing aspect of the Bland case is that so many were so quick to rush to judgment. Thanks to social media, a movement quickly began to protest her “murder” by “the racists of Waller County.” Never mind that the mayor of Hempstead, where she was held in jail, is black as are at least two members of the city council. Hempstead elected its first black mayor in 1984. One of Waller County’s justices of the peace is a black woman. Yet article after article talked about the “racism” in the county, pointing to how the Waller County sheriff was fired from his job as chief of police “for racism” when in fact the conflict was due to his having used profanity during an arrest which led to a court case back in 2007. One article claims that Waller County was once predominantly black but no mention of this is made in the Handbook of Texas or the Hempstead history. The implication that Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death was all due to racism without offering one shred of proof. I saw Quanell X ranting about how “blacks of Waller County are treated” this week on TV. Actually, Quanell X is from Houston and his pronouncements are just that, pronouncements. Yes, there is a high incident of traffic stops involving blacks but this is due to the large number of black college students at Prairie View.

Yes, the death of Sandra Bland is sad, but in many respects its even sadder at the way her death has been depicted by those who are using it for their own agenda.

Not all blacks are buying the propaganda being put out about how Bland was a victim – http://thyblackman.com/2015/07/24/the-black-womans-mouth-and-sandra-bland/

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.

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.

Tractor

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)