4:21 | Bill McCowen entered the jet age when he moved from the B-29 to the B-47, which he handled so well he became an instructor pilot for the aircraft. Shrugging off the trouble he caused when he let a 2nd Lieutenant fly in the front seat, he was among the first to regularly fly at high altitude, where he was startled by his first sight of a contrail.
Keywords : Bill McCowen Smoky Hill Hawaii B-47 Curtis LeMay pilot bombardier navigator radar Plattsburgh AFB IP instructor pilot contrail St. Elmo's Fire altitude SAC Strategic Air Command B-58 B-52 Castle AFB
He set out with a friend to enlist in the Navy, but Bill McCowen wound up in the Army Air Corps and trained on remote control gunnery for the B-29. He was sent to Italy in the waning months of World War II where he witnessed a dramatic night bombing of Naples.
Korea got real exciting real quick. It was the practice for the commander to fly with new bomber crews on their first mission. Bill McCowen's B-29 crew almost didn't survive that first mission after the Instructor Pilot nearly killed them twice. The rest of the tour was a little less stressful.
Bill McCowen participated in his third war when SAC was levied for pilots to send to Vietnam, and that's not counting the Cold War. Going from mammoth B-52's to the C-123 assault transport, and from high altitude cruising to treetop level and dirt strips, was no problem for him. He loved flying and was ready for any mission.
Bill McCowen enjoyed flying the B-52 and it was a good thing because the Chrome Dome flights for SAC during the Cold War lasted 24 hrs. He describes the strategy for attacking Moscow, including the plan for surviving after the strike. He also circled Cuba during the Missile Crisis and his description of this lends some credence to the tales of the Bermuda Triangle.
After his brief experience in World War II, Bill McCowen moved on to marriage and college. He had the flying bug, though, and was determined to be a pilot. Before long, he was back in the service and flying B-25's.
He was free. Bob Ratonyi had made it out of communist Hungary into Austria. His first stop was a refugee camp, which was overcrowded. He made it to Vienna with the help of a Catholic charity and, once there, he made straight for the American embassy. Unfortunately, the quota for refugees had been met. He had three choices, Australia, Sweden and Canada.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
After his last tour in Korea, Jim Bolan was assigned to Special Forces. No volunteering needed. Everything was highly classified and they began training with no real system in place. Different units were then combined to form the 1st Special Forces Group, based on Okinawa.
After his Vietnam tours, Jake Jacobson served in Thailand and the Philippines, among other places, with different Special Forces teams. After almost thirty years of service, he retired, but was soon in Saudi Arabia training Bedouins. He didn't care for that job. (Caution: coarse language.)
It was a lousy assignment. Jim Bolan was one of the first Special Forces officers and, after Vietnam, he wound up in a training unit with no jump slot. Prodded by his wife, he went to Washington to dust off his most valuable inside contact, who was now the Army's Chief of Staff.
Bob Stewart was more nervous going to Vietnam than he was going into space the first time. You could get maimed in combat but in space you were either A-OK or completely gone. He made two flights on the space shuttle and, along with Bruce McCandless, made the first EVA with the new MMU, the Manned Maneuvering Unit.
After the Challenger tragedy, NASA mission specialist Bob Stewart returned to the Army where they made him a general. He worked at the Strategic Defense Command, a legacy of Ronald Reagan's SDI program. At some point the Army wanted him in Washington DC, at which point he promoted himself to ski bum.
He repaired radios in the Marines, but Norman Kling was now an electrical engineer working at McDonnell Douglas. When he tried to get his Marine Reserve commander to recommend him for a commission, the answer caused him to leave the Reserve.
Bob Stewart arrived in Houston as the first active Army officer to become a space shuttle mission specialist. After a year of classes, he was given a technical task, develop the shuttle's entry flight control system. The first flight was scheduled for two years out but he had to give management some bad news.
Returning Marine Norman Kling had his eye on college when he got home from the Pacific. He entered the electrical engineering program at Washington University in his home town of St. Louis. He had a soft spot for the Corps in his heart or maybe it was his head. Either way, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve.
Lt. Geoff Farrell was sleeping in the command track when he heard it on the radio. We were at war with Iraq. His armored cavalry unit crossed from Saudi Arabia into Iraq where they were greeted by friendly children in the middle of nowhere.
Bob Stewart was walking on air. He just got a call from NASA that he was accepted as a mission specialist on the space shuttle program. He was going to be an astronaut, but first he had one more flight in his capacity as an Army test pilot.
After the battle, the men of the 2nd Armored Cavalry did humanitarian work for the Iraqi civilians, then it was time to return to Germany. For Geoff Farrell, a feeling of unreality set in on the flight home. How do you decompress from combat? At least those who fought in this war were not going to experience the humiliation that Vietnam veterans had faced.
Some of his pilot friends were recruited by the airlines but Bob Stewart had other ideas. He became a test pilot. They got the money but he had the fun. He was instrumental in bringing the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters into the Army's fleet of airships.
Jake Jacobson had been to Korea three times and then spent a year in Japan with his airborne Pathfinder unit. After that tour and a short stint at the 82nd Airborne, he transferred to Special Forces. He was made a communications chief and assigned to Okinawa.
When the cease fire was declared, American units had not yet reached Baghdad. In his command track, Geoff Farrell had the graphics on his screen to guide him right in, but it was decided we would not go. Looking back to that critical moment, he reflects on the decision.
He considered it the finest education available. Geoff Farrell went to West Point, where he soaked up all the history and knowledge available there. He was assigned to Europe, where he patrolled the German border as Soviet Communism was dying. There was a brief period of jubilation when the wall came down, then they heard about Saddam Hussein.
They had prepared for the wrong war. Geoff Farrell's armored cavalry unit was going to the desert to confront Saddam Hussein, but their vehicles and uniforms were green and all their training was for fighting in European forests. Once they got to the staging area in Saudi Arabia, they adapted well.
Thermal imaging had been around for a while and Geoff Farrell was very familiar with it. GPS, however, was new and expensive, and no one was familiar with it. Both were integral to the swift victory in Desert Storm. Before his deployment he declined a dose of an experimental drug that was supposed to protect against chemical weapons and he wonders if that drug contributed to Gulf War Syndrome.
It was a shakedown. Bob Ratonyi saw that he had to go off the trail and around the soldier collecting the money. Along with six others, he was making an attempt to escape communist Hungary after the brutal putdown of the Hungarian Uprising. He stumbled through the dark and found a group of peasants, but they were part of the operation, too. Part 4 of 4