Happy Hour Story
How I Learned to Play Dead Bug
at Great Cost
My wingman and I - in our trusty Marine Vought F -8 Crusaders - were clawing our way back to home base - in the klag - after another one of those highly unsuccessful night dive bombing missions - under the Blind Bat's flares somewhere around a place called Tchepone.
These missions were labeled "Special" since they were "out of country" in either Laos or Cambodia. Remember, LBJ had told the American public that there was no American action outside of Vietnam - or something like that - but these missions were highly classified missions.
We were directed to divert to either Ubon or Udorn. I never could remember the difference even when I was in Vietnam. So we got a vector, picked up by Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) and made a sterling end of the runway landing. But there was no Air Force-types near the runway to observe our superior landing skills. It must have been raining too hard.
After checking in with Wing Ops back at Da Nang, our Wing Ops Officer told us to stay where we were until morning. Danang was under another one of those semi-irregular mortar attacks. I didn't argue. It was about 0300 and I was already working on a 20-hour day. It had been a long one.
We were given directions to the Transient Pilots quarters.
In route, I heard loud noises, which only are made by genuine United States Fighter Pilots. There was a party going on somewhere and I was determined to find it. My wingman elected to hit the sack, so I continued solo. I finally found the noise in this sorta blacked out tent/building. I opened the door/flap and entered into what could only be a Fighter Pilot's Bar. Guys in sweaty flight suits, laughing loud like and drunk as hell. There were squadron patches and pictures of airplanes all around. My kinda place! I was still in full flight gear, torso harness open and carrying my navigation bag and hard hat (no bag cover.)
I sauntered over to the end of the bar. "What'll you have?" asked the bartender. I remember my exact words. "Gimme the strongest thing you've got, in a tall glass - with ice, if you've got it." By this time, the place was mostly quiet. All attention was on me. It was sorta like a John Wayne movie when the new gunfighter comes to town and walks through the swinging doors of the saloon for the first time. The bartender gave me a water glass full of mostly ice and some vodka. I put it away in a couple of gulps, reached into my bottom G suit pocket, got some MPC and tossed it on the bar. Whoops went up. I was a hero. Fighter Pilots gathered around me. I was in Fighter Pilots Heaven.
They introduced themselves, asked me about where I had been that night, what was the target, what was the weather where I had been, why I got diverted, etc ... All good questions. Then, realizing I was a Marine, they decided to introduce me to an Air Force game called "Dead Bug." I was drunk and I was among friends. Why not?
Now the game of Dead Bug doesn't have a lot of rules. It goes like this. A bunch of people are gathered around the bar, some sitting on stools. Someone yells "Dead Bug" and the last guy to fall off his stool (backwards) and on to the floor, has to buy the next round.
Well, as the night went on - they always seemed to distract me just before someone said "Dead Bug" - I was usually the last to hit the floor, but hit the floor I always did. They were hospitable and never let me pay for a drink - encouraging me to do better the next time.
My only real memory of that night, after making my order at the bar, was that of great fun among a great bunch of guys and drinking drinks that had real ice. The Air Force knows how to live. This was a 24-hour operation base, and these guys had just finished their "work day." Night Fighter Pilots. My kinda guys.
My wingman woke me the next morning with, "Captain, the Colonel just called and he wants us back at Da Nang - Pronto!" When I tried to get up, I took the pillow with me. The back of my head, or rather, the bloody back of my head had stuck to the pillow. I was still in complete flight gear, and had no idea how I got there.
For weeks after that, my wingman thoroughly enjoyed telling the troops about the Captain in the shower, in full flight gear, with his head under the water, trying to get that damned pillow off his head. For the flight back, I told my wingman to take the lead - good combat navigation training for a junior officer. I was in no condition to drive. I wasn't even safe for solo and my hard hat did not fit well, at all.
If any of you Air Force-types read this, thanks for a great night!