BAD DAY AT KOON NI
VMA-211 were dubbed "the Wake Island Avengers" for their heroic aerial action in the retaking of Wake Island from the Japanese during World War Two. The squadron colors were candy stripes of red and white while their patch was a Red Lion attacking Wake Island. The squadron deployed intact from NAAS Edenton, NC to MCAS Iwakuni, Southern Honshu, Japan in October 1958 for an unaccompanied fifteen month tour of duty with the Western Pacific Fleet Marine Force. Iwakuni is about 40 miles west of Hiroshima.
Southern Honshu was primitive compared to the United States. The culture and living conditions required some getting used to by new arrivals. I recall we left the transport aircraft and walked out of the terminal at our new base. One officer walked out to the street, looked to the left, and stepped off the curb WHAM! only to be run over by a skoshi cab that was coming from his right on the left side of the street. The Marine suffered a broken leg his first hour in Japan because he was not used to cars driving on the left side of the street. Sewers were non-existent. Human defecation was used for fertilizing the gardens, fields and rice paddies of the Japanese people. Consequently, the smell of human waste was in the air all the time. Dysentery was a common malady among the American Marines and Navy support personnel. The air, water, vegetables and food were polluted with the fecal matter used for fertilizer. Illness also came from breathing blowing dust and from other bodily contact with human waste. Benjo ditches, Benjo buckets, Benjo dippers, etc.
Our Squadron was assigned to the Cold War nuclear defense of the United States and our Allies. This role required our pilots to maintain operational readiness in nuclear weapons delivery at all times. Training flights were continuously flown to practice targets in Japan, Korea and Okinawa. Target times were scheduled months in advance by Navy, Air Force and Marine squadrons with a nuclear delivery commitment. The Douglas A4A Skyhawk Was a recent addition to Marine Aviation. The aircraft was small. A six foot, 190 pound pilot, filled the cockpit. There was nothing to accommodate urine, an up-chuck or fecal waste. The canopy was not designed to be opened in normal flight conditions. The bombing ranges were on average about 25 minutes flight time away from Iwakuni. Divert airfields had no ladders or the special starting probe for the Skyhawk.
The Koon Ni Range, 40 miles southwest of Seoul, South Korea was one of our primary practice targets. Koon Ni Range consisted of a 24-square kilometer area which served for both nuclear and conventional bombing and firing practice. Denny Bowen aka, Charlie Brown, recalls, " I remember practicing over the shoulder maneuvers in A4s at Koon Ni, in 1960. It was a pile of mud with an "X" marking the bullseye, and bomb scavengers on the range were plentiful. We used a 500 knot, 100 foot run in and pulled up directly over the bull. At the same time the scavengers would run like hell to the spot they thought the Mk 76 bomb would hit, and when it arrived, dug it out of the ground. The puff of smoke was generally surrounded by folks who didn't complain about jet noise."
It was in the winter of 1959 when I was loft bombing [LABS] in an A4A at Koon Ni, South Korea that an unforgettable calamity occurred. When I was pulling four G's about half way through my Half Cuban Eight loft maneuver, I was beset with a knuckle whitening stomach cramp. It was not unlike the kind that sometimes follows a hard night of eating a jar of jalapeno peppers [double-edged razor blades]. I recognized the cramp as an ominous precursor to the painful explosive ejection of a high octane mixture of gas, bullets, napalm and crushed glass from my rectal orifice. I radioed my wingman, "Mofak Two, lead is aborting this run and departing for Home Plate. Get in trail and keep me in sight. I have an emergency in the cockpit. We will be balls to the wall all the way back to Iwakuni!" "Note-a special probe was required to start the A-4 jets. No Air Force bases had the A-4 probes."
While climbing to about 20M , I headed directly southeast for the straits. Excruciating, cramping contractions were coming about every 5 minutes. Indicating only making about .78 mach, I shifted to Manual fuel and with the throttle full forward got another 3 percent engine RPM. It seemed the knots in my belly were passing faster than the knots on my airspeed indicator. I reached .85 mach. Passing abeam of Pusan, the violent contractions were down to about every 60 seconds. I began to realize I might not make it. I tried an in route let down and got the speed up to .98 INM. I went feet wet--not from defecating but from crossing the Korean coast into the straits. The horrendous tearing cramps were down to 30 seconds between attacks. My jaws were locked tight but my rectum was weakening. Seconds later, my sphincter suddenly was pulsating and I knew I was running out of time. I was still over the straits and nearly to the coast of Japan which put me about 10 minutes from Iwakuni when suddenly, my ass detonated with what felt like a kiloton blast of shooting malodorous lava. Hot surges of liquid raced up my back and around my waist and down to the G-suit thigh point. I could smell rotten fish heads through the sweaty edges of my 100 percent oxygen mask [rubber Jock Strap].
I radioed my wingman "We didn't make it." Moments later we passed over the snow covered mountains northwest of Iwakuni and had the field in sight. I wanted to land and abandon the aircraft on some back flight line far from our troops. The embarrassment was going to be much worse than the cramps and contractions I had been experiencing. What a Shit Sandwich!
The lineman was standing on the taxiway with his hands held straight up. He started pumping his arms up and down as I approached. When I was abeam of the desired spot, he dropped his right hand down telling me to hold the left brake and kept pumping his left arm as I turned left He parked my drooping, disgusted Skyhawk at the refueling pit. The PC inserted the ten foot ladder and scrambled up to insert the safety pin into the ejection seat actuator. He let out a howl, grabbed his nose and hurried back down the ladder. I gingerly stepped out of the cockpit, climbed down the ladder, said nothing and walked across the infield and taxiway directly to my hootch about a half mile away. By then, the angry plane captains were trying to figure out how to flush the cockpit and get the crappy parachute pack out.
I walked into the shower with everything on, turned the hot water full on me and and stripped off the fecal covered flying gear. Torso harness--off. Seat area full of liquid fecal matter. Boots with socks now squishing with watery poop--off. G-Suit--off. Waist and thigh area full of steaming crap. Flight suit peeled off with everything under it in one unzip, swish, jump out maneuver. Then, washed and rinsed the dripping smeared crap off my entire body. Ahhhhhh! Relief at last!
What a Crappy way to get new flight gear.
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.