May 1, 2011

Lavelle and Schwalier

Your recent editorial “Justice Rejected” [March, p. 2] accurately reports that John D. Lavelle continues to be denied justice in the face of overwhelming evidence that he honorably carried out the orders of his Commander in Chief. It is disappointing to note that Senator McCain has not followed up on his promise to act quickly on the nomination for posthumous promotion, particularly when one considers that his grandfather, Admiral John S. (“Slew”) McCain, is the only other senior officer to be promoted posthumously to four-star rank after being fired from his job.

McCain had led the fast carrier task force in the Pacific Ocean Theatre through the decisive naval battles of World War II with great skill and courage. He took the blame, and was denied promotion to four stars, when Admiral Halsey ordered his forces to stay on station in the face of Typhoon Cobra which bore down on the fleet. It resulted in the loss of 800 men and 146 aircraft. In today’s parlance, Halsey was “too big to fail”; he was a national figure of great stature.

McCain died shortly after returning home after the surrender of the Japanese. A few years later, he was posthumously promoted to the four-star rank he had richly deserved. Senator McCain briefly relates the story in his book Faith of our Fathers. Mrs. Jo Lavelle (age 91) quietly awaits similar justice for her beloved spouse.

Lt. Gen. Aloysius G. Casey,

USAF (Ret.)

Redlands, Calif.

Air Force Magazine Editor in Chief Adam Hebert seemed surprised that General Lavelle and General Schwalier have not been treated fairly.

Perhaps the Navy can offer some clarity to this matter: “Even admitting for the sake of argument all of the facts alledged, … the more important consideration in these cases is, … unapologetically, protection of the established scope of Presidential power itself.”

So wrote Cmdr. Roger Scott in his June 1998 Military Law Review article (Vol. 156, p. 52) “Kimmel, Short, McVay: Case Studies in Executive Authority, Law, and Individual Rights of Military Commanders.”

A comparison of the results so far obtained for requested relief of other famous military scapegoats, Kimmel, Short, and McVay, are so far the same as for Lavelle and Schwalier: none.

Tom Kimmel

Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Matador and Mace

I read with great interest the article titled, “Victor Alert,” in the March 2011 issue of Air Force Magazine [p. 58]. Although the author did a good job describing the role that the fighter squadrons played in supporting the Victor Alert effort in Europe, there were several missile organizations that supported the Victor Alert requirement during the period of the article that were not mentioned. Rebecca Grant did not even recognize the fact that the TM-76A (MGM-13B) Mace missiles of the 38th Tactical Missile Wing carried most of the Victor targets during the period from the summer of 1961 through August 1966. (The Mace missiles were deactivated in September of 1966.) There were six launch sites with eight missiles (and later 12 missiles) each that stood Victor Alert. Compare that with two Victor Alert aircraft per fighter squadron assigned to USAFE during that period to get an idea of the portion of the Victor Alert workload carried by the 38th Tactical Missile Wing.

Maj. Robert W. O’Brien,

USAF (Ret.)

San Pedro, Calif.

The article “Victor Alert” I believe has omitted an important part of the nuclear deterrent forces in Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.

The tactical missile Matador, TM-61C, was deployed to Germany from 1954 to 1961, three missile groups strong. It was replaced by the Mace TM-76 from 1961 to 1969.

Wilmer Schimke,

New London, Wis.

Your readers might be interested to know that in early 1959, the F-101A/C became the first single-seat fighter to become operational in England as a 24-hour, day-night, all-weather Victor Alert. That was not what the Soviets wanted, for we were providing around-the-clock good/bad weather coverage in the event they were to attack NATO.

The F-101 was procured by SAC to escort the B-47, then determined not to be useful and was transferred to TAC in 1957, along with many other fighters. Thus RAF Stations Bentwaters and Woodbridge played important roles. The principal architect was Lt. Col. John Burns, who led the effort when we were at Bergstrom Air Force Base at Austin, Tex., in 1958. I was proud to play a supporting role.

Lt. Gen. Phil Gast,

USAF (Ret.)

Durham, N.C.

Thanks for recognizing those who spent time in those alert facilities, but you did not mention that senior enlisted personnel were assigned in 1968 to manage and operate Victor Alert facilities. January 1968, I was reassigned from Wurtsmith Air Force Base to RAF Weathersfield as the NCOIC of Victor Alert, along with four technical sergeants. We replaced four lieutenants and a captain because of the shortage of officer personnel due to the Vietnam conflict. I believe that I was the first NCO in USAFE to be certified as a Victor Alert duty officer (VADO). We were informed that we were the test case to see if we could perform these duties.

Our duties were to maintain the operation center on a 24-hour basis. There were only five of us, and we had to have one man on standby to open a secondary VA in the event we had to load all of our 70 F-100s in an emergency. This required me to establish a 10-hour day shift and 14-hour night shift. We had an 18-bedroom facility that was only fully used during a buildup of all aircraft, and we were required to ensure the security and feeding of all assigned personnel. Additionaly, we determined the runway to be used and weather in the target and recovery area.

We maintained coding material for the aircraft launch and the arming of the nukes and were trained to manually arm a nuke if the aircraft system failed to arm the bomb. The senior bomb commander and the VADO each were armed with a 45 mm handgun and both had the combination to their separate locks on the safe. No one person had access to the code material or to the aircraft. During an alert when we received a coded message from the command post, we placed the pilots in the aircraft cockpit, and upon a launch order, we broadcasted the launch message. Before we placed the pilots in their aircraft, they were informed of the runway to be used and the weather in the target and recovery area.

On a day-to-day basis, we preflighted all alert aircraft, and on Thursdays we ran up each aircraft. I had an aircraft maintenance NCO, but each aircraft that entered VA came with its crew chief who was required to maintain the aircraft.

When we were placed on alert, such as a NATO Tactical Evaluation, we opened a secondary VA and began to build up all available aircraft. The alert usually ran for 10 to 14 days. We placed trucks in front of our nuclear-loaded aircraft to prevent an unauthorized launch when the other aircraft were launched. Upon H hour, we broadcast the aircraft launch message that began the movement of all aircraft.

I managed the RAF Weatherfield alert facility for more than two years before being reassigned as the superintendent for wing operations. Six months later, in June 1970, RAF Weathersfield was closed and the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing (20thTFW) moved to RAF Upper Heyford to transition into F-111s. I moved with the 20th TFW and two years later became the senior enlisted advisor to the 20th Air Base group commander.

CMSgt. James Jones,

USAF (Ret.)

Schertz, Tex.

Your article on Victor Alert did not include the RB-66 or the RF-4s that stood alert with the same “be off the ground in 15 minutes” requirement. Electronic jamming of enemy radar and photo confirmation of BDA was also important to the overall mission.

Fred Mills

Sumter, S.C.

Many others also wrote to comment on Victor Alert aircraft or units that were not mentioned in the feature. The article was an overview of the mission and was not intended to be an inventory of all participants.—the editors

Forgotten Defectors

Having read with great interest your substantive article on “Spying on the MiGs,” I was disappointed in not seeing a reference to a MiG delivered to the West by a Soviet pilot in mid-1967 [March, p. 78]. The pilot in question had planned to defect to the West while stationed in Czechoslovakia. He planned on doing so in the course of one of the training/scramble exercises. However, there were two obstacles to his plan: 1) a lack of a detailed map showing areas beyond East Germany, and 2) a limited supply of fuel. Nevertheless once his unit was given the go-ahead—after many delays and false starts—he dove into some clouds, shut off all communications, and headed west. When he was about to run out of fuel, he spotted a potato field and decided that he would be worth more to the West if he could deliver his MiG, besides himself. He circled the field and landed, wheels up, after ripping through some telephone wires and just barely making it over an irrigation levee. He sat on the plane’s wing, fired his pistol into the air, and finally decided to walk out to a road he remembered seeing while circling the field. On the road, he saw an approaching old station wagon. He stopped the driver and asked him: “East or West?” “West,” replied the driver. As a USAF Reserve captain, I, and a fellow reservist, had the unique opportunity to debrief him in a safehouse across the Chesapeake Bay. He was extremely knowledgeable, cooperative, and brought his logbook with him. Many years later, [when] I was a colonel, I met him in Arlington and gave him a ride home while I headed out to Dulles. He had since married an American girl and had a family, but to his dismay, was no longer flying.

Robert W. Parr

Burlingame, Calif.

Mr. Richelson credits the SR-71 and U-2 aircraft with providing information on communist MiG fighter deployment.

In addition to the intelligence provided by the SR and U-2 programs, valuable Photint and Elint data were collected by aircraft of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (“The Eyes and Ears of SAC”). Before, during, and after the Cold War, the 55th was tasked with conducting strategic reconnaissance, on a global scale, along the periphery of Communist Bloc countries.

During these missions, RB-47, and later RC-135, crews were routinely intercepted and “escorted” by Soviet, Chicom, and North Korean fighter aircraft.

The majority of these intercepts were made by MiG fighters. The close proximity of the MiGs to the 55th mission aircraft gave the crew members ample opportunity to obtain excellent photography of the fighters and their configuration while giving the “Ravens” (electronic warfare officers) a unique chance to intercept Elint data on the various MiGs.

Maj, George V. Back,

USAF (Ret.)

Navarre, Fla.

I am reminded of the North Korean MiG-19 that landed at Suwon AB, South Korea, late one morning in early 1983. I was a young SEFE briefing up an instrument check when one of our pilots ran into the 25th Squadron ops yelling, “There’s a MiG over the field!” The whole squadron turned out with their Kodaks in time to see a MiG-19 fly under the 51st Fighter Wing DO and his wingman who were on short final for a formation landing. They broke right and left and the MiG pilot coolly pulled a nice and tight closed pattern with the ROKAF 20 mm firing away until they saw his gear, flaps, and flashing landing light. ROKAF quick-reaction APCs stopped him midfield, and we went on alert two hours later. We got to see the airplane the next day (“Is that really the landing gear indicator sticking out of the wings?”). I saw the same jet 25 years later on display at the National War Museum in Seoul.

Col. Al Allenback,

USAF (Ret.)

Montgomery, Ala.

You did not include another well-documented incident that occurred in the early 1950s.

At that time, I was on a classified Air Force mission on a Danish island out in the Baltic Sea. One day, we were surprised to see a Polish MiG fighter circling the island, with wheels down, canopy back, and wings waggling. At the same time, we noted some Iron Curtain fighters circling off to the east and some NATO fighters circing off the west.

Since we were on radio silence due to our mission, we began to think a war had started. Finally, the MiG managed to land in a pasture, relatively undamaged, and the pilot came out waving some sort of leaflet. It turned out that he was replying to the US offer of $100,000 to anyone who would defect with a MiG.

The next day, the island was crawling with intelligence personnel, and later, they came and took the MiG back to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio for testing and evaluation.

Later, the Polish pilot got his monetary reward and became a US citizen.

W. R. Kneller

Clifton, Pa.

The Poltava Debacle

Although not mentioned in John Correll’s article “The Poltava Debacle” [March, p. 64], Brig. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg accompanied Ambassador Averell Harriman and Maj. Gen. J. R. Deane to Moscow on Oct. 18, 1943. Vandenberg, General Arnold’s representative, also was unable to make any real progress with the Russians on shuttle bombing during his three-month stint in Moscow.

In 1969, when a student at the National War College, I had lunch with Ambassador Harriman at the Fort McNair officers club. We discussed, inter alia, the all-around frustration with the foot dragging of the Soviets, and I remember well his comment that the Russian experience was likely a valuable one for my father, as he obviously gained insight into the Russian psyche that was useful later during the Cold War.

Maj. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Jr.,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

Dear Chief

I was very surprised and pleased to see your article on Col. Pat Fleming—my boss, benefactor, mentor, and the person that got me into Air Force flight school [“The High-Intensity Life of Patrick Fleming,” March, p. 74].

Because of a last-minute accident, I was the only member of my 1951 West Point class entering the Air Force who did not go directly to flying school. I ended up on-the-job training in maintenance at MacDill Air Force Base, where I was picked up by Colonel Fleming’s B-47 Operational Engineering Section (OES), which had the objective of expediting the B-47 to operational readiness. At that time, Fleming reported directly to General LeMay, and wrote him a personal monthly letter—always starting with “Dear Chief”—reporting on the B-47 status. The word in our office was that Fleming had met LeMay on Okinawa near the end of the war, and when LeMay asked him what he was going to do now that the war was over, Fleming responded that he expected his flying days were over for quite a while because of all the sea and flight time he had just had—including the most carrier landings of any naval aviator at the time. When LeMay asked him if he would like to join the Air Force where flying was the main thing, Fleming said yes, and LeMay said he would help make it happen.

Fleming got me into Air Force flight school by flying me in several Air Force aircraft—he was an instructor pilot in about everything we had—and then he wrote a glowing letter to the Air Force surgeon general, that got me the waiver I needed to finally graduate from pilot training in January 1954. I was, of course, terribly, terribly sorry to hear of his early death in the first B-52 loss.

Maj. Gen. Gerry Hendricks,

USAF (Ret.)

Alexandria, Va.

BUFF Memories

Thanks for the 5th Bomb Wing photo montage [“Never-ending Stratofortress,” March, p. 46]. It was like seeing old friends after many years, and for me it’s been quite a few. I served in the Air Force from 1967 to 1970, and my first and only assignment after basic training was Travis AFB, Calif., then home to the 5th. We shared the base with the 60th MAW, and our B-52s and KC-135s took up not only space at the west end of the field, but also the three alert pads directly across from the main terminal/tower. Travis was—and still is—the entry/departure point for military travel to the Pacific and Far East theaters, and during the Vietnam War, it was an extremely busy one.

I was one of only 1,400 Air Force illustrators at that time, and based at Travis under then-Colonel Richmond. My office was in the headquarters building next to his, and seeing the BUFFs in the photos brought back memories. One of the most vivid was the day Colonel Richmond walked into my office and asked if I’d like to go with him. “Yes sir, I would,” I answered, and the two of us drove across the runway to a spot just to left of the alert pads where three of our B-52s stood constantly ready.

Atop a bluff overlooking the base, Colonel Richmond parked the car and shut off the engine. And we sat there. I finally asked, “What are we doing?” Colonel Richmond responded, “Just wait and watch. I want you to see this.”

Suddenly klaxons all over the base sounded, and we were in the beginnings of an unannounced ORI (operational readiness inspection). Alert crews streamed from their building into the three planes on the pads and started the engines, while at the same time, three KC-135s were spooling up.

Within minutes, the three B-52s were staged at the end of the runway as the three KC-135s were lining up across from them, waiting to take off.

I’ll never forget the sight nor experience again the feeling watching three fully armed BUFFs leaving the runway. When the first plane was approximately halfway down the tarmac, the second began to roll, followed by the third, once No. 2 had reached the same spot. The first bomber rose into the California sky, slowly gaining altitude. The second, once airborne, banked immediately to the left, out of the first plane’s exhaust, and the third pulled to the right—black smoke filling the sky as evidence of their leaving.

Then the same was repeated by the three KC-135s. All during this time, the noise was deafening, and the vibrations from the six aircraft literally shook the car. It was the most exciting visual experience of my career in the Air Force and one I will never forget.

Michael Lee

Hernando, Miss.

As an old BUFF driver with the 19th BW(H) at Homestead, it is important to note that back when the H still had “stingers” in the back, the gunner was situated in the main crew compartment and operated the guns remotely, unlike the A through F models.

Dick Blair

Vienna, Va.

Total Force

Every now and then I read a letter that I am convinced is either a “thought starter” or a “put on”; retired Master Sergeant Thomas’ is certainly in that category. I suggest this because anyone who reaches E-7 must certainly know better than his comments indicate [April, p. 6].

I am a retired Guardsman who managed to end up with seven stripes, three of which I earned in the regular Air Force. Does this mean I am a “half-real” veteran or just a “semi-vet”? The possibilities are endless. In this category, I find myself associated with such famous draft dodging, like-to-dress-up-in-uniform types as Jimmy Doolittle, Ted Williams, Tex Hill, Jimmy Stewart, and of course, Harry Truman. There is some sort of a problem in calling us draft dodgers and peaceniks since we no longer have a draft.

Without going into a lot of detail, it’s worth noting that Reservists and Guardsmen must meet the same technical proficiency standards as the regulars. We also have to pass the same ORI and MEI inspections. We attend the same basic training and the same tech schools and must pass the same tests for AFSC upgrades. The only difference is that we draft dodgers and peaceniks do it on weekends and on our own time. I don’t know the statistics, but an awful lot of those I served with had prior active duty and often with more than one enlistment under their belt.

Among those I served with during my Air Guard time were electronic techs with associate and bachelor’s degrees in engineering—we had a 702 (admin) who was a Ph.D. candidate; we had security police who were civilian police officers or DEA agents. We had a first sergeant with a graduate degree in counseling and people in finance with accounting degrees, just to name a few. I once worked for a two star who was dean of a college and with a flight surgeon who was an outstanding civilian eye surgeon and an admin officer who was president of a bank. We had pilots who jumped from an airline cockpit into an F-16. You might be surprised at the number of enlisted folks with college degrees.

I suspect that few regular Air Force squadrons could match the experience level of the average Guard unit. So, Sergeant Thomas, if there is a stigma, it is in the eyes of those who have not bothered to learn about the whole Air Force.

SMSgt. Harold A. Fulton

USAF (Ret.)

Wooster, Ohio

I read with great interest your section of “Letters” in each magazine. It was shocking to me to read an undirected comment in your April issue.

I refer to the comment by one Drew Thomas. I take very grave exception to his comments, from start to finish. I prefer to not even mention his rank.

I completed most of my enlisted career in a four percent career field. I had received my line number for master sergeant in my twelfth year, but refused promotion and left active service to obtain my college degree.

Later, I chose to join the South Dakota Air National Guard. I took a reduction in grade, but chose to serve anyway in that capacity. Later, after going through basic training again, I accepted a commission. I served another 13 years in various Guard units, but retired from my original Guard unit. Mr. Thomas’ opinion that the negativism towards Guard and Reserve personnel was based on their lack of patriotism and dedication is way out of line, and very untrue.

To question the loyalty or integrity of Guardsmen or Reservists is outlandish, let alone in very poor taste—unworthy of any member of the service. It is also very unfortunate that Mr. Thomas continues to exclude the Guard and Reserve from his professional military, and classes them as draft dodgers and peaceniks. Such nonsense.

I guess such comments about “real veterans” isn’t really worth discussing; I have served in both services for about the same time and am every bit a veteran of both.

As for his opinion about disturbing weekends and going to camp, I can only say while he was enjoying his 30 days a year paid vacation, I was using my two weeks vacation to fill my military obligation. I also might add that my 26+ years of service earned me a retirement paid at the 15-year rate.

Lt. Col. Douglas Jones,

USAF (Ret.)

Sibley, Iowa