Martinie, Bishop, Hood, and My Other Heroes
I know about heroes. Late in life, I realized they are practically everywhere, but, the ones I knew came from my childhood and became my colleagues, friends, and room mates. The only regret to a life near these magnificent men was the incredible incidence of crashes meant we nearly always knew who was lost.
Most of the guys that flew kept either a mental or written list of the friends that they had lost. With dread surety, we would wait for the Sword of Damocles to select another -- usually within months, someone else would go down and we would get the word. That was the worst. I likened it to a herd of caribou, losing one now and then, hoping it wasn't anyone too close. Hoping.
I have a list of names: each reminds me of a smiling face. The Greeks believed that as long as one man remembers your name, you are immortal. Well, then, these are the immortals of my life.
Our class at Naval Aircrewman Candidate School at Pensacola began with 40 eager, fit, and intelligent students. By attrition (dropouts and set-backs), only 19 diplomas were needed. Years after graduation, I stood on an airfield ramp and reviewed the class roster with one of my remaining classmates.
On our fingers, we counted off, relating the stories of each man. The nineteen trickled down, one after the other. Bishop, Hood, Hutchinson... The stories rolled on.
Crashes, awards, fights, wars, and ugly little forgotten deaths. In one hour, we had reduced the list to seven or eight. Life had gotten hard and fast and we had been spent like cartridges.
Each name triggered a face and a happy memory of our time in the sun.
NCAA swimming is the upper pinnacle for the amateurs of that sport. Outside of the Olympics, there is simply no other yardstick for excellence in competitive swimming, and we had room in our ranks for one of their best. Bishop was the most natural athlete I served with, and he was no brute. His sleek muscular body smoked by me in every single contest. I am not a good natured loser, but it was hard not to enjoy watching this guy perform.
He had gifts of balance, speed, and strength, and we all shook our heads at his abilities. In addition, he had a wicked sense of humor that the ladies loved.
After graduation from Aircrew School, Bishop and another five of us were sent for further training as Rescue Swimmers. The ease of his passage through this school made me curse -- he often finished the grueling mile-long timed swims several laps ahead of me. Cross country runs were worse: he shaved three minutes off my time in the seven-mile Fun Runs!
With a handshake, we left that school for the real world, and he went into heavy helicopters called CH-46 CHINOOKS.
My job specialty turned me a different direction, but I saw him around NAS North Island (our base) frequently.
During a passenger transfer between an Aircraft Carrier and the shore, his CH-46 went down hard and very unexpectedly. In the froth and spray of the crash, more than a dozen shocked and injured passengers and flight crew bobbed up in the churned sea.
The survivors reported that Bishop had been standing, adjusting seatbelts and doing his job, when the aircraft collided with the ocean. He was knocked unconscious, and thrown into the tail section and out of sight. Pinned in the sinking Chinook helicopter, the seas closed over the champion swimmer. We had graduated two months earlier.
My other roommate at Pensacola was a sad case from the day I met him. Charles Hood was a certified heroic tragedy.
During Aircrew School, we had a very interesting test that everyone must pass. In the film "Officer and a Gentleman", the audience gets to witness this test -- a long tube, simulating an aircraft fuselage filled with men, is dropped 15 feet into a deep pool. The tube rolls upside down and sinks in a cloud of bubbles.
Inside, students wear blackout goggles to recreate darkness and we have to obey a simple rule: allow the 'aircraft' to sink below the surface, then attempt to swim free. There is an excellent reason for this, but it would take two more pages to describe it with any clarity. Most of us considered it a ride from Disneyland.
Hood couldn't do it. Never. He was a setback to our class; an earlier class had left him behind because he failed this particular test dozens of times. The rest of us completed the testing in one day. A few runs, and the watching instructors judged us fit, and we moved on.
Hood did not. The contraption would fall, splash into the chill waters, and Hood would immediately leap out of the closest window, failing the test by not waiting for the water to drag him under.
After some period of time, months at least, he was given a certificate, but the rest of us knew....
Soon after I got into my next squadron, Hood showed up as a student on the jets I had previously served on. On his first indoctrination flight, the jet climbed to 20,000 feet over the Pacific west of San Diego, and the canopy blasted out. The resulting decompression knocked out all four of the crew, and the jet (basically unharmed) flew away, toward our base. Some nearby angel guided the Viking jet through the busy skies of San Diego, where the pilot finally regained consciousness and control.
Two hours later, the medical staff released the crew with a pat on the back, and fifteen minutes after that, I was pouring shots into Hood at the club closest to the runway. He requested, and was granted, a transfer out of jets within a month.
Sometime during that night of getting pounded drunk, I must have somehow convinced him to switch to my little killer helo. SH-2s have the worst reputation of all helicopters, but I always shrugged it off as bullshit.
To me, they were all fun, or deadly, depending on the conditions and the pilot.
I got the accident report third or fourth hand, and at first, no one knew who it was. After all, it was on the East Coast (a whole different Navy), and those guys operated on another page. I had been in H-2s for a couple of years by then, so I read the report thoroughly. I saw his name, and fought to keep my legs under me. It was Hood, and it was bad.
Most takeoffs in helicopters are vertical, but regular, runway-type takeoffs are also needed, especially if the chopper was heavily loaded.
Hood's helicopter began to roll down the runway, picking up speed and preparing to fly. At around fifty miles per, the pilot began to lift but something went very wrong. A component had been installed upside down, and when the control stick was raised, the SH-2 flipped in a heartbeat, to skip and scrap and stop, laying on its back.
The force of the crash was so minor.
The noise stopped, their ears quit ringing -- the virtually intact chopper stopped sputtering, and the pilots painfully crawled out, bruised but unharmed. Shaking it off, they waited for the Crash Crew trucks that were only moments away.
Inside the helo, Hood woke to the touch and calls of his pilot. He answered, and attempted to de-tangle himself from the hundreds of pounds of electronics that lay on him.
As the trucks rounded the cross of the two perpendicular runways, the helo inexplicably burst into a spectacular fire.
In seconds, the fire drove the pilots back and away from their pinned crewman. Another human life was gone. The smoky pall rose with his soul, announcing his loss and final transfer.
The rumor at the time was that he had used his survival knife on himself, rather than burn. I knew him better than most, and it seemed possible in the face of his terror.
My list continued to grow. Bishop and Hood, and each of the rest, taught me about life, and time.
|Newbill & Sorbey||Crete||C-1a||Crash into hillside||night 22 lost|
|Ron Lipshutz||Hawaii||P-3B||Crash into hillside||fog 13 lost|
|Miller & Cooper||near Singapore||SH-2F||Crash into sea||night 1 survivor|
|Hutchinson||Arabian Sea||A-3D||Exploded at night||Hutch sole surv; 7 lost|
|Ampong & Carlson||San Diego||SH-2F*||Crashed into sea||night 2 survivors|
|Pelz||Indian Ocean||SH-2F||Crashed into ship||3 lost|
|Bill Martinie||Indian Ocean||as above||Bill died fighting sharks|
|Jeff McKenna||Mediterranean||F-14G||Crashed at sea||2 lost|
I must add this -- in my life, I believe the finest, nicest man I have ever met was Michael Ampong. He would loan you his last dollar, and give you his shirt. He was a warm, happy person and in every respect, deserving of admiration. A Hawaiian native with a heart of gold, I miss him deeply. His helicopter, Seasnake One One, crashed into the sea alongside USS Reid.
His best friend, Boomer Boomenglag, made a desperate attempt to save him, but his seat failed, sending Ping-Pong to the ocean bottom. The pilot, CDR Carlson, also died. He was sighted by the Rescue Motor-whaleboat, but they assumed he was dead and they left him floating while they searched for LT Paul and Boomer. By the time they recovered Carlson, he had drowned. Lt Paul had his throat slit, but Boomer managed to hold the gaping cut closed until they could be rescued. Boomer lost teeth and broke his arm, and never really recovered from letting his friend die...
The rest of us that flew in the back of these helicopters wasted no time in throwing those untrustworthy seats over the side of the ship. Danny and I carried the seat from our helo right to the deck edge, and tossed it into the sea, right in front of everyone. No one said a word about us destroying Government Property.
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Last Modified: Monday March 09, 2009