These "five-minute war stories" were judged by popular acclaim to be the best of the bunch at Flight 18 luncheons beginning in 2003.
Byrd "Bird Dog" Ryland
Somewhere in England, 27 August 1943. Told they will be stood down the next day, Byrd and his crew head into town where they consume many a pint. They return to their base, loaded to the gills, and crawl into bed at 2:00 AM.
Ryland: “At four, we were rudely awakened by a little sergeant who says, ‘Ryland, max effort today—you’re flying.’”
“Well I couldn’t hit my ass with both hands. But I got up and went down and ate what I could for breakfast, went out to the aircraft and said, ‘Yup, that’s a B-17!’”
“Then I went over to the tent and laid down on a cot with an oxygen mask on me. I don’t know what happened then…I don’t even remember takin’ off…but I had a good copilot who got us airborne.”
“In our airplane, we had two things—fuse cans to urinate in and a five-gallon can to poop in. The poop can was halfway back by the waist gun position. And as we’re flyin’ along, I’m kinda soberin’ up, suckin’ in oxygen and I hear a call on the intercom…‘Waist to pilot, the tail gunner’s got his ass froze to the can!’ It’s 60 below zero up there and he unfortunately squatted too good, because he was froze. I said, ‘Piss on it, I’m pretty busy.’ He did and that thawed him out.”
“Shortly after that, I gotta pee. Now for urinating, the crew had fuse cans about this big around and this long (3- inch diameter, 7 inches long). This is nice, because you can sit there and fly and try to urinate. You got hold of this thing about as big as your little finger because it’s so cold and you’re lucky to hit this big thing out here!”
“Mine was pretty well filled up when this happened. I looked at my copilot and he shook his head no. So I figured I’d just pee in my flak helmet. I did and, sure enough, it froze solid under the harness. I smiled at my copilot and stowed it under my seat.”
“Now we’re comin’ up to the IP. We’re seeing flak and fighters, so I get my trusty flak helmet on (over his leather helmet) and tie it down. Lucky for me I had flame goggles on, because the heat of my head melted the stuff and down it came…around my goggles and over my mouth.”
“About that time we were hit by fighters and flak. The bombardier was wounded, tail gunner was wounded, waist gunner was wounded, copilot was wounded and I was wounded—right by the old jewels. I’m worried how bad I’m wounded, so I reach down in there and all I get is blood. It didn’t hurt too bad…like gettin’ kicked in the gonads…so I think I’m in pretty good shape. So we continued on flying.”
“The number three prop shaft was sheared and the prop was teetering. I had to feather number four, but it came out of feather. I’m on two engines, I got four hours to fly back and I’m bleedin’ bad.”
“When I got back on the ground, they carried me out and laid me out on the grass and I was damned glad to be there. Now the good doctor, he’s cuttin’ up through my long johns, through my khaki pants and so on and he spread ‘em open and here comes my (right) ball—bloop, bloop, bloop.”
“He threw it up in the air, caught it and said, ‘You won’t need this anymore.’ I said, ‘Okay, what else is missing?’ He said, ‘That’s all.’”
“They took me to the hospital and doped me up. I was flying again five days later. That was my fifth mission and I completed 35 more.”
Footnote 1: After returning Stateside, “Bird Dog” married and fathered two children, neither of them left-handed.
Footnote 2. "Bird Dog" Ryland took his final flight on 12 May 2004, just 15 months after relating this story.
In 1954, 2ndLt Eisaman is undergoing advanced flight training in F-86s at Nellis AFB. With the Korean War over and the Cold War still spooling up, it is the era of the UFO. Sightings of UFOs are commonplace as is fear of invasion by little green men from Mars. Indeed, young Mel has just recently read the official report of an Air Force F-84 pilot’s chilling “close encounter of the third kind.” But Mel remains skeptical; clearly, the F-84 pilot is a flake.
The scheduled four-ship formation hop is scrubbed when the instructor’s aircraft goes down prior to takeoff. As Mel recalls it, he and his fellow students are dispatched to fly independent solos. “I go up and do all the usual stuff—acro, buzz a few lake beds and try to find a train to buzz. I’m lookin’ around to see if I can figure out where I am, ‘cause I know I’ll have to find my way back to the base, when all of a sudden, my God, there’s this disk out in fronta me! It’s a flyin’ saucer!”
“That sucker’s out there in fronta me goin’ down toward the mountain peaks. Well, I tell ya, the ol’ hair stands up on the backa my neck. I get kinda seriously lookin’ at this thing and I start tryin’ to follow it. I turn a little and that sucker goes zip, zip, one way or ‘nother, and he speeds up and he slows down—exactly like that F-84 pilot had described.”
“I watch this thing and it changes direction. I mean, the g-forces it has to be able to withstand to accelerate and stop and back up and do all these things—phenomenal! Just like that F-84 pilot said.”
“So this goes on for a little while and, all of a sudden—boom!—it disappears, just like the F-84 pilot said was his experience. Well, I sit there in a turn, tryin’ to get my knees to quit knockin,’ slow my breathin’ down and so forth. Hopin’ that sucker isn’t tryin’ to get behind me, I keep comin’ around in my turn, about 360 degrees, and—boom!—there it is again! I turn towards it. Then I notice….that…I can control its movements with my stick!” (Here, the audience begins to snicker.)
“So I reach down and turn off the gunsight reticle and pipper. Now whenever we fly, we always turn the gunsight on so we don’t maneuver and damage the gimbals in the gyro. Of course you only turn on the reticle and pipper if you’re gonna use it. But it would sit in there all the time computing and so forth. What was happening was the disk of the sun was goin’ into the sight and reflecting and bein’ projected out in front of me just like the pipper would be. So all these motions I was makin’ was the computing sight tellin’ me to pull lead and do all these other things, ya know.”
“Well I breathe a big sigh of relief, I’ll tell ya. I think, wow! This is pretty good. I’ve solved the mystery of the UFO. I’ll probably be a frappin’ national hero or somethin.’ I’m about bingo fuel now, so I figure out the direction to the field and head in, all elated ‘cause I’m gonna tell this story and solve all this stuff, ya know.”
“But by the time I hit initial, I’ve changed my mind. I got to thinkin’ about standin’ in front of the squadron commander’s desk, tryin’ to explain to him that I’d seen a flyin’ saucer. Finally I decide to hell with this hero stuff, I’d better keep this to myself. So after all these years, you’re privileged today to learn the real secret of the flyin’ saucers.”
While stationed at Andrews AFB flying F-102s in early 1958, Dave was sent TDY to Richards-Gebaur AFB, MO, to provide adult leadership to newly qualified 102 pilots cycling through the base on their way east with their fighters. During his TDY stint, he often flew co-pilot on local maintenance hops in the C-123 with the Air National Guard. On one fateful weekend, he was invited to fly right seat on an entirely different kind of mission—one which would demonstrate a revolutionary new bombing tactic and rival Billy Mitchell’s legendary bombing tests of the early 1920s.
It began innocently enough when one of the C-123 pilots called to ask Dave whether he could get away for the weekend, explaining that he had to pick up two power units from Duluth MN, then deliver them to Billings MT for use during dedication ceremonies for the brand new Billings airport. As part of the festivities, the Blue Angels were set to perform. Trexler readily signed on.
“On Friday, we flew up to Duluth and picked up the power units. The next day we started west, an 800-mile flight, almost due west to Billings. We had a good breakfast Saturday morning and had to get there sometime in the afternoon.”
“So we left early—it was about a five-hour flight—and we took box lunches with us. We were over the Badlands of western North Dakota and I’d eaten the pear from one of my box lunches. This pear was pretty green, but it tasted good, so I ate it. About 30 minutes later, I had the worst stomach ache and knew I was going to have to take a crap.”
“There were only three of us—the pilot, crew chief and me. The crew chief said there was no toilet on the airplane, but said I could remove the quarts of oil we had on board from their box and use that. So I went back in the cargo compartment and took care of it. We didn’t have any paper, not even a dirty rag or anything. So I ripped off my boxer shorts, cleaned myself up and put my flying suit back on. But it was stinkier than the devil. It was awful!”
“The pilot started screaming, ‘Get rid of that, I’m getting sick up here!’”
“We were flying at five or six thousand feet, whatever VFR called for. We opened the cargo door and I put on a parachute and I’m pushing the box out with my foot, holding onto the side. Finally, I pushed it out. The crew chief was over on the other side and we were watching this thing. It was amazing, because immediately we saw the box sort of twirling very slowly and we saw the shadow on the ground and it was really fascinating. And the pilot wasn’t yelling any more.”
“The shadow and the box were getting closer and closer, and, suddenly, there appeared this tower! They were drilling oil out there and there were half a dozen or more pickup trucks around it and a bunch of guys running around down there. Suddenly the shadow and the box got together and the box hit the tower!”
“I was sort of dumbfounded it happened like that. Anyway, we sped on, landed at Billings and stayed until the show was over. Early Sunday morning, we took the power units back to Duluth and went back home.”
I thought the crude we were pumpin’ out of the ground was bad, but this stuff fallin’ from the sky—in oil boxes no less—stinks like the devil. It’s really crude!
Following the business portion of our Nov meeting, Jim Reeves, Tom Martin and Yumper Black regaled us with superb quick-hitter/no-shitter war stories. Tom Martin took home the winner’s spirits and his tale, “Snakebit Navigator,” is recapped below.
“There we were in a C-141 at oh-dark thirty, toolin’ along at cruise altitude near Iwo Jima, headed for Kadena, Okinawa in 1972. In the 141 then, the two pilots were up front and on the left side directly behind the pilot you had the navigator (one of those guys with sloped shoulders and a flat forehead). The flight engineer sat behind the copilot.”
“So I’m sittin’ there about ¾ asleep, with my seat back reclined and my feet up—just like a Navy pilot—when right behind me there erupts this blood curdling scream. I quickly learn that you cannot stand up with the seat belt fastened.”
“I look back and see that the navigator, while working at his nav table, had managed to get his dividers (those needle-sharp pointy things navigators use) snagged by the rolled up sleeve of his flight suit. He’d pulled them off the table and they’d dropped points-down and stabbed him in a very personal and sensitive spot. Eventually we get things calmed down and he’s able to stop the bleeding on his own. Good thing, as no one else offers to become involved.”
“When we get to Kadena, the navigator is worried about infection, so I take him over to the flight surgeon. He’s first seen by a two or three striper med-tech, who writes it all up.”
“About 10 minutes later the flight surgeon, a full colonel, comes staggering down the hall, laughing so hard he’s crying and literally bouncing off the walls on both sides—because the med-tech has written up the twin puncture wounds as a suspected snake bite!”
“The colonel says he’s been a flight surgeon for over 25 years and he’s never seen a crewmember bitten in that part of his anatomy by a snake at 39,000 feet!”
(Note: Tom didn’t mention whether the med-tech had offered to suck out the poison. -- Ed)
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