Refueling over SEA

The F4, like most modern fighters, required frequent refueling during combat missions.  A fully loaded Phantom II could weigh in at more than 50, 000 pounds, with about 18,000 pounds of fuel in internal and external tanks.    If the afterburner were engaged, it slurped fuel at about 1,000 pounds a minute, which meant that the gas ran out pretty quickly.   Essentially there was a 15  minute “loiter” time to engage the enemy or drop bombs.   Then it was time to return to the Tanker before you reached “BINGO” fuel and returned to the base, if you made it, on fumes only.

In a typical 4 – 6 hour mission,  the Phantom might refuel three to four times.  If it was a close air support mission, it might mean that it hung on the taker for an hour or more cycling in and out taking on gas as needed, until the Forward Air Controller, FAC, called the flight in on target.   For an air to air mission which involved a “dog fight,” after the engagement, the F4 would almost immediately  head for a tank to get gas.

Therefore,  it was essential that Fighter Jocks be able to refuel in the air and take on gas from the KC-135.  Unfortunately not all men who flew fighters could refuel.udn35

This brings me to the story of Capt Don, I won’t use his last name.  We went through training at Luke Air Force Base to learn to fly the F4.  We were crewed together, which was the common practice.  One always flew with the same pilot, that way you both learned each others’ strengths, and also weaknesses.   This was crucial for combat missions.  Capt Don did well in training showing enough proficiency that he graduated, but once in SEA he was unable to refuel on the tanker.

Flying close formation off the tanker  was a skill he could not seem to master, it was hard to say why.   To say it is is very unsettling to some, is an understatement.  It requires intense concentration in a demanding situation.

View from the back seat of tanker

View from the back seat of tanker

You are tucked in tight below the tanker, which is a huge flying gasoline bomb carrying about 83,000 pounds of JP4 when fully loaded.  Any mistake would mean disaster to the crews of both aircraft.   In addition to the close proximity of the two aircraft, there is significant turbulence coming off the tanker to contend with.

Don’s background was not in fighters, as were many of the men who flew the F4.  He had previously been a C-130 pilot.   During the early 1970s, as more and more men were lost in SEA, the Air Force moved pilots from one aircraft to another.  It was unusual for someone to move from a C-130 transport to a fighter but not unheard of, as evidenced by Don.    13th TFS patch

When we got to SEA, he and I were first assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron, but as Don’s difficulty with refueling became apparent he seemed to disappear.  I don’t know what happened to him in the end, but it was clear that there was no place in combat for someone who could not refuel.   Most likely he was sent back to the States and returned to C-130s.

Not all men were cut out to fly the F4.

Posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, American History, F-4 Phantom II, F4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, SEA, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Henry Clay Comes for Visit

Aduella Norvell

Aduella Norvell

In looking at family history, sometimes only a fleeting glimpse of a person appears that illuminates their lives.

One such story deals with Aduella Price Norvell (born May 23, 1820 -died September 1909 in Petersburg, Virginia).  Aduella was the daughter of Moses Norvell and Hannahretta West Norvell.  Aduella was one of the eight Norvell children, her brother Henry Laurence Norvell would marry Laura Jane Sevier, a descendant of Tennessee’s first governor.   The Norvell children lived privileged lives in early Nashville.  Aduella was spoiled by her father Moses who could deny his daughters nothing. She and her sisters, along with the daughters of several families on the Franklin Road gained a reputation for costly dress and their circle became known as “Silk Stocking Road.”

Their father Moses Norvell and Uncle Joseph Norvell, later a pall bearer at Andrew Jackson’s funeral, were editors of  Nashville’s leading newspapers and often hosted important visitors.

Such was the case in 1848, when the great Henry Clay of Kentucky came to the city.  Clay (1777 – 1852) was a lawyer, politician, and skilled orator who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. He served three non-consecutive terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives and was also Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829. He lost his campaigns for president in 1824, 1832 and 1844.   He was well known as the “Great Compromiser,” for his work in bring Missouri into the Union in 1820.   It brought in Maine into the union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state –thus maintaining the balance in the Senate, which had included 11 free and 11 slave states.

Aduella  was chosen to make a presentation to the great man.  She presented to him a flag in the name of the “Spinning Wheel Girls,” a group of 12 young women. Later, Clay wished to meet the girls and Aduella and her friends called upon him. While most of her friends wished for an autograph, Aduella asked for a lock of his hair. To which he replied: “Very well Miss Norvell, a very little lock of hair, for you see I haven’t much to spare.” Several years later, she met the great man in New Orleans and said that she still had the hair. Clay replied: “Well keep it, for you see I have no more to spare.”

This is the only story that survives of her life.  A small girl chosen to greet a “great man.” How often have we seen that on TV?   The small child with the over sized bouquet standing at the foot of the arrival ramp, hastily handing their precious gift to the visitor and then being swept off stage as the focus moves on.

US Senator Henry Clay

US Senator Henry Clay

Aduella married February 1, 1849 Dr. Alexander Bryant (died February 7, 1890) of Petersburg, Virginia where she lived until her death.

What of Henry Clay? He died June 29, 1852, of tuberculosis, in Washington, D.C., at the age of 75.

Clay was the first person to lie in state in the United States Capitol.

Posted in American History, Nashville History, Norvell Family History, Tennessee History, US Senator | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

My Grandfather and the Great Depression

Next to the Civil War, the Great Depression was the single most major event in American history that impacted nearly all Americans.   John Steinbeck wrote the story of the “Okies” who lost their land and were forced to move west to sustain their families, but they were only part of the story of this event.  It touched many others.  My mother’s father was one such man.

My grandfather worked the land.   Today we would call him a successful small produce farmer. He grew lettuce and onions on the rich, dark soil, called Muck Lands, of the Lake Ontario alluvial plains north of Syracuse, New York.   He told me the following story about how it all ended.

At the Muck farm about 1925.

At the Muck farm about 1925.

“In the 1920s I was making good money. The first year I had the muck farm I made about $9,000. 1 I was setting on the top of the world. I paid $7,500 for the muck farm and I borrowed the money from a fellow I used to work for. I worked for him for 7 years and the 8th year he said are you going to hire out for another year and I said, No! He looked at me bewildered and asked me why.

I said, “I’m going into business for myself.” He told me you don’t have any money and I said, No; well, he said, how can you go into business without any money. I said, I’ll run across somebody that’s got some money and I’ve got the experience. He said, I’ve got a few dollars and I said how are the chances of borrowing some? He said, OK.

So I got the money off him to pay for the place at Ingell’s crossing.  There was a muck farm there about 20 acres cleared and 52 all told. It wasn’t all muck. Some of it was upland. I did pretty well for 4 years and then everybody entered the business: lettuce, celery, spinach–all bringing in money. Of course, the more you put on the market, the lower the prices went.  At that time, it was my habit to have a $50 bill in my wallet all the time, in case I came across an opportunity.    It went along all right and I made about $2,000 a year until the Great Depression started.

When it started I felt funny and I said, this depression is going to be bad. I’m going to get out of here. This was about 1930.

One morning at 5 a.m., I came up from thefarm and started to change my clothes and Mother said, “Where are you going?”

And I said I’m going downtown. “What for,” she said, “You never go downtown in the daytime.” I said I’m going to get a job.

“You’re crazy! , there are people out of work and there are a lot of people looking for a job.”

I said, “They’re not looking for a job, they don’t want to work, I know I can find a job somewhere working and I’m going to get that job.”

In  many ways he was lucky that he was able to get a job and had steady work.  He made 33 cents an hour and worked a 12 hour day, six days a week.   He was luckier than most at a time when it was estimated that about 25 percent of the county was out of work.  He lost all his land, yet he saved his family in a difficult time.

It was not without a cost. He  remained in the factory for another 28 years.


1 In today’s money, $9000 would be about $127.000; $2000 would be about $27,000.

Posted in American History, Family History, Great Depression, New York, New York State History, Norvell Family History, NY History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Warming your car….

Alaska Christmas DayIn Alaska it was a challenge to drive in the winter.   Although snow was not a major issue in Anchorage, cold weather often was the downfall of many vehicles.

40 years ago, long before it became common in the “lower 48,” many vehicles in Alaska had engine block heaters.   We were lucky as we had a garage at our home.  Most folks on the base plugged their cars in at night so that they would start.  For the most part, it seldom got below -2o F in Anchorage where we lived.  Fairbanks was another story.

One of our remote sites was at Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks in the interior of Alaska.  In the winter, the temperature could drop below -40F and sometimes hovered near -50.   This made for many challenges to the novice Alaskan driver.

One problem, seldom encountered in the lower 48 was frozen tires.  It was not uncommon for a new Alaskan driver to get in his car, finally get it started, and literally drive off the rims as the tires were so brittle that they simply disintegrated.   We were warned about this during newcomer orientation.  Another challenge was warming the car sufficiently.

Once while sitting alert this was taken to extremes by one of the sergeants who manned our combat alert center (CAC) with more than disastrous results.

Our CAC  was located in the hangar that housed the alert F4s on the far side of the base.   Since this was an active aircraft hangar there were very large portable heater units that pumped out forced heat to warm the hangar and keep the F4s warm so that there wouldn’t be any hydraulic and oil leak problems.  These F4s were always on alert status, which meant that they had to be launched as quickly as possible to intercept Russian aircraft. Hence the necessity of having them warm and ready to go.

Our intrepid sergeant one particularly cold night decided to take one of the portable heater units and run the hose from it out into his car to warm it.

Does this sound like a bad idea?

Unbeknownst  to him the unit did not put out 80 or 90 degrees of heat, but several hundred BTU s.   He ran the hose to his VW bug, pushed it into the interior and fired the heater up.  Then he went back upstairs to the CAC while it warmed.

Does this sound like a bad idea?

After about 20 minutes he went back to the car and discovered to his dismay that he had literally melted all the plastic in the interior.

His problems were only beginning, as had misappropriated government property to warm the car and we could only imagine him explaining it to his boss, the insurance company, and of course his wife.

Nobody said that living in Alaska was easy.

Posted in 43 TFS, Air Force, Alaska, Alaskan Air Command, American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska, F4 Phantom II | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows What?

F4 CockpitNow don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against technology.

I flew F4s, the technologically most advanced aircraft in the early 1970s. So over the years, I have learned a lot about tweaking new technology.  I could run a radar, drop bombs, place a laser on target, and pretty much deal with anything that was demanded.

At home, I even could program the VCR and set the clock, set up the stereo, and hook up an HD TV.  So Windows I usually take in stride.

Windows isn’t the only change in our lives.  This actually has been a summer of dealing with new stuff.  First we bought a new car with Onstar, XM radio, many other new features, and a car fob that unlocked the doors, trunk, etc.  Now you would have thought of all these things, the car fob would be the least of the problems.  Well yes and no.   So what is there about a car fob that is tricky, well for one thing, if my wife or I leave it in a pants pocket and pressure is put just right it pops the trunk.   The first time it did that, we had just pulled out of a parking lot and I looked down at the dash and there was a message: “The Trunk is Open.”

My reaction was “What the ….”   I hadn’t opened the trunk.

So my wife got out and shut it.  That seemed to be the end of it for a while and then it happened again.

Having worked with the logic of cause and effect, something our cat can’t quite comprehend, I knew that my key was in the ignition and that since her’s was in her pocket, she must be pushing the release when she changed position.  Of course  I smugly felt it was all her doing, until one day when I came out of the house and the trunk was open.  Since she had put her keys on a hook, I must have popped it.    So now neither of us has the key in our pockets.   I am still a bit paranoid about coming out of church on Sunday and finding the trunk popped.

Which brings me to Windows 10.  Initially I had planned to stay with Windows 7, which was doing a pretty good job.

No “Blue Screens of Death,”  as Windows XP used to give me every now and then.

No problems loading software as Windows Vista often created – a prime example:  On my wife’s laptop Windows Vista would not install Windows Vista updates.   It would give us a message:  “Windows update available.”  We would tell it to install it, and then – the next time we would get the same message.  And while one might think this was for a new update, but it didn’t seem to be.  So we finally shut off automatic updates and that is the way we used the laptop for about two years.   Windows Vista operated in ignorant bliss, not updated and more or less chugging along at less than light speed.

Which brings me back to Windows 10.  I had been having problems with my mouse in Windows 7, it didn’t want to double-click anymore: both wired and WiFi mouses I tried (see I told you I dealt with technology before).

So I made the plunge.   I went for it and on July 29 downloaded and installed Windows 10.    It seemed to go well.  Then.

The first day the start menu stopped working.   Using hot keys were the only way to shut it down.  Then Windows seemed to heal itself.  I suspect that an update was installed behind my back, as a quick perusal of Google indicated other folks were having the same issue.

The second day the printers wouldn’t work.  Systems restore seemed to correct that.

The third day I found that I couldn’t save any WordPerfect files unless I ran the program as an administrator, which I didn’t want to do.  By now I decided that I had to game the system and went to the documents properties and changed them all to allow all home group members to write and save to them.  This is something that I as the administrator should have been able to do.  But Windows 10 somehow made them read only.

So now we are on the fourth day and Windows 10 and I seem to have reached a point in our “Cold War” of “Peaceful Co-Existence.”  I know in my heart, I may have won a few battles.

But somehow I have a feeling the war is not over.


I just discovered that windows media player won’t play movie files, so the battle goes on…..

Posted in American History, Norvell Family History, Technology, Windows | Tagged , | 2 Comments


FlagPOWs are heroes.

Let me repeat that in case there is any doubt: POWs are heroes .

This subject has been in the news a lot recently. I have written in the past of my association, after the Vietnam War, with several men who were taken prisoner and kept in Hanoi.

Most Americans will never experience what they went through. All aircrew members were given a small taste of it before heading off to SEA during the Vietnam War.

The training, called SERE (Survival,  Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), taught the basic survival skills of how to deal with bailing out over a wilderness area: land navigation, camouflage, communication techniques, and how to improvise needed tools and equipment. But since the U.S. was in the middle of a major air war in Vietnam, it also included a mock POW camp to prepare aircrew members for the possibility of capture.

Many of the POWs who returned have written in their memoirs about the techniques that they used to communicate and survive the long, dark days in the Hanoi Hilton. They learned them in this training.

Were these men perfect?  No many were flawed but they kept the faith.

And it is important that Americans keep faith with them now.

The men who went off to War in Vietnam did it with little or no concern for  themselves and they did it with their eyes wide open.

They knew what they were getting into, yet they did their duty.

It was a very selfless thing to do.

I can think of no better definition of a hero.


Posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, American History, F-4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Veterans, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Freeman Norvell and The Detroit Free Press

Freeman Norvell in the late 1870s.

Freeman Norvell in the late 1870s.

Although his time during the Civil War was marked by controversy, in the years after the war things seemed to settle down.  About 1866, my great-grandfather Colonel Freeman Norvell and his brother-in-law, Henry Nelson Walker assumed the ownership of the Detroit Free Press.  Freeman had been very close to his sister, Emily Virginia Norvell Walker and it can be assumed that this relationship facilitated the partnership at the Free Press.   Freeman came from an old newspaper family, several of his uncles, Joshua, Moses and Joseph, had published newspapers in Tennessee, and his father John Norvell was co-founder of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Printer’s ink, it seemed, flowed in his veins.

Things changed during the summer and fall  of 1872 when a crisis developed at the Free Press.

The paper did not support the Democratic candidate in the national election campaign.  The national Democratic party had nominated Horace Greeley.   This selection was seen by Norvell and Walker as a reversal of many long-standing Democratic policy positions.  In his outspoken editorials for the New York Tribune Greeley had supported Republican reconstruction policies, while viciously attacking the democrats.  For him to now be nominated as a democrat rubbed the Detroit publishers the wrong way.

Freeman Norvell and Walker refused to endorse Greeley. They felt this weakened long standing party and personal principles.   They along with William Quinby ran the Press, and Quinby was alarmed.  Norvell and Walker  published daily, strident attacks on Greeley.  Quinby feared the Press would lose readers if it failed to support the candidate of the national party.  This in turn would cause permanent harm to the paper.  There seemed to be a stalement with Norvell and Walker refusing to yield.    Finally, Quinby succeeded in raising  the money to buy out the interests of Norvell and Walker.

The Detroit Free Press announced their departure with the following:

“The proprietorship of the Free Press has passed into the control of those who believe It to be the duty of the democracy and of democratic organs to support the nominations made by the democratic convention in Baltimore.  Colonel Norvell voluntarily retires, rather than yield his convictions ….  The only hope of the country is the defeat of the republican party in the ensuing contest; that the convention of the democracy  having determined that Greeley and Brown should be the standard-bearers …will rescue the country from republicanism and Grantism, and bring back once more an era of honesty, purity and conservatism in public affairs.”

Grant’s adminsitration had become increasingly viewed as corrupt by his second term and it was hoped that Greeley’s win would put an end to this situation — at least in Detroit.  That did not happen for General Grant  the hero of the Civil War was easily re-elected.

It was reported that Freeman Norvell sold his interest for $25,000 which would have been  more than a half million dollars in today’s money.

Much of this money was later lost in bad iron mine investments in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but that is a story for another time.   And the Norvell family would face a major turn of events that took them from Detroit forever.

Posted in American History, Detroit Free Press, Detroit History, Family History, Michigan History, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment