Moose Recce and other Alaskan sports

Alaska1My wife was a big cross county skier when we lived in Alaska. Luckily Anchorage had an extensive series of trails.  So every winter, she and a friend would load the dogs — hers a Malamute, ours a Samoyed– into the car and drive to the local park where they could pick up the trails.  One day as they were skiing, the dogs suddenly took off and ran ahead of them.  As they crested the top of the hill they could see two brown figures in the distance –a mother moose and her calf.   They corralled  the dogs and quickly returned to the car.   You did not go near a mother moose and her calf.

When I arrived at Elmendorf, they gave us a briefing on this subject.   The point was that when you saw a calf there would be mostly like his mom nearby.  Then they told the story of an Air Force man who had stopped to see a calf along the road and made the mistake of leaving his WV bug to get closer.  He barely made it back into the car, which the mom demolished.

Moose were a fact of life in Alaska.  We often had them in the park behind our home.   Our back yard was fenced so we felt fairly safe as they browsed in the park and occasionally leaned over the fence and looked into our yard.  However, as soon as we could see them in the park, Niki, our Samoyed, came inside for her own protection.

Niki 1976

Niki was either fearless, or stupid, as she barked and barked at them — she also barked and barked at snowflakes coming down.   She was a beautiful, but not too bright a dog.   When we left Alaska, I was initially assigned to go to the fighter tactics school at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, so Niki went to live with a new family.   Later my assignment was changed to teach at the Air Force Academy, where Niki would have been right at home in the mountains.  She was our last dog, as with moving frequently in the Air Force it was too hard to ship pets.   udn35

Often when we flew we engaged in a sport called “Moose Recce.”  The object was to fly the F4 low  at about 1,000 feet down valleys and look for Moose.  That way when members of the flight went hunting they knew where the moose could be found.   A variation on this sport was whale recce where we flew low over the inlets in search of whales.   The best time to engage in this was when we flew two ship training missions.  Each F4 flew an extended tactical formation while looking for game. Usually this was done on the way to sit alert at one of the remote sites.  If this sounds as if it was a big game, it probably was.  Still all flying training served a purpose, even Moose Recce, which sharpened not only your stick and rudder skills, but challenged your eyes to find a small target on the ground against an often dark background.   Moose Recce was unique to Alaska and I never encountered it elsewhere.   Then again where else did I encounter Moose?

 

 

Posted in 43 TFS, Alaska, Alaskan Air Command, Alaskan glaciers, American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska, F-4 Phantom II, F4 Phantom II, F4 PhantomII, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Travels with Auntie B

About forty years ago, we began camping with my late aunt, who had just lost her husband to cancer. This occurred the first time she and my mother visited us in Alaska. We decided it would be fun to take the auto ferry from Whittier to Valdez, Alaska. This entailed being loaded on the train, which at the time was the only way to get from Anchorage to Whittier, then boarding the ferry for a six hour cruise to Valdez. Since the sun didn’t set until after 11 p.m., we would be at our terminus while it was still daylight.   af11

The ferry trip was spectacular, we saw much of the wildlife found along the coasts, came close to one of the major Alaskan glaciers, where the ferry blew its horn, and huge chunks of blue ice fell from a height of about 200 feet above us into the inlet. We got to Valdez at dusk after a very long day, the sun was setting and I decided to turn on the headlights – no lights. Well that didn’t matter as the sun never really sets in Alaska, just dips below the horizon and pops back up about an hour later.  These trips always seemed to be marked with some sort of minor disaster. On the long drive home, the camp stove decided not to work, and I have previously written about how the car’s electrical system died later in the week. That was trip #1.

In 1978, while stationed at the Air Force Academy, we took to the road again to drive to the Grand Canyon. The trip to the Canyon was in reality a lot longer distance than we anticipated. The western states are so big, it is hard to translate what looks like a short distance on a map into the reality of driving it. It was to be done over Labor Day Weekend, as I had to be back to teach on the following Tuesday.

Our route was to drive to Bryce and Zion Canyons in Utah, snake down to the north rim of the canyon in Arizona and go back to Colorado Springs. The first night the tent pole broke, but I was able to jam it back together and we continued on with my wife, a one year old baby, and aunt in tow. At Bryce all seemed to go well.    Br16 Then it was on to the Canyon. We arrived late in the day. We walked to the edge of the canyon and my aunt suddenly said “I can’t do this.” She refused to go near the edge and wouldn’t even look in. I don’t know why, but after two long days on the road, I was ready to chuck her over the edge. The whole purpose of the trip was so she could see the Canyon.    gc21We spent the night in Page Arizona at a very noisy campground filled with many folks in a labor day party mood. The last day was – to be honest – brutal.  We left at dawn and didn’t get back to Colorado Springs until well after dark, probably about 15 hours on the road.  I think we, read that as I,  had driven about 1800 miles in three days.

That doesn’t mean we stopped traveling and until nearly the end of her life, we had one adventure after another. Some trips were more calm than others:  on one she left her luggage in her foyer of her home, she assumed we had put it in the trunk, on another the electricity in our cabin didn’t work, on a trip to Yosemite in November we forgot it snowed at high altitudes in California.  cay3As she became older it became more challenging to travel with her as she fell under the spell of Alzheimer’s.

Now that she is gone we think back and smile. All  of  these ups and downs became part of a special relationship with our own “Auntie Mame.”  And in the end, I am glad I didn’t chuck her into the Grand Canyon so long ago, but at the time, it really seemed like a good option.

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Night Flight

There is a belief among some aviators that there is “no lift” at night, therefore night flight is not possible. Clearly this is not true, and regarded as a joke among flyers, but it does reflect an unease among many about flying in the dark.

From takeoff to landing night flight is a very different world.

Even the takeoff is dramatically different as the afterburners kick in and there are concentric rings of light along the cone of fire from the rear of the aircraft.

Afterburner on F4

Once airborne there is also a seeming “cloak of invisibility” around the fighter.  The darkness hides you and somehow gives you a sense of security that is not there in the light. Now granted, this really is a false sense of security as you are clearly visible on radar and anti-aircraft SAM systems.  Still it feels more calm.  There is a stealthiness to this not felt in the day.  Perhaps there is a feeling of invincibility not present in the bright light of day.  (This feeling also manifested itself when we turned off the SAM warning indicators as they had become very annoying with their constant beeping – out of sight out of mind perhaps.) Such was the feeling at night, if you couldn’t see it how could it hurt you.

The F4 is barely visible in the photo below;  only a white light to mark its passage.

 

NIght

 

If the night is clear, above you is an amazing show of stars seldom seen on the ground anymore.   Instruments become even more important as the horizon vanishes and you are forced to leave behind the normal visual clues that flyers rely on.   This really can be dangerous as many an inexperienced flyer has wrongly thought he was flying straight and level, but in actuality was descending into a mountain range ahead.   The artificial horizon is your most important aid in night flying and not to be ignored at your own peril.

During the Vietnam War, there were squadrons that only flew at night because of the very different conditions.  It was hard to transition back and forth, and much safer to fly either at night or in the day.

One of the best accounts of flying at night was written by Richard Bach, himself a pilot, and author of “Stranger to the Ground.”   He is better remembered for his 1970s novel “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,”  but his account of flying alone off the coast of Europe at night in the 1950s is a classic.  Outside there is only a dark landscape below, punctuated with the occasional bright lights of a city, and little else.  The night flyer is a ghostly presence, gliding over the darkened world below.

Night flight is more introspective.   The mind and skills are shrunk to the cockpit only, the red glow of the instruments dominate the world of the night flyer.  Gone are the distractions of clouds, landscape, and all the highlights of the day.

If the eagle is the swooping and soaring king of the day, the bat represents  the flyer of the night.

While it is indeed great fun to be the eagle, personally I loved to be the bat.  Silent but deadly, swooping in for the kill, and then gone into the darkness.

 

Posted in 13 TFS, 43 TFS, Air Force, American History, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang, SEA, Veterans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An Officer’s Lady on the Frontier

Elizabeth Proal Norvell

Elizabeth Proal Norvell (1848-1931) was the wife of Colonel Stevens Thompson Norvell, an officer of the 10th Cavalry, one of the famed Buffalo Soldier regiments on the great plains.    Life for these women who accompanied their husbands to the prairie and south west forts was often difficult.

Even something  meant to lift their spirits such as an outing could be come a trial for them as evidenced in this story written by Alice Kirk Grierson, about her experiences on the frontier (From The Colonel’s Lady On the Western Frontier: The Correspondence of Alice Kirk Grierson, University of Nebraska Press, 1989)

Fort Sill I.T. Nov. 5th 1871.

The Ladies Raid.—Five Ladies and Six children all went to a camp down on Cache Creek on a gloomy morning.

So of course one of them was Mrs. Norval [Captain Norvell’s wife]. It was ten miles. Before they got down there it began to rain and blow a regular Norther very cold. When they got down there all the Officers had to give their tents to the ladies.

The next day Major Schofield rigged a government wagon up with blankets and buffalo robes for them. Lieutenant Orlaman (Orlemanj was drunk and he went to put Mrs. Myers into the wagon and he turned her heels up and her head down. Mrs. Myers said I’m afraid you can’t put me in. He said oh yes I put you in…

They got in here in the evening and it was so muddy that Dr. Kilburn had to carry Mrs. Norval in his arms from the wagon to our porch. Mrs. Norval said she enjoyed the trip very much.  — Alice

Even this semi-disastrous break in the bleak life of the frontier, seemed welcomed.

Like many military wives of the time she endured great hardships, often left alone with her small family at one of the many forts that dotted the mostly empty American south-west.   Her husband was often gone on long patrols to keep the frontier quiet.   Sometimes these patrols encountered very real dangers and there was often the possibility that they would find themselves widows with no further means of support.

Sarah had four children all born on the frontier. One, Walker Norvell, died three days after his birth in November 1873 and is buried in the Ft. Sill Cemetery.

Walker Norvell Grave

The others all survived and found their lives entwined with the military.  Guy Stevens Norvell (1875-1958) was an Army Colonel like his father;  Sarah Hodgkiss Norvell (1872-1961) married two military men, the first one died from yellow fever contracted during the Spanish American War, the second one she divorced;  the last Alice Walker Norvell (1879-1971) also married an Army officer.

 

 

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A Special 4th of July

Bic16

Forty years ago we celebrated our nation’s birthday in Alaska.  It was the Bicentennial, our 200th birthday.  From the start we were heavily involved with the celebration as I was a member of both the Anchorage Bicentennial commission and the Elmendorf base celebration.

We began the special year by flying the Bicentennial and American flags from our house Bic10every day.   The picture at the right shows our house on January 1, 1976 at about 2 p.m. with the two flags flying our front.

bic8

By summer we had added a red. white, and blue parachute hanging from the eves of the house.  I had picked this up in Thailand, and we had it all our time in Alaska, but it disappeared when we moved to Colorado.

Alaska in the early 1970s was more like the America of the 1950s.  There was not the hostility to the military that was evidenced in so many places during the Vietnam War.  Elmendorf and Ft Richardson were two major bases in Anchorage and provided a great deal of employment and support for the local economy.  The oil pipeline boom had only started when we arrived in 1974 and by 1976 was just beginning to be felt in many parts of the state.   Thus the US government, through its bases in Anchorage and Fairbanks, was one of the largest sources of revenue for the state and its citizens.

That said, the Bicentennial parade had a very old fashioned American feel, almost as if is were from about 1940.  There were kids on bicycles, the band from the the base, several floats on flat beds, and folks dressed in colonial outfits — somewhat of an anomaly since Alaska was part of Russia two hundred years earlier.  Bic14

Even our dog got into the act.   She was the Bicentennial Samoyed.Bic5

 

 

The year ended with a special performance by the Thunderbirds.  Since I  flew the F4, it was great to witness some really close formation flying.  This was something we did in the F4 at about two or three wingspans away from each other, not about 2 feet.

We always had amazing gardens in Alaska.  The sun was up nearly 21 hours in the summer and plants thrived.  That year I decided to do an all red, white, and blue display.  Our neighbors called us the “Disneyland of the North,” for our elaborate flower beds.

Bic3

Of course, it being Alaska there was always a special twist to it.   For example, the fireworks could not be set off until about 12:30 at night as it simply was not dark enough until then to see them.  In the summer, the sun routinely rose about 3:30 and set about 11 p.m.

The Bicentennial really was a respite for all of us who had been through so much during the long nightmare of the Vietnam War, it provided that moment of pride to Americans all over and allowed them to finally celebrate all that was good in our national life.

All in all, it was a special time of promise in a decade that was marked with many difficulties.    This picture of our friend’s son captured the feeling of the day best:

Bic19

 

“Happy Birthday America!”

 

 

Posted in 43 TFS, 4th of July Celebrations, American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s your Daddy?

Home

During the last week, I had the opportunity to think about fathers and their impact upon others  in an entirely different way.  We had several men from my college ROTC unit and their wives to dinner, it was our 50th anniversary of our graduation from college last weekend.

We also had some very special guests:  the son and daughter of our ROTC instructor, a Major who died in Vietnam, June 9, 1966. During the course of the evening,  the son discussed how his father’s death affected him growing up.  He said he was often asked “who’s your daddy.”  A hard question to answer in a single family home, but he said he wasn’t in a single parent home, his dad was with him as much as his mom.

Then several of my friends spoke about the Major and how he had impacted their lives.  One man spoke movingly about learning to fly from our lost instructor. He said, “he took me on my first flight.  When I was comfortable, he said you’ve got the stick.  And I took the stick and flew — if only briefly — he had given me the confidence and moved me into a new place.”  As we went around the others added how the man had been a mentor to them, giving them advice and encouragement when they needed it.  Others noted his skills as a leader and role model; still others as a teacher and friend.   I reflected on this.  Here was a man who fulfilled the function of fathers everywhere:  to introduce their children to a sometimes scary world, make it seem less uncomfortable, and build their confidence to deal with it on their own.

I came from a family that had a dad, but he spent most of his life when we were younger  working long hours either at the night shift or early in the morning.  In either case, I didn’t see much of him.  When he left the service after the Korean war he had to take a factory job in order for us to survive.   My mom worked also full time, so I became the adult at home early in life taking care of my younger sister.   I only saw my dad at meals. We did not do the father and son things that most young men do.   He came home from work, watched some TV and then it was time for bed.  Yet he taught me the lesson of duty. Sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do, but you do it anyway.  People depend upon you, so you take your responsibilities seriously.  It is a lesson I have taken with me my whole life.

Every family is different, it’s a truism.  Every father presents a different face to his family. Some are able to play with their children and taking them on trips, interacting in a classic manner.  But for many a father is not present in those obvious ways.   And that is what I learned last week.

But dads are never gone.   As we went around the room sharing our thoughts, it came to me that this man who had been our instructor and friend really lived in every man in the room.

Just as my dad is present in me today.

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Arlington

memorialday

I have been to Arlington many, many times and it never fails to move me.

The first time I visited this hallowed place was as a senior in high school.  It is amazing to me all these years later the effect it had on our group.  We left our bus, a typical group of high school students, chattering and pretty much doing what “cool” kids did in 1962, and then the place hit us.   Hit is a good word as the group immediately quieted down as the vista of row upon row of stark white markers lay before us.

My next visit was not until  June 1968 after  I had moved to Washington as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force.   On June 6 1968 Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.   As the story unfolded, it was announced that RFK’s body would be flown back to New York for his funeral on June 8, and plans were made to bring him to Washington by train for burial in Arlington near his brother’s grave.

On Sunday June 9, 1968, I decided to go to Arlington to visit the Kennedy grave sites.  It was a warm, sunny morning and despite all the recent events of the previous days, the area around the graves was deserted.  I climbed the hill to the graves to spend a quiet moment and pay my respect.

As I turned to leave there, to my surprise, were Jacqueline Kennedy, John Jr., and Caroline coming up the hill.  The Kennedy children had come at this quiet moment to visit their father’s grave and pay respects to Uncle Bobby.

Now this is the amazing thing. When I arrived at JFK’s grave there was no one there; two seconds after Jackie arrived a huge crowd appeared literally out of nowhere.  I will never know where this group materialized from.

Jackie Kennedy at JFK's grave 1968

Jackie Kennedy at JFK’s grave 1968

Jackie and the children walked to John’s grave knelt down, prayed, and then moved slowly to Robert’s freshly dug resting place.  Jackie carried a single rose which she placed on the grave, and turned and left, passing by not more than a foot from where I stood.

Kennedys at RF Kennedy grave 1968

Kennedys at RF Kennedy grave 1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1985, we returned to the Washington DC area when I was  assigned there  again,   By then, we had two teen age daughters and  one of the first places we took them was Arlington to the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Kennedy grave sites.  Spots that we often took others to as well — all were overwhelmed by the power of this place.

But it is that long ago visit in 1968 continues to stay with me.

It was a special moment in one of the truly special places in America that I will never forget.

 

Posted in Air Force, American History, American holidays, Holidays, Norvell Family History, The Kennedy Assassination | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment