Thoughts on the letters – 40 years later

Best and Worst of Times:   The SEA experience can’t be characterized any other way.  Being gone from the U.S. for a whole year is a very difficult thing to do; add to it being in combat and it is even more difficult.   Still I wouldn’t trade what I experienced for anything.   The people I met and flew with were outstanding and I will remember them the rest of my life.  It would be trite to say it– but we “were a band of Brothers.”  I have never experienced that bond since.

13th TFS patch

Flying: I almost bought the farm several times – I put this out of my mind until I re-read the letters.  Twice with equipment failures on takeoff and landing, and several times being shot at on a bombing run.   Until recently I never thought much about flying, something I did for nearly 20 years.  Flying, whether in combat or in training, can be very dangerous.  It is not something to take lightly and certainly not with a sense of complacency.  That was the lesson of combat, you can never be complacent.

Udorn RTAFB

Food:  Although a  lot of squadron activities centered around parties in Udorn city. For most meals we ate at the Officers’ Club, where each flying squadron sat its own table.  To sit at one of these tables was to sit in an elite place, no doubt about it.   There was a ritual to each combat mission.  Breakfast at the O Club– always Steak and Eggs.   I would no sooner have left my crash helmet than begun a mission without Steak and Eggs.  Call it superstition, call it a possible last meal, call it what you wish, but I never flew a pre-dawn mission without Steak and Eggs.   The maids ate each day in the courtyard area of our hootch.  My roommate one day asked them what they were eating, they said “We eat, we like.  You eat, you die.”  I am sure that they weren’t kidding.   They had built up an immunity to the most basic stomach bugs which routinely laid us low whether we ate at the O Club or in town.

Our Mascot – We were the 13 Tactical Fighter Squadron Panther Pack,  see emblem above, and while I didn’t mention Eldridge in these letters, he was a full-grown black asian leopard.  To read about him and see some movies, go to

https://jenorv66.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/eldridge/

Eldridge Mascot of the 13th TFS

Eldridge Mascot of the 13th TFS

Nicknames —  just as everyone in M*A*S*H* had nicknames, as anyone who has seen Top Gun knows, fighter jocks have nicknames. To see read about some of the more interesting ones see Fighter Jock Nicknames in the 13 TFS

https://jenorv66.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/nicknames/

 Beer Call: Lastly Fighter Pilots naturally gravitate to the bar, which leads to bar games such as Carrier Landings

https://jenorv66.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/carrier-landings-and-other-insanity/

For additional thoughts on Combat see

https://jenorv66.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/thoughts-on-the-letters-from-thailand-combat-40-years-later/

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
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