In the Country

In 1952 my father was ordered overseas during the Korean War.
At the time, we lived in Troy, New York, where I was born, and where my father was in the Army at the Watervliet Arsenal.   besaw-house

With my father’s impending move,  my parents decided it was best that the family relocate to upstate New York and live with my grandparents on their small farm.
I had never lived on a farm before and it really was an amazing place for a small child.  My grandfather had cows, pigs, and chickens.  Today kids live on farms, but my farm experience was different.  I  went to a one-room school and used an outhouse.

First the one-room school and then the other — perhaps– less delicate story.

The small one-room school contained kids in grades 1-8.  There were at least one or two kids in each class and the older kids helped the younger one with reading and other subjects.  Each morning we gathered at the school, which is still there today in Dexterville, NY, and waited to be let in.  If it were winter, our teacher had to get there early and build a fire in the wood stove.   school Then the day’s activities commenced.  My year there 1952-1953 was the last for this type of school in New York as centralized districts became the norm. But that year was special, and I think I never got to know a teacher as well as I did Mrs. Cosgrove.


If going to the the school was a pleasant experience, using the outhouse often was not.  When we arrived at my grandparents farm in the winter of 1952 it was, like many of those in rural areas at this time, without indoor plumbing.   Located behind the house about 30 feet from the back door was the privy.

Now we really didn’t use it much in the winter. First of all, it was much too snowy in that part of New York to brave it.  Secondly, my grandmother had chamber pots in the bedrooms for nighttime use.   outhouseI really don’t remember using them, as I must have, but I do remember seeing them.

When the warm weather returned in the spring we did use the outhouse.  This wasn’t too bad at first. But when it got hot it became a trial to use it.   It smelled and to add to the misery there were mosquitoes,flies, and spiders and occasionally snakes — which my grandmother was deadly afraid of.  Which, of course, brings me to the time I locked my grandmother in the outhouse.

I am not sure what motivated me to do so other than I was an “active” child.  I remember going up to the door while she was inside and turning the piece of wood that effectively locked the door from the outside and then hiding to see what happened.   When she finished her business she went to leave.  To her dismay the door wouldn’t budge.  I could hear her yelling my grandfather’s name: “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie.”

The outhouse was there for a few more years — one other time I locked my cousin Patty in  it, for a joke, which she too didn’t appreciate — and then it was gone.

Where it had been, my grandmother planted a flower garden.

Its said that on that spot the best flowers grew.




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For many years we wanted to go to Jamestown Island.

Jamestown Island today is a relatively well-manicured park where tourists can visit the remains of the original settlement.

Yet, if one looks behind the reconstructed area, the essential wildness of the place is still visible: Swamp, wooded thickets, which coupled with the hot, humid air of the Virginia summer must have been unbearable at first to the English settlers. And this indeed is where it all began.  Trip 020

Sometime before 1660 the Norvell family arrived in Virginia. The records are now lost. There are several Norvells (Nowells) on the early manifests. The name could easily be confused as Norvell in script often looked like Nowell.

As we walked around the park, we could imagine these newcomers and what it must have meant to them to be there.   We could stand on the shore and see across to the beckoning land see the promise it held for them.

Below, the shore of the James River.jamestown

Later the family would established a foothold at Skiffes Creek, below,  one of the first Norvell grants.

Skiff's Creek Va

Others settled along the York River to the right.

Riverview Plantation York River

A John Norvell or Nowell arrived on Ship Margaret and John in 1624 and was a principal of the company – according to Land Grants in Virginia 1607-1699, initial grants were made for each principal and then additional acreage could be purchased for 12 pounds for 50 acres. John Norvell arrived and disappeared almost as quickly as he came. Most likely he was a gentleman as other records indicate that he had a firearm. Other early arrivals included George Norvell, Thomas Norvell, Lydia Norvell, a widow of a John Norvell who died before 1665.

The precise location of these places is not possible today.  But from the descriptions that have been found, we can get an idea of the approximate locations.

wbLike so many of their time, they came here for new lives and opportunities.  Some succeeded, some did not.  It was a difficult time.

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Long Ago, In a Galaxy far far away…

Over the last few months, since I visited the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio and sat in the cockpit of an F4 again, the Phantom II has been almost continually on my mind.
And as I thought about all those hours I sat in this cockpit so far away and long ago, I realized that I too, like the mythical Luke,  was a Skywalker.    F4 1972

This was further brought home to me in December when after a long, long  time my wife and I finally set up a Facebook page in order to see our grandsons’ photos.

One of the happy consequences of this was that I discovered a group devoted to the F4 Phantom II.  It was a group that loved this aircraft .   As one who had flown it so long ago I quickly joined in their discussions and viewed the many pictures people shared with great interest.   And in the course of time, I too shared some photos and videos.  And  something unexpected happened.

People thanked me for flying the F4.  Now people have thanked me for my service, but never for flying the F4.   Somewhat humbled by this I simply said I was blessed to have flown it.   

Flyers take joy in flight and flying is the ultimate, and somewhat mystical experience.   High Flight, a poem by John Magee,  captures the feeling:

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.”

Late in my time in the F4 I came to a special kind of flying:  Functional Check Flight.   udn35

The FCF crew takes planes that have been grounded for mechanical problems and after they are “fixed” takes them up and tries to break them again.  And as the poem above says, we did a hundred things you have not dreamed of.   We pulled G forces in excess to try to rip off the wings, we flew at the height of the envelope on the edge of space at over 50,000 feet and were as free as anyone can ever be.  We swooped and turned on a dime, as the adrenline and speed built.  We pushed the bird to more than Mach 2.  Then we landed.

“OK, she’s fit to fly,”we told the crew chief, and signed off the forms.

And yes I was blessed to be a “Skywalker.”

Posted in 13 TFS, 43 TFS, Alaska, Alaskan Air Command, American History, Anchorage, Arizona, Cambodia bombing 1973, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 Phantom II, F4 PhantomII, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Home Repairs ???


The time after the holidays is always a good time to regroup. We put away the decorations and get back to those projects and repairs that have been neglected. So it was when I was younger as well.

My father always fancied himself as a great home repairman. It seemed that there was no project that he didn’t undertake. He did a lot of his own auto repairs, and tinkered with many of the appliances. Sometimes this took an unexpected turn.

In the 1950s we had one of those humongous black and white TVs – big in the sense of the case. I don’t think the picture tube was larger than about 17 inches. But the case was really big. It sat on a table and was made out of wood. The insides were a maze of vacuum tubes and wires.

Now my father came by his interest in fixing things naturally.  In 1929 when he joined the army he became a blacksmith for a cavalry unit, and later moved into the armored division where he repaired vehicles. So I guess he thought that the could fix a TV.

About 1958, he got a “box” so he could test the tubes in the TV and then all he would have to do it get a new one, when one burned out. I don’t know where he got the box or where he expected to get the replacement vacuum tubes in that pre-Amazon era. The sources of these things, like many things adults did, were a mystery to me – a 14-year-old boy. I don’t think he ever successfully fixed our TV and one night he almost did himself in.

He was monkeying around after dinner in the back of the set and suddenly there was a loud pop and a flash and the odor of ozone filled the air. When my mother and I got into the living room he was on the floor, looking kind of dazed. Mother asked what happened. And this is what he told her. He had been using a screwdriver in the set and inadvertently touched the capacitor and when he did, it discharged the electrical current that it had been storing. It blew him across the room. That ended his TV repair days, and the tube box was exiled to the back storage area.

One other time one of his repair adventures took another bad turn.

In the late 1970s, one day my father decided to replace the muffler on his car. He enlisted my sister’s husband to help him. Now this is where the story gets a bit fuzzy. In the process of removing the old muffler, which he was under, either my brother-in-law dropped it, or it “fell” on his head.  It was then a race to the local hospital’s emergency room as he was bleeding profusely.

My sister later relayed what happened next. They took him in immediately and administered some local anesthesia around the cut to sew him up. But before they could begin, an ambulance pulled up with a serious emergency, so they left him to attend the other case. It was about two hours before they could get back to him and by then the local anesthetic had worn off. Of course no one thought about that as they stuck in the needle to sew him up. As my sister put it later, they had to peel him off the ceiling. My sister, who was a nurse, said she couldn’t help it and smiled.  But it wasn’t funny to him.

But these stories did provide a smile to those who heard them and they became part of family lore.

And like most family lore, once you do something they NEVER LET YOU FORGET IT.

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Happy New Year

New YearsIn 1969 two of my friends and I went to welcome in the future in Times Square. This is something that everybody has seen on TV year after year, but few have experienced. In those more innocent times there were no metal detectors, no bomb sniffing dogs, and for the most part no restrictions on anything. It was a WILD AND CRAZY TIME. It was the 1960s, but more on that.

I actually had no idea to what to expect. I had grown up in the 1950s and the most exciting thing I remember about New Years Eve was watching Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians and then seeing the ball drop. For those of us, of a certain age, that really was all there was to New Years Eve. If you lived in a small rural town, as I did, there was nothing to do except stay home and watch the festivities on a black and white TV. For me as a kid, the future was 1970 and to find myself in Times Square to welcome the new decade was a great thing.

I had a good friend from college who was teaching high school math on Long Island, so I took the train to New York from Washington DC to be there for New Years. I had often driven up to New York, but the train took the same amount of time and had the advantage of leaving you in downtown Manhattan, without having to drive in traffic there. So there I was in Penn Station meeting my friends on December 31, 1969 to welcome the future.

It was an extremely cold New Year’s Eve, about 10 degrees and clear. We decided since we had some time to kill to stop at the bar in the old Americana Hotel for a drink and then it was on to Times Square. We got there about 10 p.m.; the crowd was large but not huge. Once we got there, however, there was no leaving. I guess I had better bladder control in those days as more and more people began to arrive and we literally were trapped there.

Now a funny thing happened: while it was about 10 degrees outside the area, the temperature quickly rose it seemed to about 90 in the Square. We had our heavy winter coats on and we ditched them; some folks stripped down to bare skin. I never thought I would be standing in Times Square at 11:45 at night with half-naked people. It was now a mob, people yelled and screamed and the mob grew and grew. Bottles were passed around, yes it was more innocent time. With no crowd control, people continued to press into the area until you could not move even if you wanted to.

Another funny thing, I don’t remember seeing the ball drop. I think there were so many people it was hard to see the top of the Times building. The crowd roared and then it was over.

Almost as quickly as people pressed in to fill the square — they left.

The temperature dropped.

It was 1970.

The future was here.

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Santa is Sad this year

For  44  years my old Air Force friend and I  sent the same Christmas card back and forth in an ongoing tradition.  This began when he sent the card to me, before I was married,  when I was in flying training in 1971.   I  decided then that Santa would return to his sender the following year to wit:  “ A special card should be passed along each holiday – a living tradition for Xmas – 1972 – J&B.”  I was married by then.  Santa came to me in 1973 in Udorn Thailand, where I had spent part of the year flying combat missions.  He simply said:  “As they say in the military, we concur -1973 J&K.”  

Each year Santa went back and forth with a short message about the events of the year. Some years it was about new children, jobs, or movement, as we relocated from one Air Force base to another.  Each  year the visit of Santa was met with great anticipation to see how another message could fit on an already full card.  The last time I sent Santa was in 2014 and expected him to return in 2015.

When Santa CardSanta didn’t come back I suspected something had happened. Today I “Googled” my friend and found that he had passed away in 2015.

My friend was a gifted writer who ran the “Bolling Beam” Air Force Base newspaper when we were both lieutenants back in 1969. He had a great and mischievous sense of humor and was not above making me the center of a joke in the paper.

At the time, I was the head of the plans office and had the responsibility for running base parades and ceremonies. Then there was a parade each month to honor retiring service members and I routinely sent out a memo about the event, which reminded people of the date, uniform, etc and also cautioned that sunglasses were not to be worn.

He turned the memo into a tongue in cheek piece in the paper couched as an interview with me, fictitious, and I kept it all these years. You can almost see The Beam interviewer, my friend, smiling as he wrote it.

Parade Clip

Needless to say, I read this today wistfully remembering my old friend and all the good times we shared back then. The friends of one’s youth are special and precious not ever to be forgotten.

Both Santa and I are diminished by his passing.


To read some of the messages over the years see Santa Claus is coming below




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F4 Crash in Alaska


In Alaska, December is a bitter month.

I have previously written about attending arctic survival school outside of Fairbanks when it was -50F and the techniques I learned to survive.  Still it gave me, and every fighter jock I flew with, great pause to think about dealing with the Alaskan winter on the ground. There was no worse feeling than to see emergency lights, such as the Master Caution (MC), illuminate when one was over the Alaskan interior during the cold months.

Master Caution is a misnomer, it implies a sort of benign warning.  There is nothing benign about it.   mcl It could mean many things, most were very bad.   The Apollo 13 crew saw the illumination of the MC light in their capsule just before things went south.   There is absolutely no good news when the MC light comes on.

Once while on a training mission far over the interior,  we had the MC light come on.  It appeared we had reverse transfer flow of fuel.   This meant that fuel was flowing out of the main tanks  in the F4 fuselage back   G16into either the wing tanks or a center line tank.   First we checked the emergency procedures checklist, then if various switches were in the wrong position, and  finally if any circuit breakers had popped.   Then seemingly the situation was corrected and we returned to base with no more problems.

Still there was that moment when we talked about if we would have to eject over some of the most forbidding landscapes on earth.

“Have to eject.”  The three worst words any aircrew member can ever contemplate or hear.  The diagrams in the tech manual made it seem so simple.


Which of course it never was.

Ejection is  the last resort.   The absolutely last thing a fighter jock ever wants to do is eject. The credo of the fighter jock is “Never Leave a Perfectly Good Airplane.”  (Actually that applies to about any airplane which is in the air — good or otherwise.)  In many minds it was better to ride the plane in than eject,  and riding it in was often not a good choice either. In either case, many, many, many things could go wrong.

Which brings me back to December.   In December of 1973, just before I arrived in Alaska an aircrew was lost over the interior.   Captain David M. Grimm and Captain Frank M. Mutolo disappeared  while on an air combat maneuvering training mission.  Air combat maneuvering is a very demanding type of flying — think the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds.   Usually it involved at least a two-ship formation, and sometimes four. G4 Wingman Captain Lawrence Hoffman later reported that the other aircraft containing Grimm and Mutolo turned into a cloud bank and disappeared.  At speeds approaching Mach 1 there is absolutely no room for error.

It is not hard to imagine that they hit a peak in the cloud or that some catastrophic event occurred, which was heralded by the illumination of the MC light.  Although an intensive search was performed for the next two weeks, no trace of the aircraft was found.   This was still fresh in our minds that day the MC Light came on and we had the fuel problem.

Probably the most famous case of a missing aircraft in Alaska was the disappearance of Congressman Hale Boggs.  In 1972, while he was still House Majority Leader, the twin engine airplane in which Boggs was traveling along with Alaskan Congressman Nick Begich  vanished.  As with Grimm and Mutolo, it was presumed that the aircraft crashed.   And it too was never found.   G11

To go down in the wilderness, to hit a peak, to disappear  into the crevice of a glacier and be lost seemingly forever is hard to imagine.  Harder still for a wife at home to contemplate.  In what other profession does a wife kiss her husband and send him off to work with no assurance that he will return that evening.

Flying a jet fighter offers a freedom seldom experienced by 99 percent of the American people.  It can exact a price.

December in Alaska can be a bitter month.



Posted in 43 TFS, American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment