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.

Posted in American History, Norvell Family History, NY, NY History | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in American History | Leave a comment

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




Posted in American History, Christmas, Holidays, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

My Mother and the Turkey — A Thanksgiving Fable



My mother wrote the following story many years ago:

“When I was young, our neighbor came home with a parcel of turkeys and chickens. Since there wasn’t much traffic on our road, he let them run wild.   This was not unusual as most farm chickens and other poultry were loose in those days.    And it would have been of little consequence to me except I had to walk to school and back, which took me by the neighbor’s farm.   My parents thought that I had asthma and that walking to school would strengthen my lungs.  I was short and pudgy and my mother believed that it was necessary to keep me warm, so I was bundled up to the Nth degree.

Well, most of all the turkeys were killed or disappeared.  However, one didn’t die.  He was a skinny tom with spurs, which to my childhood mind seemed at least two feet long.   This turkey for some reason hated me!  And he was a killer!!!

Dad said, “it was all in my mind,” and if I stood still he wouldn’t bother me. My father’s principle was that if you sat still nothing would harm you. Mother was always getting stung by bees, Dad said, “If you sit still and don’t move they won’t sting.” Famous last words.

Well, in the case of the turkey this didn’t make a difference

If I stood still he flew over me.  When I ran he hit me with his spurs. With my little legs I couldn’t get very far without him swooping down on me.  It was about 2 miles from our one room school back to the farm.  That turkey could be way up the tree and in the field and when he saw me coming, he headed for me as fast as he could. He’d only chase me as far as the chestnut tree and he wait for me hiding by the chestnut tree. I tried every ruse I could think of, but even if I went way around that turkey would get me.

Of course all the local kids got a big kick out of this.   They waited on the hill near our house for me to come along.  I am not sure if they rooted for me or the turkey.  But to them it was great fun.  To me, it was “not funny” as Molly used to say to Fibber Magee on the radio.

They laughed and laughed as I tried to evade my tormentor.   It was mostly a draw with the turkey clearly on top in most of the contests. This went on all fall.

Finally Thanksgiving came, and unknown to me Dad bought the turkey.   He didn’t say it was my Tom, but I knew it was that turkey and I wouldn’t eat it. To this day I eat turkey, but I don’t like it.”   turky

To her last days my mother was convinced that the Tom was out to get her.



Posted in American History, American holidays, Norvell Family History, NY, NY History, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Stories from the family Vault

Families often have stories that are not shared with younger members, one such story concerned my grandfather.    Hamilton R Norvell

My grandfather Hamilton Redfield Norvell was born in Detroit in 1863, when his father died in 1881 leaving the family with a mountain of debts, Hamilton and his mother Mary Dean Redfield Norvell moved to Buffalo. Buffalo at the time was the dynamic center of commerce on the Great Lakes. Hamilton, it can be supposed, hoped to recoup some of the family’s fortune which had been lost in bad investments. As is often the case, it didn’t work out that way. By the late 1896, he was now a clerk in the local post office.

At this time a strange event occurred, as reported in the local press:

Buffalo, May 13. H. R. Norvell, who acted as a postmaster in charge of a substation on Walden avenue, is missing and is said to be in Canada. He was last heard of in St. Catharines. The postal authorities have examined Norvell’ s books, found a shortage of less than $500 and have removed the office Norvell was under bonds, which can be collected. His friends have ineffectually tried to induce him to return.

May 21 1897 Auburn NY
Hamilton R. Norvell, convicted of embezzling money order funds from substation No. 4 in Buffalo of which he was superintendent, comes to Auburn to remain eighteen months and to pay a fine of $481.22 before he will be able to remove his checked suit.

PARDONED BY McKINLEY. – Dec 27, 1897
H.R. Norvell, a United States man doing a sentence of one year and six months at the Auburn prison with a fine of $460 for misappropriating postal funds at Buffalo, was discharged from the prison today on a pardon signed by President McKinley. Norvell was received here May 17 last and has been employed as a clerk in Clerk Winegar’s office since John Beaugert was released from the prison. Eight other US men in various parts of the country were also pardoned along with Norvell.

Hamilton R. Norvell, a convict in Auburn prison, was made happy Christmas day by a full pardon from President McKinley. Norvell was sentenced last May to serve one year and six months for embezzling postal money order funds from the Buffalo Post officer, where he was an accounting clerk.

Later it would come out that he had been drinking and took the money for a spree.  Not something often told to younger family members.

There is one more twist, on September 6, 1901 the Norvell family journeyed to the Buffalo Pan-American Expostion hoping to thank President McKinley for the actions in pardoning Hamilton. As the Norvells moved through the grounds en-route to where Mckinley was receiving visitors in the Temple of Music, the news swept the exposition that he had been shot. President McKinley died two weeks later the victim of an assassin’s bullet.

My grandfather later turned to printing as a career at the Roycroft in East Aurora for Elbert Hubbard.  See At the Roycroft


Posted in American History, Detroit History, Elbert Hubbard, New York, New York State History, Norvell Family History, NY, NY History, Roycroft, Social History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment