Sunday, October 21, 2012

Final Flight: George McGovern, 455th BG


Today, the world lost "One of the Good Ones."

George McGovern - U.S. politician, social servant and WW2 bomber pilot has died.

Undoubtedly, prominent people around the world will weigh in.  George had a giant life - war hero, statesman, international figure, candidate for "the world's most powerful office,"... and, according to my mom, was "a gawd-damned Democrat!"

That's how I learned he was a man of significance.  Mom didn't swear unless it was really important.

This is awkward because I feel compelled to write something but also realize that my experiences with George are insignificant in comparison...

So, I'll tell this story.

George and I were at a Ruby Tuesday having lunch.  I announced that "I'm buying," and he picked up the colorful drink menu, and flashed the wry smile of a gambler who realized he'd found a rube.  "You having anything?"  I reply, "No" because it's like, two in the afternoon.

The server arrived - young, sparkling with pins and buttons; knowing the appetizer of the day but having no clue who she's waiting on. George picked up the menu and pointed to this beautifully photographed blue concoction.  Only judging by the photo, it wasn't so much a drink as it was an event.
Chances are good you're familiar with the offering - thirty years ago, you'd get to keep the glass and the little umbrella.  And the drink's name ends with a ™ symbol.

"That." he says, pointing to the picture.  He lowered his head, peeked over the top of his glasses and asked/stated  "You're having something?"  He grins - and suddenly, it dawns on me that George McGovern is giving me...well, I hate to say this, but...he's giving me shit!  "Loosen up," he says and leans back into the vinyl booth.

I got the joke;  I then saw myself as I'd been, rigid, professional, uptight,  my notebook out, my pen at ready...George wasn't out for an interview.  He was out for lunch.

"I'll have a glass of wine."

"Good."  And then he picked up the lunch menu and pointed at the picture of what he wanted. "I'll have that." The server took her notes, glanced at me and I nodded, "Fine.  Me too."

So, I thought - Ok, if that's the way he wants it, I'll play ball.   I broke the conversational bread by announcing, "My mom is flipping in her grave right now that I'm having lunch with you."

It didn't phase him.  "Yes.  I've heard that one before.  But you want to know something?  Times change."  And, he removed his cell phone from his suit coat pocket.  Fumbling with the keypad, focusing his glasses, he squinted, scrunched his nose and finally presented the device to me.

There, illuminated in blue and white was a telephone number.  "That's Bob Dole's number.  Shall we call him?"

"WHAT?!"

The server presented our drinks - mine a foul smelling house wine and George's, a beautiful blueish sculpture that maked me realize I missed out.  "You're kidding me!"  I exclaim, gulping a mouthful of my awful red swill.  He sips his blue whatever™.

"Bob is one of my best friends.  Can you imagine that?"  He smiled. Warmly.  "He and I work with Food for Peace.  We agree that kids need a good meal."  He took another sip and raised his glass as if to toast.

It was at that moment, right then and there, I became a McGovernite.  Not necessarily in belief but out of sheer respect for a Warrior who - quoting William Wallace's dad in the movie, Braveheart could "use (his) mind first (before resorting to the sword)."

George McGovern and Bob Dole.  Buddies.  And because they could agree that something could be bigger and more important than both of them.

Damn.  Wouldn't such single-mindedness between differing minds be nice right now?

Lunch was long.  He recalled WW2 bombing missions, the 1972 presidential election, the unfortunate power of advertising agencies - it was so cool to be talking to someone that was so there at such pivotal times in American history.

Anyway, mom - wherever you are in the eternal ether,  George McGovern may have been a damned Democrat.  But "Gawd" damned?

No.  I think God blessed him just fine.

Blue skies, George...



Original post here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Profile 72: FINISHED - LGM-25C Titan II missile


It's..."The Titan II."

Having just re-watched the bizarrely hilarious movie, "Raising Arizona," Tex Cobb's character of the Apocalyptic Motorcycle Rider came to mind.

If missiles were people, The Titan II would be him; the biggest, dirtiest, meanest rider of the Cold War.


Ok - think about the Titan II this way; it delivered a 9 megaton nuke that generated a fireball of approximately 3/4 of a mile WIDE.

And, if you need to get your head around that, go outside your front door, imagine 3 blocks east, west, north, south and know that the fireball would be a little bigger than that.  We're talking metal-melting heat alone. (The radiation and blast effects are mere icing on the cake, but they reach-out an additional 10 miles).

Make you nervous?

Forget about it. The Titan II's days are gone.  The 308th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas gave the Titan II its last salute on August 18, 1987.  But while it lasted, the Titan II reigned as Dark Lord.

Here are some interesting talking points about the Titan II:

• The Titan II's propellant - a cocktail of dinitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine - ignited by itself when mixed.  No need for a fuse, a spark or a match.   This process is called "hypergolic."

• Once the "keys were turned" and the launch sequence started, the Titan II took another 55-ish seconds to launch.

• From key-turn to impact, a Titan II completed its mission in just over 30 minutes.

• The 9-megaton warhead in the Titan II was the largest carried by an American ICBM.

• The Titan II was likely the most deadly ICBM never used - at least 55 people died in accidents centered around the missile's complicated fuel delivery system.  One accident on Sept. 20, 1980 resulted in the nuke warhead being blown clear out of the silo!

• The Titan II wasn't completely warlike.  It was also used to launch the Gemini spaceflights (with a different payload, of course).

The bullet points are interesting trivia, but focusing on them misses the point that these missiles were wholly inert without human Genesis and management.  And for me, the human-side of these missiles reigns as paramount.

This past week, I had coffee with a Missileer.*  I shared my observation that one word was mentioned/written/spoken more often than I'd noticed in service people of other eras and other branches of military service.  The word?  "Professionalism."

"We had it drilled into us," another wrote.  And another made it clear that the mass of responsibility was worn as part of the uniform.  And yet another Missileer has stated that he knows many now-obsolete national secrets but he will hold onto them out of sheer respect to the profession.

Though the nuances of sentiment may differ, they all seem to agree on that word, professionalism.


And it's a mysterious word, too.  In discussion, the things that exactly define what professionalism means become deeply personal and hard to qualify.  Unfortunately, I'm no help.   But I did manage to write this quote from a Crew Commander that I think helps sum-up how Missileers valued their work:

"I was surrounded by people that did not want to fail."  

Have a look at the graphic I did showing Titan II's guarding the Arkansas state capitol building.  Maybe you picked up on the macabre irony of how our government is founded on the principle of "checks and balances."

It was an accident - my original intent was simply to provide an entertaining way to show the size of the beast against a relatively common landmark - this one paying homage to the fact that Titan II's made their home in Arkansas.

But looking on it, I wonder if the Arkansas state government - heck, our federal system, too! - is run by people who "do not want to fail."

I wonder...

Of course, having one's finger on the key to nuclear armageddon does raise the stakes a bit beyond politics as usual.

Hmmm.  Maybe our politicians should spend some time as Missileers...?

Next up:  The Titan I.


*Missileers are also tending to be more reluctant than any other vets to go on-record.

NOTE:  It's finished, but not.  The Missileer that sponsored this one has graciously pointed out a number of errors and given me the blessing to take a few days off to get my head re-centered.  From this tiny illustration, you probably won't know the difference.  But this Titan II will hang on Missleer walls and I want to make sure it's as good as I can make it.