It's begun! The A-1E Skyraider flown by Rich Hall of the 602nd Fighter Squadron, circa 1969, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. Her name is Sweet Marlene.
Who's Marlene? Ha. You're going to have to wait for that one. But I will tell you about her pilot. And her mission.
The sketch above is what I took with me today when I met Rich—every airplane I do starts out as a pencil sketch. Armed with scant details that I'd gleaned from serial-number data, the Skyraider Association and some second-rate sleuthing, I was able to get my head around where we'd start. But, I was depending on Rich to fill in the details.
And he was eager to talk.
Sifting through his flight records and a tattered, crumbly photo album, Rich shared his Vietnam story one person at a time; his easy baritone voice seasoned with the sweet style of a small-town grandfather. "That'd be so-and-so..." he laughed while twisting the black and white photos to face me. "And this is Col. XYZ and he..." Or, "That's Major 123. There's a funny story about him. He once..."
They were great stories. Happy, go-lucky stories that resembled summer camp or maybe the first year of college. But after the first five, I got a little concerned that I'd ever get to Rich's own tales. I can handle amusing anecdotes about someone else's antics as much as the next guy but after a while, I need to get to the point.
"So. Let's talk about what you did."
The chatter stopped. Rich looked at me with a quizzical expression and it occurred to me that this guy might have had no idea what I was here for. In short, I had some explaining to do.
"I want to know what you did, why you were there and draw your airplane. I don't have an axe to grind and I'm not looking to poke anyone. But I do know that a lot of people are like me. They just want to know what went on over there."
"Alll-right." He leaned back in the chair and rested against the black leather armrest. "There was a gag order on this for twenty five years. $10,000 fine or 10 years in prison. I left in 1974 so that's up."
"Ok. That means you were up in Laos and Cambodia then."
I opened my journal, clicked the ball point pen and we got down to business.
8,000lbs of it.
[to be continued]