25 February, 2012

Profile 64 - "Kingfish One" as flown by Leo Thorsness

We love stories of courage.

In my opinion, most of such stories aren't so much loved as they are consumed. Like popcorn at the theater. I remember watching the movie, "We Were Soldiers" staring at the screen in disbelief that anyone could have lived through that. Same thing with watching The Miracle Worker, the story about Helen Keller's teacher.

"Wow! (munch munch) Lookit that! Those people are amazing! (munch, slurp)"

There's no real fault in such a perspective. The "amazing" stories of human triumph are so far beyond the average person's work-a-day life that they become a Hollywood Moment by default.

Over the years, I've met a lot of guys who've performed incredible acts of courage. After a while though - probably because I'd heard enough of them - the surreal "Wow!' started to wear off and I began to wonder how I'd perform in the same circumstances.

If you really think about it, the exercise, "What would I really do in those shoes?" is a sobering one for this single fact: no one plans on being a hero.  Instead, circumstances come together in an urgent NOW! that can shred the best intentions in a blink.

This post marks the beginning of the F-105F "Wild Weasel" as flown by Leo Thorsness* on the mission that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Bravery? Lights? Camera? Action? They're all there.  And far beyond one single mission.

But - if I get it right - this process will help illustrate that courage isn't the exception. Courage is...


Photo:  Soviet designed SAM-2, surface-to-air missiles.

*Note:  The F-105F was a two-seater.  Captain Harold Johnson occupied the back-seat of the F-105 as the aircraft's Electronic Warfare Officer.  As commander of the aircraft, Thorsness bore the responsibility of Decision for the mission and lead accordingly.  However, that does not diminish the fact that Harold Johnson supported Thorsness's decisions and performed his role brilliantly.

05 February, 2012

Profile 63 - FINAL "369" as flown by Robert Mason, 1st Cav

Done.  And coming it at 77 hours, Mason's UH-1D is now the high-water mark in terms of time-spent. Most of these profiles take about 40 hours.

And for a few minutes, I just about embarked on another 77 hours writing this post!  There's something about the Vietnam War that makes people want to wax philosophic... but just a few minutes ago, I (wisely) decided that my ignorance on the subject would be too much for readers to bear and deleted my budding tome before it grew any bigger.

However, I would like to share with you an interesting anecdote about Bob.

If you've read Chickenhawk, it's a book that fairly demands being made into a movie.  It'd be a major production - war movies are by their nature notoriously expensive.  See, explosions just don't happen without big bankrolls.  Nine-figure bank rolls.  Not counting the pennies.

Over the years, Chickenhawk has attracted its share of attention from Hollywood.  And it still is.

Anyway, Bob described one particular big-name offer and why, in the end, he walked away from it.  "It was a lousy script! (I knew) I'd have to sit in a theater with my friends!" he laughed.  "And (the movie) would suck!"

And so there you have it.  The reason why one of the most successful Vietnam-era books has not been made into a movie yet - Robert Mason doesn't want to catch hell from his buddies.

But earlier in our conversation, we talked about how wars start, how wars are fought and how wars are measured... and you know, the war business is really not that different than the movie business.  Producers, directors, actors, budgets, scripts... with an audience to please and critics to duck.

Too bad though that someone call "Suck!" on the whole Vietnam thing around 1961.

Thank you for the inspiration, Bob.  This has been a great experience for me.

Photo:  courtesy Robert Mason