01 November, 2012

Profile 73: "870" as flown by Hank Snow, 173rd Airborne

Behold the Cessna 0-1 "Bird Dog."  I've skipped the pencil-to-print progress shots because I've simply had no time.  This particular opportunity popped up on the radar and I had to move

It's a long story...

But, on looks alone, the O-1 is a sweet little airplane,  even with the military paint scheme. Paint it yellow and she'd look so pretty on a grass airstrip.  And then there's that aw-shucks nickname; it's easy to visualize a cute little puppy painted on the cowling as nose art. 

Don't be fooled.  This is a bad ass warbird. And "870" was flown by a bad ass warrior.  And today, he's nearing the age of 90. 

You know, I've written this blog post at least ten times.  And deleted same.  In one attempt, I describe the role of the Forward Air Controler (FAC) in Vietnam, another the changing mode of technology...and none have satisfied until I this morning when I sat down with my friend Rick (LEO, Navy) and he reminded me, "History is about people.  Not stuff."

Thank you Rick, for the wake-up call.   I'll restart.

I first met Hank ten years ago at a reunion of a WW2 fighter squadron.  These guys were the rough and tumble type that you'd imagine - back-slapping, loud hollers, scotch-fueled braggadocio - basically, the kind of buddies any man would you'd love to hang with.  And, I was at the bar with Earl Ashworth, Bill Creech, "Doc" Perrit.  Why me?!  I could do something they couldn't - I could fly a PENCIL.

I was so outclassed.  But, Creech was buying and no one had kicked me out of the conversation...

...and (I don't know how, but)  the stories wound up to a challenge, "Who's the greatest fighter pilot that ever lived?"

Bullshit came to bullshit, bravado topped bravado.   But a few moments later, the conversation quieted when Earl pointed over at Hank (talking to the girls, one happened to be my wife) and Earl - in his 80 year old fashion said, "Hank.  Hank's the greatest fighter pilot.  No doubt."

Bill and Doc looked over, paused a moment and in resignation or affirmation - I don't know -  raised their glasses.   

Bill?  Doc?  These guys alone were giants.  One had hacked his way out of a Burmese jungle, the other built his own airplane in his garage.  Yet, they tipped their drinks toward the big-chinned guy who looked like Bob Parr in the movie, "The Incredibles."

Right then, I wanted to know, "Who the hell is Hank Snow?!"

Tomorrow, I take-off to get what will likely be my last interview with the man.

I'll leave you with this; Hank flew P-51s in WW2, F-51s in Korea, F-86s in Korea, O-1 Bird Dogs in Vietnam, F-105s in Vietnam... 3 wars, 666 missions.  I'll write it again for effect - 3 wars, 666 missions. 

Look. I know there's some Bird Dog pilots who are waiting for a great story about Hank and the 0-1 but you're going to have to wait.  This story is just too huge for a blog post.

In the meantime, that's Hank on the right, Air Force Liaison Offer for the 173rd Airborne, Vietnam.

I hope to be done by Christmas.