25 February, 2013

Profile 75: BEGINNING: "Sweet Marlene" as flown by Rich Hall 602nd FS

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]

20 February, 2013

Profile 70: FINAL - B-52G of the 77th BS


There's a teeny bit to be done with the engines, but I'll handle that with a pencil on the final prints.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.  Her pilot, Dave Berkland, is really happy and that's all that matters.

There are times when I write or draw something and it's not my best.  Instead, it's the best I can do given the circumstances.  My own skill-level, availability of knowledge, lack of time...and sometimes a lousy subject (they happen) can really conspire to foul up what should have been a Magnum Opus.

Kind of like the Vietnam War.  It should have been another shining moment in American history but because of... you get the point.

In the course of this project, the fruit of the research was really a bumper crop.  I learned a lot about the Khmer Rouge, corresponded with a Cambodian woman who had lost family during Pol Pot's sh*t-headed tenure, read three gut-wrenching biographies on Cambodian KR survivors and even managed to talk one of my kids into watching The Killing Fields.  In short, this B-52G was an immersive experience!

And it was also a spiritual one, too.

In the biblical book of Genesis, Cain, after killing his brother, answered God's probing question about the whereabouts of Abel by snarking, "I don't know.  Am I my brother's keeper?"

I'll leave it at this.  In the brotherhood of Man, the United States is still the biggest, strongest Brother out there.  And this B-52G, in spite of being older than I am, remains a BIG stick in the American quiver of, for lack of a better word, "help" for others in need.  What is "help" and "harm" remain to be seen though - that's where we need to put the burden on our leaders, I guess.

I wish we, as a Nation, could go back in time and do certain things better or at least, differently.  But God help those that think that this country doesn't deserve our absolutely best effort, now.

Postscript - Lt. Berkland took the photo below, in his words, "Somewhere over the Pacific.  I was just doing my job, John.  Just doing my job."

POSTSCRIPT:  The opinions that this post has stirred up are more proof (to me) that Americans, especially my generation, can only benefit from further study on the Vietnam War and the South East Asia experience.   If there is any wrong to the times, we need to know it clearly and openly so we can avoid similar situations in the future.  If there is any right to the times, we need to know it for our nation's self respect and the honor of those who served.