05 May, 2013

Profile 77 - FINAL: "647" as flown by Major Forrest Fenn, 309th TFS, 31st TFW

Oh yeah...

Just look at it—do you think the aeronautical engineer's art could get much wickeder?!  When I think of my left hand on the throttle, pushing forward—I hear Hades' fire roaring like a blow torch until I've left the sound far behind...I like this airplane.

Sadly though, there's just not many around anymore.  Of the 2,294 built, only 80-some survive.  Fortunately for me, there's one nearby and I make a pilgrimage to it every once in a while.  But, it's not a fulfilling event as the thing is just a carcass of its fighting form; engineless, gunless and bolted to concrete pads.

I'm lucky to have at least one to look at though. It is, after all, a tool of war and ultimately expendable. Yeah, yeah, the idealist in us wants to believe that war is won by preserving life but in fact, it's won by invoking death. Or, as Patton is quoted as saying, "The point is not to die for your country but to make the other son-of-a-bitch die for his."

It's a quote to raise a cheer, that's for sure.  But the irony is, the 'other son-of-a-bitch' is cheering the same line!

Anyway, have a look at "647" above.  It's a dead son-of-a-bitch.

In fact, 647 is one of 198 F-100s lost to combat in Vietnam.  If you noticed the date, it's there because on December 20, 1968, 647 was buried in a violent ceremony in the country of Laos.  In other words, she was shot down.

Ok, hold that thought.

The more I "do this," the more I see War and Peace as more alike than not.  Yet, the main difference is that War is hyper-compressed timewise and amplified in volume while peace ambles on in between.  In other words, ten years of peace equals something like a month of war.  Both periods contain their horrors, injustices, moments of glory, hope...it's just that said moments are diluted in peace, but concentrated in war.

You may not agree with my musing but it helps me get my head around whatever can be learned by these crucial, game-changing moments in Life.  When I meet people who've survived War, I think, "Hmmm.  What can I learn?"

Ok, back to 647.

When I was going through Rich Hall's Vietnam photo book (see Profile 75), one of the photos that brought the most animated and positive response was of three grimy guys in front of an H-53 "Jolly Green Giant" helicopter.

Rich pointed to the guy in the middle, John Carlson and remarked, "Great, great man!"  Rich recalled a handful of anecdotes about Carlson that confirmed in his mind that John was a true leader of men.  Then, Rich tapped the guy on the right and said, "And that's Major Fenn.  Lucky, lucky man!"

The short of it is this—the photo was taken just after the "Jolly" dropped Forrest onto friendly soil.  See, Forrest was flying 647 when he was hit and forced to eject over northern Laos, smack dab in unfriendly territory.  Rich, John and two others were part of the team of Skyraiders that buzzed around Fenn, allowing the "Jolly" rescue helicopter to swoop in and snatch Fenn from certain torture and likely death.

Ok, hold that thought.  One more time.

In War and Peace, the one thing that everyone can relate to is the concept of "Luck."  To some people it's a capricious thing that "just happens."  To others, it's conjured by an alchemy of actions and thoughts... and to the rest, "Luck" is a tool to be harnessed and used.

Have another look at 647.  That's Forrest Fenn's old bird.  It died.  But Forrest did not.  He was rescued by people and systems that planned, prepared and thought-through the likelihood of just that horrible moment.   And Forrest didn't just get rescued, he... thrived.

Look, I'll save you the "google."  If you've watched the Today Show or any other news headline, Forrest is the guy that hid a MULTI. MILLION. DOLLAR.  FORTUNE. in New Mexico.  Really.  Click here if you don't believe me.

And he wants someone to find it.

In other words, Forrest went on to redeem the death he was spared by making a success of himself as— of all things—an art dealer.   And he wants to share it with someone who is...



That Forrest was rescued was really out of his control - guys like Skyraider pilots Rich Hall, John Carlson, Jim Jamerson, the Jolly crew and the "PJ" (the the guy who pulled Forrest into the hovering helicopter) did the critical work.

But what of the moments in between being shot and rescued?  What happens to a person between the impact of horror and deliverance?  Is it Luck?  Is it Fate?  Is it...?

Forrest explained, "I went over my bail-out procedures every night before going to sleep.  I initially went into shock, but I knew how to correct it.  30 minutes later, I was 100%."

Funny thing.  Rich Hall said something interesting about Forrest's rescue.

"Forrest was ready for the Jolly."

Alright.  This story doesn't seem to be over.  There are elements at work that aren't formed yet, but don't be surprised if I write/draw more about the Rescue of Forrest Fenn.

In the meantime, I hope this story conjures up a spark of hope for you.  And whatever War you're in, there are people who are able to rescue, provided you're prepared and ready.

Though the thing that brought you to the moment is dead.

Photo courtesy Rich Hall.

PS - if you're interested in owning a print of Forrest's F-100, signed by the man himself, click here.