21 July, 2016

Profile 122: "235" as flown by The Rocketeers of the 336th TFS

I write/draw/produce for a diverse crowd.

On one hand, there are the Warriors.  They were there and whatever I share is their story.  I am merely the guy in the room with the pen and paper.*

On the other hand, there are the rest of us—those that weren't there but for whatever reason—want to learn more about what it was like.

In that "rest of us" there are a number of sub groups:  warophiles, history geeks, model airplane builders...but the sub group that means most to me are the "family."

"I came across your blog when I was looking up my dad's old..."

"Though my uncle was killed, I have always wanted to know how he..."

And "family" doesn't necessarily mean blood-relative.  It can mean anyone who's had a profound impact.

"My favorite teacher was there during the war and he challenged me to think about..."

Hmmm.  About this idea of family, I've learned that the word means different things to people.   A few years ago, I was a guest of a Vietnam War fighter squadron and sat at a table with one of the pilots and his wife.  We four had ended up arriving late and were seated half-the-restaurant away from the rest of the squadron.  I thought it was a bummer because the pilot wasn't with his buddies and I wasn't going to be able to watch the dynamics of the group.

Though the pilot received his share of across-the-room hollers and jeers, my wife and I were able to have a comparatively personal conversation.   As it was my first real "Vietnam Project" (my words), it was a pretty-great opportunity to learn about the squadron and the couple's perspective on the times.

However, I'll never forget a particular moment—looking over at the rowdy group of paunch-bellied old men and their brides, the pilot pointed with his fork and said something profound—"Those are the guys I went to war with.  They are my brothers."

And then, I remembered what the Squadron Commander had said to me on the phone a few weeks prior about the same group—"They are (my wife and my) other sons."


Have a look at the pencil sketch above.  It's an F-4E Phantom flown by "The Rocketeers" of the 336th TFS, circa August of 1972.  Vietnam War buffs will immediately recognize this airplane as Linebacker bird, participating in the period of time between May and October where American air power was launched against North Vietnam's infrastructure: bridges, railways, power stations, fuel storage depots...and of course, the blizzard of anti-aircraft sites that surrounded such targets.

On one hand, it's a tool of war.  On the other, it's the story of an ex-POW, a MiG killer, ground crew...and a particular man who's name still evokes a cheer.

But in the end, this is a story of a bunch of brothers who went off to war.

Please stay tuned.

The Rocketeers circa April, 1972.
Courtesy:  Fred Sheffler
*Sometimes a camera crew, too.