16 April, 2022

Profile 161: "323" - Vought A-7D as flown by Charles "Alex" Wright, 388th TFW, 3rd TFS


I'm not sure what it is about being a History Geek (HG) that is so danged compelling.

Maybe it's the ability to keep calm in the face of chaos.... or see multiple sides of the same issue.  Or, maybe it's knowing the answer before others even understand the question...

Whatever it is, History Geeks (HGs) command respect. 

Why?  ONE WORD:  Perspective.

A trite, dated trope?  Bah.  The whole world is a trite, dated trope.
HGs know this.


Look at the pencil sketch.  It's a Vought A-7D Corsair II circa May, 1975 and based at Korat, Thailand.

* break break *

On the whole, 1975 was a year of malaise.   In case you're wondering what "Malaise" actually is, the graphic below showed up on a quick search.  Evidently, an Icon Designer figured this was the best way to represent the condition in pictograph... 

At first, I couldn't quite figure it out as it looked like someone dancing.   So, I googled popular songs of 1975 and immediately saw that Barry Manilow had his first #1 chart hit with the song "Mandy" in January!

Now, if any song can knock you into a state of malaise, it's MANDY.   And if you actually were forced to dance to the tune, it'd look EXACTLY like above.  Try it yourself.  I'll wait...

See what I mean?  

However, if you're a stickler for details, let's let "the dictionary" define the term.


Malaise — /məˈlāz/   noun

A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.
"a general air of malaise"


Why the malaise-iousness?  Well, if we were transported back in time to the United States circa May of 1975, the following would be depressing the collective consciousness:

• President Nixon's 1972 Watergate Scandal not only ruined his leadership, it also brought the ruin of the Presidential Office into the living rooms of every American that had a TV. 

• The formal withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in 1973.  Granted, it should have been a time of celebration but the reality is, the war had stirred up so much muck, the moment 'felt' like a disaster cleanup.

• Sure the VN war POWs were home by April '73 but a third of them were either divorced or in the process.  Putting it into perspective, that's about twice the rate of the average population.

• Saigon fell, leaving an era of military men & women feeling as if they'd been cheated by their political leadership as well as cheating the very people (South Vietnamese) they'd believed they were trying to protect.

• When Nixon resigned from the Presidency, VP Gerald Ford was promoted.  One month later, Ford pardoned his old boss, ironically ruining his own chance at a legit chance of winning the 1976 election. 

• Inflation had a mind of its own — in 1975, it had cracked 9% (and wouldn't slow down until the Reagan-era of the 80s).

• American cars were (almost all) garbage — bloated behemoths powered by emissions-strangled engines, clad in orange-peeled paint, fake-wood appliqué and acres of soft, sticky, velour.  Oh and Ford was still selling burning Pintos.

• And if you were a man, the fashion industry absolutely hated you.  See the guy with the mustache?  I don't blame him for scowling.

True story.  I asked an old person about what they remembered from the 70s and the answer I received was a grunt, sneer and wave of the hand as if someone had just farted.

Malaise indeed.

However, HGs understand that the human story is one narrated by Newtonian voice.  It works like this: when something sucks, another thing blows.  And if you were a Southeast Asian Communist in 1975, your whole world was blowing RED.

• Vietnam was now Communist (April).
• Cambodia became Communist (April).
• Laos became Communist, too (December).


Now's a good time to get back to the A-7D above (or below for that matter(.   Specifically, the A-7D, S/N 71-0323 assigned to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) based at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), 12 MAY 1975.

For most of the Vietnam War, Thailand hosted any number of bases for American fighting aircraft.  Ubon, Udorn, Tahkli, U-Tapao to name a few.  But none were as big or involved as Korat.  From 1962 through 1975 "Korat" was the largest USAF base in Thailand, sending massive amounts of sorties into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos... I tried to look up how many sorties but simply couldn't figure it out.  My guess?  Over half a million.   For a single-runway base, Korat was a happening place.

Until 1975.

I found this map here.  It's a pretty cool personal page on Korat AFB

By 1975, the withdrawal of American forces left a much smaller aerial footprint in Thailand.  No need for the deed, right?   The Thai government was as tired of war as everyone else.  With Cambodia and South Vietnam's fall, Thai politicos wanted nothing more than to secure its own government (which had growing Communist influences) and stay out of conflict.  Period.  The Thais imposed restrictions upon the U.S. on what kinds of missions could be flown from Thai bases (including Korat).

Thus, the A-7Ds of the 388th TFW were simply a vestige feather of a once-mighty (now black-eyed) Eagle.  I can envision the moment now — a hot May afternoon,  a row of green, brown and white A-7s sitting idle, waiting for nothing more than to go home... more malaise.

Meet Lt. Alex Wright.   He was one of the new arrivals to the USAF's cream of fighter pilots.  Too late for the action of the Vietnam War, he figured he would wind out his Southeast Asian tour flexing his aerial muscles to no one in particular and then end up back in the states.

Alex said, "Now John, look carefully.  I want my A-7 to be weathered.  See the fading?  Chips of paint? Like that. (he paused) Like me now!"  He thought that was funny.  To me, this story is not funny at all.

On the morning of May 12, Alex was just another bored American fighter pilot, biding his time in a part of the world where he wasn't wanted or needed.

By 1430 hours, however, the gods of war decided the Vietnam War needed one more battle...

(and we'll get to this notion of HGs having 'perspective' in the next post)

I hate "SEA Camo" (SEA = South East Asia) because no one is really sure what it really looked like.  Think I'm being funny?  Look up photos for yourself, multiply that by the raging sun, humidity, wear, tear... but I do know that Alex's A-7D was painted with "anti-flash white" on the bottom. And even then, it was filthy.

13 March, 2022

Profile 160: "269" - McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II as flown by "Andy" Anderson and Wade "Mom" Hubbard

"I sure love/hate the governor..."

"We went to Mount Rushmore once. My little brother/sister got carsick..."

"Watched Fargo!  Great movie!"

And of course (paraphrasing 99.97% of all graduating high school seniors) "I can't wait to leave."

Welcome to South Dakota!

Here.  Have a sign.  It's free.  Which is a good way to get to meet South Dakotans — offer free stuff.  Why?  Because, South Dakotans are simple folk, working the land, hoping that something to eat will come out of it (after the thaw) and making clothes out of grocery sacks...

Ah, just kiddin'.  But there is a point here.  

* break break *

Have a look at the F-4E Phantom II on top.  It's the opening sketch of an illustration that will soon be distributed (for free, btw) to school kids in South Dakota.   And better yet, it'll also be made into a little flingable model airplane (something to do when Tornado & Locust Season comes and families will be hunkered in the cellar).

Want one?  Of course you do.  Building paper F-4E Phantoms is satisfying and good.  And maybe I can hook you up.  But in the meantime, back to the point I'm trying to make.

Meet Wade Hubbard, you've never heard of him.  He lives a quiet life in South Dakota; pretty much the lifestyle of  everyone in South Dakota.

Ok.  Now you can have a look below.  It's the finished F-4E - specifically, "229".  From what Wade tells me, it was an extraordinary bird; Wade was a WSO (Weapon Systems Officer) and even sometimes co-pilot (the USAF had joysticks in the backseat while the Navy/Marines did not) on 229 on more than a few occasions.  

But back to the "point."   I can't really get into Wade's story right now — I will later.  But, for the moment,  his is yet another example how remarkable people surround us, often without any indication whatsoever.  Though I've been privileged to have met some extraordinary 'celebrities' of 20th Century history, the reality of life's "reality" is bound in the ordinary folk.   

I'm beginning to think that our fascination with celebrities, entertainment — "personal branding" if you will — is a terrible delusion.  As a native Dakotan, oft frustrated by certain Lack, I'm appreciating more and more the value of the Ordinary; the ordinary commitment to live one's life as fully as possible, without the need to measure it by clicks of the mouse, camera or net worth.

Ironically, Wade will soon be honored far beyond he ever imagined.  

Want to come to South Dakota?  Make plans 9-15 May... maybe you can meet Wade.  Let me know — we South Dakotans tend to be friendly (we'll share the casserole, but if you like spicy, bring your own ketchup).