It Has to be Fate Pt. 01byGrey Eagle 286©
This is a story about a young Marine Corps pilot during the era between the Korean War and the Viet Nam War.
Captain Micaiah McDermott, USMC, stood by the huge aircraft. It dwarfed him, he had just completed a walk-around inspection of the Douglas Aircraft AD-5 Skyraider single engine naval attack aircraft. This was a utility version of the bomber and besides the bombing mission; it could perform a myriad of other tasks. This particular plane was configured for an air-evacuation mission with, in this case, litters for two patients and seating for two attendants in the rear compartment. The pilot's compartment was set up for a pilot and an observer/passenger.
Mack looked up the dirt road for his passengers. There were absolutely no facilities at this grass-covered airstrip in the mountains of northern Luzon in the Philippine Islands. It is located about twenty miles from Cabanatuan, the infamous Japanese POW camp from WWII. The airstrip was in a valley below the Marine Air Control Squadron 10 camp and radar installation.
The Marines were here on a combined Philippine Army/ Navy/Marine Corps/U.S. Navy/. Marine Corps exercise. Mack was assigned to MACS-10 as the Intelligence Officer. The aircraft and one other were on loan from Headquarter and Maintainence Squadron Eleven of the 1st Marine Air Wing for utility use. Micaiah, being qualified in this type aircraft, was on rotating pilot duties. The aircraft had been refueled the previous day, and carried full external tanks including a small external oil tank.
The sound of approaching vehicles alerted Mack to the fact that his passengers had arrived. A six-by truck carried the patient and two Navy Nurses. Mack supervised the loading. He briefed the Nurses on how to use the relief tube, the interior lights, air vents, and the intercom system. He explained that there was no way to move about very much in flight. He explained that because of a recent volcanic eruption in Mindanao all the medical facilities were very overcrowded. Mack had filed for a flight to Taiwan but the weather was marginal there and over most of the South Western Pacific Area.
He explained that this aircraft, while a bit slow, had a very long range. At a speed of 177 nautical miles per hour or 204 mph, it could fly for about 2650 nautical miles (3050 statute miles). That would take almost 15 hours. He grinned, "Ladies, let me assure you that MY butt does not last that long strapped in one spot. With good luck we should be in Formosa in about 2 hours and thirty minutes."
The baggage was stored in the baggage compartment and Mica looked around for the other passenger. He saw a young female Marine First Lieutenant standing nearby. He had not noticed her before. She was about five foot two and was slim and trim in her utility uniform and the top seemed very well filled and the top button had come undone. He smiled, "Have you seen the other passenger?" Her smile seemed to brighten the day. He thought she was the prettiest girl her had seen in years, maybe forever. She answered in a sweet voice.
"Yes Captain, I'm the other passenger."
"Oops! Pardon Ma'am, is your gear aboard?"
"Yes, Captain it is with the other baggage."
"OK. Let's get saddled up. Here, I'll help you get up on the wing. Great, now walk forward to the cockpit. Let me show you the steps and hand holds so you can climb in this beast. Grab hold here when I boost you up a little, then grab this hand hold. Excellent, can you stay there until I can climb in the other side?"
"Yes Sir, I can wait here."
"Good, I'll meet you up top." Mack ran back and jumped off the wing and around the plane and scampered up the port wing and into the roomy cockpit. She was standing looking at him over the side of the cockpit. He showed her where to put her feet and got her settled in the seat. He helped her get strapped in correctly and gave her a helmet and adjusted her boom microphone. The helmet was a little loose on her, but it would do. He glimpsed a touch of lace and the swelling of her breasts as he settled her in the seat. Mica showed her the switch for the intercom.
"It is a push to talk button, push it when you want to talk to me, release it to listen. If you don't release it, I can't talk." He settled into his seat and strapped in. He put on his own helmet and asked if she could hear him OK. She nodded, he switched to the rear intercom and got an OK from them. He checked everything on the prestart check list then flipped a couple of switches then pressed on the starter switch. He counted the propeller blades as they rotated past the front of the aircraft, after eight blades he flipped on the magnetos. The engine belched flames and smoke from the exhaust stacks on each side of the cowling.
The prop kicked over faster and faster until it settled into a deafening steady roar. Mack eased the throttle back and the massive 2700 horsepower engine settled to a quieter idle. He signaled the ground crew to pull the chocks from the wheels. He glanced at his passenger and saw she was watching him. He grinned and clicked on the intercom, "Are you ready to roll?"
She smiled, nodded and said, "Yes Sir, I sure am." He switched to the cabin intercom and they assured him they were ready to go. Mack checked pre-flight check-off list as he taxied the big plane to the end of the short grass field. He looked at the windsock and saw that there was going to be a cross wind on takeoff.
He turned the huge Douglas to point down the strip. There were hills on both sides and another ridge rose across their path a half mile past the end of the runway.
He quickly checked the trim setting on the controls, both rudder and elevator trim settings were critical on a short field takeoff. This machine was so powerful at full power the pilot had great difficulty trying to overcome the thrust and torque from the engine with brute force if the trim was set wrong. Set correctly she was a joy to fly. Mack completed the check list and engine check. He could not do a full power run up because even with the brakes locked the tires would slide on the grass wet with morning dew.
He ran the engine up to about half throttle and released the brakes, The aircraft leaped ahead and the tail came up in just a few feet of roll. He advanced the throttle rapidly to full power. He held the nose down and the aircraft accelerated rapidly. He used the rudder to correct the tendency to turn with the torque. As they came to the end of the field, he pushed the flap control to ½ flaps and released the forward pressure he was holding on the control stick. The big plane seemed to leap into the air. He yanked the gear lever up and started a gentle turn to avoid the ridge looming up in front of them. He relaxed a bit as he saw the big bird was going to clear all obstacles effortlessly. He eased the throttle back a little and retracted the flaps, then trimmed for a good climb speed.
Mica called the Manila Air Traffic Control Center on the UHF radio, reported that they were airborne and requested his pre-filed clearance. He checked the clearance the controller gave him against the clearance he had requested. There was one small change at the start of the route he had requested, he changed it on his kneepad. He read the clearance back to the controller and gave him their ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival.) at the first check point.
They were in and out of clouds as they climbed to their assigned altitude of 8500 feet. When they leveled off, he throttled back and stabilized their speed at 180 knots. He tuned the Low Frequency automatic direction finder and identified the station. The route they were following went directly to that station and then out to sea for hundreds of miles. He would soon be navigating strictly by dead reckoning. If the winds were as forecast, they should have a good tail wind component for the flight to Taipei.
The girl beside him was watching him closely. He explained what he was doing and how he was navigating. They were approaching the radio beacon and would soon be heading out to sea. She said, "Captain, this is a very big plane for just one pilot isn't it?"
"Hey, my name is Mack, and to answer your question, yes, it is a large plane. Eleven or twelve years ago, during World War II, the famous Flying Fortress was a four-engine bomber and her crew included a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, radio operator, two waist gunners, a upper turret gunner, a belly gunner, and a tail gunner. They were a bit slower and had about the same range, but we can carry almost twice the bomb load."
"Do you mean that you do what nine or ten people on that plane did?"
"Well, not exactly, since we have no side, belly, or rear guns, I can only claim to replace about five of them. I do fire our forward shooting cannons though and aim and drop our bombs."
"Wow! You don't look that busy now."
"That is just because I am so efficient I do not appear to be busy. Actually, I am not that busy now. When an aircraft is on a long flight that is properly planned, only the takeoff and landing are busy times. On the old 'Flying Fortress' by now only a couple of people would be awake, the rest would be sleeping. This particular plane has an automatic pilot, which is a big help. Most of the combat types are not equipped with them. Where are you from?"
"I am from the 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters, I am the Personnel Officer for the Headquarters Company. I am trying to get back to Atsugi in Japan after solving a few problems for several of our people down here. I have been here for almost two weeks and I have run out of clean clothes."
"I know what you mean. I was on a two week deployment from Atsugi myself. This is my sixth week down here."
"Gosh! Are you married, Mack? Is your wife in Japan?"
"No to both questions. You know that Marines are not allowed to bring their wives to Japan. Everyone else can, but not Marines because we are a'combat ready'force! How about you? Are you married, engaged or anything?"
"No to both too!"
"Excuse me please, girl. I have to navigate a little." He checked his kneepad, it held his charts, navigational data, and other papers, conveniently strapped to his right thigh. He had written out all the data for the trip. He looked up the frequency for the LF beacon in Hong Kong and tuned it in. He checked the bearings for the intersection for which he had he had given the ETA.
He attempted to contact the Manila Air Traffic Control Center on the radio with no luck. He noted the time they passed over the intersection. They were a couple of minutes early. He revised his estimate for the next intersection and broadcast it in the blind. Another Military aircraft asked him to repeat the information and offered to pass the estimate to Air Traffic Control. He did as requested and the Air Force Aircraft told him they had given the report to the Manila Center.
"Well, now that the paperwork is out of the way we can talk again. By the way, my real name is Micaiah McDermott. You may call me Micaiah, Mica, or Mack. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No, I have been moving around so much since I joined the Corps I haven't had time to meet any one. Maybe someday I'll find someone."
"I cannot believe you are not going with some guy. There ought to be guys lined up just to see you smile. Hell, hang in there girl. I know just how you feel, no intelligent woman wants to get involved with a Marine pilot either. Are you going to make a career of it?"
"No, I think I'll get out when my four years are up. I want to get married and have kids. I think that would be difficult if I stay in the Corps. And what I said wasn't strictly true. I have met hundreds of guys, none that interested me though."
"I agree with that. It is hard enough on fathers in the service, I think it would be tough to find a man who would stay home and raise the kids while you went off to play war games with a few thousand horny guys for a year and a half at a time."
"Exactly, I don't even know where you guys find gals who will do that, even if you are with guys and not with thousands of horny women."
"Gee, I don't know where to find one either. My dad did though. I was born and raised in a Navy family. My father used to say that Navy men who were married were guaranteed to be happy at least half of the time. Either they were happy when they were home with the wife or they were happy when they were at sea and away from her."
"Is he still in the Navy?"
"Oh yes, as a matter of fact he is in Formosa right now. He is a Vice Admiral; he is the Commander of the Taiwan Defense Command. He commands all of the Nationalist Chinese Armed Forces and all of the U.S. Armed Forces in the area."
"Wow! He is a big wheel then!"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Is your Mom with him?"
"Yes she is there too, I haven't seen them in about a year and a half."
"Maybe you can sneak in a visit on this trip."
"I am going to give it a try." He switched to the cabin intercom and checked on the condition of the patient. He was still in stable condition. He told the nurse that they had about an hour and a half to go.
He switched back to the crew intercom and said, "Hey, I do not even know your name and we are already talking about marriage."
She giggled, "We are aren't we. My name is Melissa Murphy, Mack."
"I am glad to meet you Miss Melissa. I like Italian girls."
"Good, I like Italian guys too!"
"Yeah! Great! We 'Wops' really need to stick together."
"How old are you Captain Mc Dermott?"
"I am twenty eight years old; do you want to check my teeth?"
"I heard my Dad tell my brothers that before they got serious about a girl that they needed to be sure that she had good teeth and that she owned a fur coat because those were the most costly things a new husband ran into. Mom said he had never asked her about any of those things."
"My teeth are good but I don't have a fur coat, I guess I am half way a good prospect for a mate."
"He never told the girls that we didn't need to look for anything but a fat billfold."
"What! No fat billfold?"
"Nope, a skinny one, but I do have a new car and a good boat."
"Where do you keep them?"
"I own a house in Havelock, North Carolina, just five miles from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. I have it rented out while I am away. Most of my stuff is there."
"That sounds nice, is it a big house?"
"Yeah, it is pretty big. I inherited some money from my Grandfather. It is a three bedroom, two and a half bath 'Ranch' on five acres. It has a separate three car garage with a mother-in-law apartment above, that's where I live and store my stuff."
"Wow! That sounds huge. Do you live there often?"
"I have been lucky, I can generally get assigned to Cherry Point for duty. I have orders there with a fighter squadron when I end this tour in a few weeks."
"Hey, I am going to be stationed there at about the same time. Save me a room."
"Are you kidding?"
"I don't know, will you take my Quarters Allowance as rent?"
"Can you cook?"
"In an Irish family with six kids all the girls are very good cooks. I love cooking, cleaning house and all that female stuff."
They talked as the Skyraider flew on across the Philippine Sea headed for Formosa. They only paused their talking for Mack to navigate and report their positions. When they were about 150 miles south of Taiwan they ran in to some weather. They were in a cloud layer at their assigned altitude and Mack requested a lower altitude. He was cleared to descend to 5500 feet. They were clear of the clouds at the level. Taiwan Air Traffic Control advised Mack that an ambulance would be waiting for them. He was also told that he had tie-down space reserved for the night at the Transient Operations area of the air base. The controller told him that a car would pick him up there and take him to the quarters of the Commander, Taiwan Defense Command. He was to RON. (Remain Over Night.)
Mack looked at Melissa, "Will you give me the honor of accompanying me to my parents' home, I am sure they will have room for you to spend the night. It will be better than the BOQ (Bachelor Officer's Quarters)."
Melissa stared at him. "Are you sure you want this? You hardly even know me."
"Hey girl, this IS a full service airline, and after all we are talking about getting married are we not? I know Mom and Pop would love to meet their future daughter-in-law."
"Close your mouth, I'm just teasing. But I think I like the idea."
She grinned at him, "I must be losing my touch, you have known me for a whole two hours and you are just now proposing marriage."
"Yeah girl, you are getting to be an old maid. You had better take me up on my offer."
"Let me think about it. Are you a career Marine?"
"I was until I met you, now I am not so sure."
"Why not? I like Marines."
"Sweetheart, if I were married to you I would never leave home. I just couldn't do it."
"I have met a few sweet talkers in my life, but you top all of them for out and out slinging the old bull crap." she joked.
"Dear girl, you hurt me when you say that. I am totally sincere, no bull at all. I am usually shy and very quiet when I meet new people. I do not know why but I really feel comfortable pouring my heart out to you."
Melissa looked at him for a long time. He reached over and took her hand and held it for few moments, looking into her eyes. "I have to confess. I really meant a lot of what I just said. I am very shy, but I am powerfully attracted to you. I like you a lot."
"Mack I like you too, let's just get to know each other better. We do have... , What? Four or five hours left on the leg from Taiwan to Japan?"
"That is about right. Now I have to go to work getting us safely back on the ground." He was able to contact the air base tower and was cleared to descend to 2500 feet to Point Lobo and then descend to 1000 feet and report visual contact with the field. They could see the shoreline ahead of them now.
Cha Shan Tower called them and requested an ETA. Mack replied with an estimate that showed them to be eight minutes early, he opened his kneepad and flipped a chart of Cha Shan Air Base at Hualien, Taiwan and put it on top of the other charts. As they approached the field he spotted a flight of F-86 fighters headed for the field from the north. The active runway was 18. He turned slightly to the east and maneuvered to follow the flight of Saber jets ahead of him. The tower told him he would follow them and that the F-86s would be using the standard Military 'break' landing pattern. Mack acknowledged the altimeter setting, the runway information, and the traffic information.
Mack reduced his power and followed the jets into the pattern. He watched as they flew over the end of the runway and the flight leader banked into a hard left turn and extended his speed brakes, the other members of the flight turned at intervals ending up in a line of aircraft heading back to the north paralleling the runway. They saw that the planes were marked with the blue and white circular starburst insignia of Taiwan. When the jets were well past the end of the runway, the air brakes had been retracted , the landing gear were down, the flaps were adjusted, they started a descending left turn to land.
The last F-86 was crossing the end of the runway to land when the big prop plane snapped into a eighty degree bank. Vapor trails blossomed off the wing tips and traced the turn. The Skyraider stayed level in the turn until it was opposite the end of the runway, then it started its descent, still turning. The wings rolled level and the wheels lowered as it crossed the end of the runway and gently touched down.
Mack taxied the big plane to the transient area and as they approached he saw a yellow jeep with a flashing light on top and a large sign on the back that read "Follow Me." When they got to the parking area a man jumped out and directed him to a parking space. He indicated that Mack should fold the wings of the AD-5 aircraft. Mack nodded his head and unlocked the wings and folded them.