Sea Loft in Hilton Head, where Gail and I lived 1992 until January
2000, is small.
is a glass
octagonal shaped structure that sits on the intersection of
a stand of pine and an estuary.
and I opened the 800 plus square feet so that almost the entire area
is one space. There are three sleeping lofts tucked up in the
rafters - one over our work area, one over a dressing area and
the last over the food preparation area.
of the outstanding aspects of this environment is the light. The
early morning light comes in over the water and shines into the
sitting/food Preparation area. Some mornings can take your breath
away. The quality of the light is like descriptions of the Mediterranean
- although I have never seen it myself and cannot say from direct
experience. The great Barcelona architect Antonio
Guadi said, however, that the light in this region is the
true geneses of it's architecture and art.
often sleep in this loft - it is really a reading area and I like
to fall asleep at night by reading. The view from the loft, in
the morning, is capable of provoking powerful flashes of insight
and memory. This happened to me a couple of days ago when I awoke.
Our food preparation area - you cannot call it a kitchen - is
tiny. It is also floor-to-ceiling glass on two sides and cantilevered
over a small patio where deer, raccoon and birds come to eat.
Because of the small space, and because we do not like large in-your-face
appliances, the refrigerator is a half-size under-the-counter
its front door is a magnetic map for tracking
hurricanes. Knowing what the summer parade of hurricanes is
doing is, naturally, something of high interest to anyone living
in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That is if they have any common
sense. Usually, the press of work has both Gail and myself up
long before the sun rise and we enjoy the morning light from our
work stations which are on the far side of the Sea Loft. This
morning I was enjoying the luxury of sleeping late
with time to enjoy that magical zone between awareness of one
kind called sleep and another kind called being awake. I looked
down and at the refrigerator door and the map showing the last
hurricane of the 1997 season. Instantly, I was transported back
50 years to the Philippine Islands and the first time that I had
trackeded a hurricane - they call them typhoons there.
I want you to understand that this was not simply a memory in
the usual and weak sense of this word. It was a perception. A
return to the full sense of the place and my presence there. In
those days I really enjoyed typhoons. I understood their danger.
I enjoyed them never-the-less. Perhaps, that is what this piece
is about - danger. Danger and the various ways that one can respond
to it. What is risk? How do you best deal with it?
see, this was 1947 and I was a child in a two-generation Air Force
family. My grandfather was in the air force - it was called the signal corps then - when
they had three airplanes. My entire life has been framed by this
family history and the Second World War which was a time when
more of my friends became fatherless from random mechanical error
than ANY combat loses that would be acceptable to the U.S. public
today. Danger to me, at nine years old, was not an abstraction,
it was a day-to-day reality. A risk taken every time someone you
knew took off in an airplane.
I knew and liked could be dead the next day. It happened. It happened
more than once.
Father flew first B-24s and then B-17s in the Pacific during the
War. The B-17 was a beautiful airplane and a big one. It was called the Flying
Fortress and, until the B-29,
it was one of the largest and most able bombers in the world.
Those who flew it had an unreserved passion for the plane. Of
all the large bombers is was, perhaps, the most graceful ever
to fly. Even today, in the world of jumbo jets and other large
works, to see a B-17 fly can provoke a feeling in me that is close
to joy - it is a pure esthetic experience.
Father was commissioned prior to the U.S. involvement in the War.
He was a second lieutenant at the time of Pearl Harbor. 18 months
later, at age 23, he was a lieutenant Colonel and Wing Commander.
When you see those old WWII films and you see airplanes, in rigid
formation, blanketing the sky, this is a Wing. It was a
simple process of elimination in those dauys - those that lived
were promoted. Flying out of New Guinea, in the early days of the war, the attrition reat of B-24s was 50%.
never liked my Father much. Actually, he was my step-father and
he made it clear that, in some mysterious way, I did not meet
the definition of being a member of his family. Having
met members of the family, I agreed with the assesment - wholeheartedly.
He and I shared few perceptions. We disagreed about most things
and found little common ground. However, there were a few areas
where we shared a abiding interest and intense passion. Flying
airplanes was one of them.
Father was a pilots pilot. He was not much liked - or even
respected - outside of this one area. He was, considered, at the
end of the War by General Ubank as one of the most outstanding
officers in the US Air Force and he left the Service, in
1953, never having been promoted again. After the War, he messed
up as an Intelligence Officer, as a Squadron Commander and in
a series of other assignments from California to the Pentagon,
to Florida and Texas. But he could fly. I have seen grown men
get tears in their eyes watching him bring a B-17 in to a perfect
3 point landing. This was art!
soon as the Air Force ended his career as an Officer (10 pass overs in those days and you were out), they immediately
hired him as a civilian instructor, for a much larger salary,
teaching flight training. This event was one of the early mysteries
that got me interested in organizational theory.
the 40s, you always watched takeoffs and landings. You urged the
planes into the air and back onto the ground. It was far from
certain that they would fly or return safely. When a Flight returned,
you counted - you stared to see the order and the makings
of individual planes. The question was always who's husband or
father was not coming back. This is not an abstraction nor a metaphor.
It was a fact of life. A fact lived every day because life
had to go on no matter the circumstances.
Air Force, then as now, is a tight society. Everybody gets to
know everyone else very fast. perfomance is a critical
issue. It is not about someone messing up and losing some money
for the stockholders - it is about dying. Because of this
and other closely coupled reasons, this society is one of patronage
and mentoring. Young officers are taken under the wing
of older ones and brought along throughout their career. My Father,
as all other senior Officers, had his cadre of younger men. My
Mother, likewise played her role as The Colonels
wife, part hostess, part mentor to distraught wives, and I am
certain, the object of the sexual fantasies of a number of junior,
unmarried and callow fliers far from home. She was a strikingly
beautiful woman and vivacious as hell. Good judgment, it was pointed
out many times, was not her strongest attribute.
of this made a dance and community that was an exciting place
for a 9 year old to be. Life was lived here at a level of intensity
far greater than in the civilian world I was not to experience
for several more years. One did not do this for a job. This is
not how you earned a living.
This was serious. This was mission-driven and it took commitment
(you strapped your ass into a seat of a plane), competency
(fuck this up and someone dies), and a curious mix of technical
acumen and pure visceral guts (There I was flat on my back
at 30,000 feet without a parachute...).
in these days, was done by Dead Reckoning. The aircraft
did not have anything like the equipment that we have in CAMELOT today.
Mother was an extremely intelligent women. She also was also a
totally unrepentant egalitarian. This made her tenure as an Air
Force daughter and wife an interesting one. To her, all people
were inherently equal but fell into two groups: interesting and
not. Those that were interesting got her full undivided and remarkable
attention. Those that were not - got nothing. Other than this,
she treated everybody the same. Generals and poor workers got
the same treatment: a fast assessment, then full attention...
or oblivion. As often as not, it was not the General. She raised
me as an adult. I learned to read two years before school started
with the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge.
You can imagine my shock when I got to Look at Spot chase
the bouncing red ball during my first day of school. I ended
up in the Principals office by 10 am.
I was told that this was a record in her 30 years of teaching
was raised in a serious, intense, passionate adult society. My
friends were not other children. My friends were young officers
who found themselves in the orbit of my Father and Mother. There
was always one young, intelligent, energetic pilot that had a
close attachment to my Father and poorly disguised puppy love
for the Colonel's wife. On every base that we lived on, I attached
myself to one of these and we became close companions until some
damn bureaucrat messed up and sent him away. You see, most of
them were only ten to twelve years older than myself and had been
though experiences most never have. They had a truncated growing
up time and I had a better education. Even match. They loved my
parents - with a mixture of respect, fear, family attachment,
competition and sexual longing. Their contemporaries were competitors
for attention, resource, opportunities and access. I was, perhaps,
the best companion they ever had. I was, certainly one of the
few people they could talk to and share fantasies, fears, hopes
and despair. I was a neutral place in a world where
neutrality did not exist.
was my friend in the Philippines. He was considered one of the hottest fighter pilots in the Air Force. He was an Ace in
the War and could take a P-47 and wax any pilot alive flying the faster and more nimble P-51. At Clark Field, in 1947, the big topic over scotch was
who - if anyone, ever - would succeed in taking Tom in air-to-air
combat. No one ever did to my knowledge. Tom and an airplane were one thing - a work of art.
the next question was if Tom would get his regular commission
and get to stay in the Service. This was a big topic, in 1947,
as the Army and Navy was scaling back to peace time levels. You
see, Tom had a incident in his Jacket. It was not
talked about - not openly that is. All I was told that Tom lead
a flight of 47s into a mountain and everyone was killed - except
I said that navigation was primitive in these days. No radar.
Basically, air speed, altitude, attitude, clock, paper charts
and hand calculations and notations. Bombers had a dedicated Navigator.
Fighter pilots had to fly and navigate at the same time. Flights
were organized in patterns. This was done for defensive reasons
and offensive. In the correct pattern, pilots can cover each other's
vulnerable areas - blind spots that all planes have by which they
can be successfully attacked. In offense, mostly in Bombers, a pattern of bombs were laid to cover a target. This was saturation
bombing not the precise take-out-the-specific-target capability
Flights, one navigator lead, and in Bomber runs, one bombardier
guided the Flight over the target area. This was a great responsibility.
In situations like this everyone relies totality on the
competency, bravery and diligence of the others. You cannot fly
your mission if you have to be looking over your shoulder
wondering if you Wing is there to protect you - or, if you are
in the right place.
a bombardier is wrong, an entire flight, and the lives lost, are
wasted. If an navigator is wrong, an entire flight can be lost
- all dead.
laugh at the bonding that takes place among warriors
- don't laugh unless you have been there.
now, you are in a small - these planes were small - cold,
fighter with extremely limited range in a violent storm. Visibility
is zero. You are in mountainous country - oh yes, I forgot to
note that there were many mountains in those days that planes
could not simply fly over. They had to fly around them. Your radio
is cutting in and out, you can barely keep contact with the 19 souls that
are depending on your skill. You have been the air for hours and
your fuel is down to a few pounds. You hands are numb. You are
barely old enough to legally drink. Strapped to your leg on top
your flight suit is a chart that you can partially read in the
dim light of the cockpit. On it are the plots you have made -
calculations of air speed, wind drift and magnetic compass deviation.
You check and recheck your chart, you hope your estimate of set
and drift are correct. You do this while watching compass, altitude,
attitude, air speed indicators. You retrim the plane - necessary
as fuel falls - and stare out of the few square feet of plexiglass
that is your only window on the world. 350 knots seems very fast
as suddenly, out of the mist, appears the highest mountain on
the island of Luzon. There is no time to do anything except be
aware that you have, somehow, failed your companions - your friends
that protected you through three long years of War.
of the things that I liked most about my life at that time was
riding in the front seat of an open, windshield-down jeep. Tom
used to take me, on the few days I was allowed out of bed, on
his rounds. We visited the planes, and those repairing them, and
many other places on the Base. There was always great activity
as an entire Air Force was kept in readiness. One sunny day, Tom
took me up on a small plateau that overlooked much of the Installation
and told me what it felt like to kill 19 people that he loved
- and what it was like to live afterwards.
was a total professional. He was completely cleared in his Court
Martial. The Air Force decided, however, that there was no role
from him in the modern Service.
last time I saw Tom was two years later. He was living in a trailer
in a dusty Texas town that had no past or future. What was left
was memory, beer and a job that had no meaning. There is little
space for warriors in peacetime.
science was even more primitive, in those days, than the airplane's
navigation systems. Two years before going to the Philippines,
I was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. This was a serious condition
at the time. The cure was, essentially, to spend time
in bed. I was told (by the time of the third attack
in the Philippines) that I would never live an active life again.
had two prized possessions that occupied my days in bed.
One was an erector set complete with an electric motor. This was
the large set and an amazing number of interesting devises could
be structured from its many parts and a little imagination. The
other was the 1947 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. There
is a story about the Encyclopedia. Some time before I had asked
my Mother what was gravity. A satisfying answer
was beyond parental competency so, ever resourceful, she ordered
me the Golden Book series encyclopedia. The day of
its arrival sparkled with anticipation! I sat down and opened
it to the appropriate section and found out that gravity was the
tendency of one body to be attracted to another. I knew that! The disappointment was crushing. Her response was sure and
immediate, and shortly after our arrival in the Philippines came
the Britannica shipped all the way across the Ocean. This was
heavy duty stuff in those days.
time I was more cautious, placed the entire 23 volumes (complete
with mahogany case!) next to my bed and retired with the appropriate
one. It said essentially the same thing but took about 30 pages
to do it. I saw that the matter was more complex than I had imagined
and that a strait forward, simple answer was not forthcoming.
The article, also, referred to a number of others, which in turn,
referred to more. This was going to take some time!
it seems, was both ambiguous and clear, missing and expanding, contradictory
and useful. I decided that the only organized thing to do was to
read the entire work - so I did. A through Z. Atlas, Dictionary
and supplements. You can do a lot of reading when you live in a
bed and get one-half hour out of it a day.
course, there was a great deal I did not understand - and, there
was a lot that I did. Basically, I got my primary education during
those two years in the Philippines. To this day, I still enjoy
the Britannica and carry it on a CD
ROM wherever I go. I like to set it on random and let it flash
articles and graphics as it will. This was an intense book-learning
period that I was not to match, until I took two years off in the
mid-70s to do nothing but read again. These two reading-periods bracketed
twenty-five years of experience and reading a book or two every week. One was my undergraduate degree
- the other my doctorate.
scan experience spoiled me for school and most human discourse.
As late as High School I was known to argue with my teachers and
march into school the next day with the appropriate article tagged.
This made me very popular. Gradually, I learned that even the Britannica
did not have it all but that humankind had amassed an architecture
of valuable information that was - largely - ignored. I learned
that this information could blind you or augment your creative abilities
depending how you used
Britannica also taught me to think twice and look below the surface
of things. It was late one evening and I was reading in my bed.
It was a calm and quite night punctuated only occasionally by
the sound of land mines being exploded off in the distance. On
the wall to my left was my chart with the (official) Air Force
issue pins from Operations plotting the track of the latest Typhoon
heading our way. On the stand on my right was my latest Erector
Set creation which was a large crane capable of lifting a mighty
payload. In this case the payload was a plate of freshly cut fruit
that my Father had brought back from a flight to Borneo. I turned
proceeded to read an article documenting U.S. Trade with Germany
during World War Two. I had friends killed in this War. I had
seen children my age learn of their father's death. This was personal not something that I had read about or just seen in news reels.
It seems that the trade was not only extensive but in strategic
materials. The ordinance being blown up seemed to punctuate my
reading - almost like my heart beat. I learned a lot that night.
I learned that things are not always as they seem. That there
are contradictions and complexities in life - many competing interests
and aspects. That sometimes people lie. More often they lie to
themselves. And, there is much that any single person will never
know. Huge effort can be done for the wrong reason, or no real
reason - or mixed reasons. But at the bottom of it all it gets
down to someone succeeding, failing, bleeding or dying - maybe
finding some measure of life and happiness. Nearly 30 years later,
a book was written on this subject. It was called Trading
With the Enemy - it did not make any notable inpact on the
bombs going off night and day was a natural part of life at Clark
Field. The Japanese had left a lot of ordinance upon retreating
in 1945 as we had in 1941. Some of this was just left over war
materials and much of it was deliberately planted to cause damage
to whoever came behind. Land mines were all over the place and
they were represented in many sizes and shapes. My Father had
been at Clarke for six months before my Mother and I arrived there.
The very first thing he told me when I got off the ship - I mean before how are
you - was that I was to never pick up a wire or medal object
that I was not absolutely sure I knew what it was. I took this
seriously - but wasn't inclined to loose sleep over it.
day, about a week after getting there, we were in our yard and
I stooped down to pick up a wire - we were cutting the grass and
I didn't want to foul the cutter. My Father whacked me, hard,
grabbed me by the shoulders and repeated his instruction in quite
forceful terms. A few weeks later some kids, that I came over
on the ship with, found a Japanese Butterfly bomb
and brought it home and tried to take it apart with a screw driver.
One was killed, another blinded, another lost arms and leg - all
were hurt badly. On board, I had played with these children - now this had happened because they did not understand the instruction or their parents had neglected to drive the point
home. Never pick up a wire unless you know what it is attached
stimulating as the Erector Set, Encyclopedia and occasional jeep
trips were, life in a Bed can get dull - it pushes the imagination
of a 9 year old. However, imagination turns out to be a reliable
and true companion. Even so, the occasional breaks with this life
were welcomed by me. That is why I loved the typhoons. These provided
a complete break with life as usual, and even today, I find it
hard not to like them a little.
of the housing at Clark was temporary and not suitable for surviving
a really big storm. New concrete structures were being built for
the enlisted personal but the officer's families were housed in
large sprawling tin-roofed houses that featured exposed 2 x 4s
inside, a 10 inch screen strip at the top and bottom and sliding
windows without glass. They had plastic filled screens that let
in the light. There were three exceptions. Three very large concrete
and brick three-story houses that had somehow survived the War.
were the Senior Officers Quarters. One each for The General and
the two most ranking Bird Colonels. When a bad storm struck two
things had to happen. First, the planes had to be sat in 24 hours
a day in case it became necessary to fly them out. This was quite
simple to understand; protect the mission critical assets at all
costs. The second thing was each officer's family had to report
to one of the three Senior Officers Quarters. All of us pushed
every thing we owned into the center of our living rooms, covered
it all with heavy water-proof tarps and tied it all down. All
then reported to the Quarters. The General had a gas electric generator
(the only one beside Operations) and being the democrat that he
was he shared with all three houses.
good typhoon can last several days so this is how life was organized:
We kids had the third floor of each house. The parents the second
floor for catching a little sleep (and, I often expected, more
than that); the first floors were reserved for the biggest party
that could be held under the circumstances. The officers rotated
duty sitting in the airplanes and keeping essential operations
going, getting a little sleep and attending the bash. As they
were to say in California, years later, way cool!
was strictly against the law to drink within 24 hours of flying
but try fighting a War that way. In this community, there was
complete understanding of a little known scientific fact that
a few minutes of pure oxygen can do wonders (or seem to) for many
hours of alcoholic consumption. Rules are important but so is
were magical times. The howling noise outside. The grand party
down stairs where most military protocols gave way to the more
fulsome culture that flourished underneath it - and, the intrigue
of the second and third floors. The third floors were usually
more occupied with swift, organized pillow fights that raged from
one room to another and sometimes (quite illegally) from house-to-house.
Always lurking was the stimulation that the girl (whoever
was this months object-of-youthful-desire) was sleeping just a few beds away!
of all, my parents would always seem to forget that I was destined-to-die
if I experienced any exercise or stress at all. These you see,
were happy moments unfettered by rules, order and restriction.
I had a cadre of young officers trained who phoned me the storm
coordinates every 15 minutes and I got quite good at predicting
the course and moment of ultimate impact. This sense of timing
has never left me.
the Philippines, I has survived two major Tropical Storms, one
in Florida (where we spent three days in a storm cellar wondering
if a huge tree was going to fall on our house - it fell - but
missed. And one, at sea on the way to the Philippines. This latter
storm was a ball. We were in a Liberty
Ship half way out across the Pacific Ocean. These Liberty
ships were troop transports and build by mass production methods
in 90 days during the War. They were small for a ship but big
to me. The cabins were small and accommodated several families
- even for high-ranking Officer's dependents.
ships were built out of 1/4 inch steel plate and engineered, you
might say, close to the wire. It was possible to sit in the cabins
(far below water line) and watch the outer hull bend and change
shape with each roll of the ship. During the typhoon, these engineering
calisthenics were truly assume. I remember thinking that what
stood between me and tons of water was some engineer's understanding.
All of this made most of the parents and many of the crew sicker
than a dog. We kids loved it. We raced toy cars down the corridors
as the ship rolled. Eating was great fun because the food would
go sliding by and we just took a bite as the various plates zipped
along. Parents though this was disgusting. The Navy was big on
ice cream, and with so many sick, it was possible to get six even
seven helpings every meal!
even Tropical storms blew themselves out and things returned to
normal what ever that is. There was much to learn
here. Nature is bigger than you are. Don't fear - or resent -
a storm, you opinion doesn't effect it. Sit in the airplane (maintain
station). Enjoy the break.
this day, I am amused at the modern media after-storm reporting
of a Tropical Storm and the tragedy of someone losing
a home. Somehow these people are made to be victims. Victims of
what? They choose to be there. The risks were clear from the beginning.
I would not like to lose our Sea Loft to a Hurricane (in a Hugo
strength storm, our roof can be 13 feet under water), but I will
never considerable myself a victim because of it.
the odds. Act accordingly. Index properly. The storm is not an
abnormality - it is a normal low probability with a big impact.
Track it's course. Get out of the way. Dont put anything
in the path that you are not prepared to lose or fix. It is part
of the cost.
break in the routine of crane building, encyclopedia reading and
occasional flights of fancy were our periodic trips into Manilla.
While only 40 miles,this was a several hour drive across an impoverished and war-torn
landscape. It was also considered dangerous - which added greatly
to the charm of the trip. Much of the territory was partially
controlled by a military organization called the HUCKS. This group
was made of up remnants of the Philippine, Japanese and American
armies. A rag tag crew of more-or-less left leaning political
persuasion that many believed got its start back in the time of
the Spanish American War. Which was just a little further back
in time from the post WWII Philippines and that period is from
the HUCKS rarely physically hurt American personnel, there were,
however, numerous incidents of personall being stopped and robbed.
It seems that they took everything. I heard about one case where
a young Officer, wife and child were left naked on the side of
the road (what they called roads) - sans everything. I always
thought that the HUCKS had a highly developed sense of humor and
use everything esthetic to go along with their somewhat
dubious political principles.
always traveled with a loaded and cocked Army-issue 45 automatic
on the front seat of the car. All three of us were checked
out in its proper use. There is a process and protocol here
that is very strict. And important. On one of our rare trips to
Manilla we got lost. The day started with my Father telling us
that he woke up with a strange dream. It seems that we were driving
and lost and a man stepped out dressed in a weird combination
of uniform elements from several armies. He even had the leaves
sticking out of his helmet like in all those old WWII propaganda
movies. In my Father's dream, he was shot in the head and it left
a perfect hole just like the popular Little Abner cartoons of
the day. My Mother I found this highly amusing and took to calling
him Old-Hole-In-The-Head for most of the trip.
roads were more an abstraction then a reality and the drive was
difficult. The scenery was beautiful but depressing when you looked
at the state of most of the people. In time, we realized that
we were lost. Road signs were non existent and getting around
was not unlike navigation in the air or on the sea. Compass, map,
mileage. My Mother insisted that my Father was lost and going
in the wrong direction. He reminded HER that He had been navigating
for some time now. SHE reminded Him that she had been in airplanes
and flown one long before he ever knew what one was. This is true
but another story. Meanwhile, it was getting dark and I could
no longer read my encyclopedia.
enough ahead of us, stepping out of the dim, was a soldier dressed
exactly like my Father's dream. He was carrying an old bolt action
Springfield rifle. Yes, we were close enough to know this - I
recognized it because it was one of my Grandfather's favorite
pieces and he had regaled me for several hours on its's virtues.
I had never considered my Father very quick outside of flying
and a fair ability on the basketball court, but I must say I was impressed
on how fast he turned a 1941 Buick Coup (our prize!) and sped
off in the opposite direction! It goes without saying that it
was years before Old-Hole-In-The-Head lived it down.
finally, found manilla, the Port, and my Father's older Brothers
Ship. He was in command of an LSD and I loved to crawl all over
it. There was a time when I could probably get around that ship
better than all but the most experienced Chiefs. The various adventure
on this ship are, also, another story but I will tell you that
of all the peoples on the Planet, the ones who knew how to truly
live were the Officer Corps of the US Navy!
tale, also has a lesson. It is that you can get into a lot of
trouble while arguing who is more lost. It also points out that
what you do in the split second between seeing the danger and
acting can be very important. It teaches you to pay attention
to you own hunches. Weak Signals we call them, today.
also leads me to a short discourse on gun protocol. I grew up
around guns and ordinance of all kinds. I played in hangers among
and in what were, for the day, the most sophisticated weapons
systems in the world. I never thought twice about it except that
I was taught by voice and example that this stuff can bite. You
were checked out before you used it. Checked out by
someone who was certified as knowing. This was even true of recreational
sail boats, and on one Base where we lived, pilots had to be checked
out by me before they could use the boats. This was not
a rank thing. This was a knowledge thing.
has always amused me that you can hardly buy anything in our society
without instructions but that the really interesting things, like
people and civilizations, don't come with any. In addition, the
average citizen can get their hands on an amazing array of stuff
without having to demonstrate competency of any kind. In the military,
it was different.
first airplane I ever flew in was a B-25 - a two engine medium
Bomber made by Martin. I was 8 at the time. The first thing that
we did was sit in the cockpit (my Father in the pilots and
me in the co-pilots seat) and go through the entire preflight
check list. This preflight was a paper list (covered with cellophane)
and was not to be skipped or done my memory. Props feathered -
CHECK! Brakes ON - CHECK! Fuel pumps ON - Check! And on and on
- gages, fuel levels, navigation lights, temperatures, pressures,
safety equipment, switch states, radio and intercom, until: Ignition
switch On - CHECK! This was a procedure. It had an order.
You did not get into this machinery and just fly it!
My Father and I flew it alone
(although is a three person crew aircraft no counting gunnery members). I performed all of
the copilot functions from the check lists as instructed. I taxied
the airplane under his guidance (he did the foot peddals which I could not reach). He had flown two and one-half
tours during WWII. He had been flying 7 years the first time he
took me up. His experience, (low) thousands of hours, the check
list (DOCUMENTATION based on 43 years experience of AIRPLANE)
that flight, I went down into the plexiglass encased nose that
was the bombardiers while my Father flew at full military power as close to the ground
as possible. It felt like we were cutting sage brush with the
props. Most likely - we were! It scarred the hell out of me and
at the same time excited me beyond belief or description. Flying
ever since has been totally boring. Why did he do this?
It must have stretched the rules beyond repair in even the looser
40s pre-Cold War Air Force. I think I know. In a couple of hours
I knew what my Father did - and how he did it. I have never forgotten.
too had a procedure. Prior to going to the Philippines, about
the time of my first flight, my Father took Mother and me out
onto the desert to learn to shoot. Never point the piece
at someone unless you intend to. Always check the chamber every time you pick it up. Never threaten with an
gun unless you are prepared to use it and understand the consequences.
Understand the safety features of the piece and every condition
under which it can fire. The automatic has four steps to fire.
The piece must be cocked. It cannot fire otherwise. The safety
(where your thumb rests) must be OFF (snapped down). Your have
to be gripping the handle - it has to be tightly pressed.
And, the clip has to be fully inserted.
the road to Manilla the piece is cocked, safety ON, clip OUT to
the first notch. In this condition it can be used as a hammer
with complete safety. Pick it up, depress the safety squeeze the
grip, and push up the clip with you left hand and you have a WEAPON. Point the piece naturally, look AT the target, squeeze slowly
- don't jerk. Fire two rounds - the second will adjust aim automatically.
Remember, this is a close in weapon - 30 to 60 feet (except for experts). Count the rounds!
you don't want to understand these things, use a rock - you will
be better off.
B-17 was loved because it flew. The skill of its Team,
ground crew, air crew and the formation of which it was a part, with the plane made up an effective system. This
was understood by all those who risked their life every time they
took to the air. In the first few months of WWII the US Air Force
stationed on the Philippine was systematically destroyed by an
overwhelming force. A book was written by one of the pilots, I
met him during the War and read the book afterward. It's title
was Queens Die Proudly. It tells the story of moving
the planes at night, flying missions, scrounging for fuel and
ordinance (often brought in by PT Boat). It describes the death
of each crew and plane until it was no longer possible to maintain
a Force in the area. This system performed beyond
passion, endurance and reason. It endured and accomplished its
mission. This was not a job.
are many forms of danger. In the modern world they are often confused.
Danger of any kind is rarely addressed and dealt with appropriately
and front on. Paradoxically, great risks are taken out of laziness,
indifference or ignorance.
Gail and I got CAMELOT we asked a lot of people about all the
ways a boat can sink. Many didn't want to answer. Some said it
was bad luck to talk about it. Some forms of danger
are natural. A Tropical Storm is dangerous. It is not subject
to our control or opinion of it. It is better to stay out of the
way of this kind of danger, but if in a Hurricane, good
design, intelligence, disciple and knowledgeable procedures go
a long way toward evening the odds. Don't ever feel like a victim
though, it dulls the senses, wastes time and is metaphysically
dangers are human-made. We have an obsession with risk abatement,
a visceral attachment to action-movies and propensity
for taking unbounded risks with our technologies. On many scales
of recursion, we place sophisticated machinery and global systems
in the hands of people who have no idea what a procedure is. We
do this in the name of making money and keeping a job even when
there is no mission that can be related to common sense, individual
health and the benefit of humanity. Mindless commerce grinds on.
seems like so much of modern life is a relentless machine with
no governor, or load stone. No compass - not even dead reckoning.
I sometimes think that we are too protected. I wonder if more
people had an experience with real risk - and death if
they would be so causal about the world we seem to be building.
Here, often, skill and art is sold into slavery to do stupid and
sometime evil things. Do we understand the consequences of our
technologies and political decisions? Or, do we do what is expedient
without concern for the future we create?
dangers are fictional. They are internal demons projected on the
screen of humanity that play out in gruesome ways. Here there
are true victims and true tragedy. How often we build fantasies
into global movements and conflicts that do great harm. WWII is
an example. The Inquisition is another. Read todays newspapers.
Looking back, after so much was lost, how important are the things
we fought over. Japan, post WWII, has accomplished virtually all
of the points in the 1936 CO-Prosperity doctrine that
lead them to war with the United States - without violence, peacefully,
using trade. By the war, had Japan become militaristic and raciest
- you bet. Were we equally raciest and careless and imperialist
in our response. Most of the people who died had little to do
with the policies that produced so much needless waste and pain.
1947 was a wonderful year for me. I keep it locket tightly in my soul
so that I will never forget. I walked on the streets of Japan, in a city where 100,000 had died in one night by deliberate fire bombing,
months after a bitter war in which we had dropped the atom bomb on
them. I walked unguarded and unprotected except by a humanity
that transcended politics and killing. I saw nothing but happy,
friendly faces and hands that reached out in affection.
danced with a ship in the middle of a vast sea and wondered which
would prevail, this time, human technology or the storm. I did
this with no animosity for the storm and a deep appreciation for
learned what it was to be told that I live my (most likely short)
life in a bed - that I could not do the normal things. I saw people
picking themselves up from the horror and poverty of war and start
rebuilding their lives.
experienced the death and maiming of playmates. I befriended a
young man, hardly older than myself, that forever carried the
burden of those 19 lives, yet, could dream, laugh, play and desire
- and work.
played in a world that most would not see for several decades.
Technology augmentation... downsizing.. vision... mission driven...
commitment... global impacts... What are these WORDS to
leaned that humanity had amassed a great body of organized knowledge.
That it was full of wonders, contradictions, holes, unpleasant
revelations and was rarely used by most - even in a culture that
was technology focused at the time. I brushed physical danger
from another human and learned that, perhaps, intuition should
not be discounted. I learned that you did not have to see the other as a monster and that there can be plenty of humor in the
am grateful for the intersection of a morning light, a Hurricane
chart, 50 year old memories and a little insight that caused me
to re-member these prizes in a new way.
does our society really know of danger?
you FUCK up people die.
is little space for warriors in peacetime.
are not always what they seem.
pick up a wire unless you know what it is attached to.
the mission critical assets at all costs.
are important but so is common sense.
is bigger than you are. Enjoy the break. Maintain Station.
the odds. You can get in trouble while arguing who is lost.
split second action taken after the perception (of danger) is important.
can bite - but there is a PROCEDURE for everything.
|It has been 65 years since the events I tell of here and 14 and a half years since I first told this story on my web site. There is no doubt that my time at Clark Field was the greatest single shaper of my subsequent life and work.
|I grew on on military bases until 1952 went to a boarding military school, then a Jesuit High School, worked a couple of years in architect’s offices, then to Taliesin until late 1958. Thus the majority of my first 21 years was spent living in what later would be called “intentional communities.” What little I saw of it and then when I got out into the greater American society made little sense to me.
|I was not prepared for this world and became an outlier from the beginning. I still am although I have learned to navigate the space even while not being fully capable of relating to it. There are many rules of engagement I still do not understand and many I cannot comply with even thought I do understand them. This has provided one advantage. I have had to think through these social protocols to a much greater degree than if I had been born into them. This also means I have had to look at my own innate culture with the same critical eye.
This lifetime of critical looking, coupled with having grown up in a culture that in many ways was much more like the 21st Century than the 1940s, has provided me an uncommon perspective on our present time. Much that is ubiquitous today was being invented in the 40s right in front of my face. I thought nothing of getting my daily supply of oranges flown in from another country nor of the threat of a "terrorist" attack driving 40 miles to the city. Technology was everywhere as the backbone of the global enterprise my family worked in. At the same time our capability to act today, in many areas despite our enormous resources, is far less than would have done in the 40s. You can imagine, for example, how I look at a Katrina having grown up in a military that would have been there with relief within hours of the storm passing - not days.
|At the root of the culture I was born into, was mission, competency, rule-based procedures, community, technology, a global perspective, respect for systemic consequences, and a creed that you could rely on your team. They were there or dead. There was no in between. No question that this culture had its blind spots, limits and failures to perform to its own standards. There is no question that the gains of the last six decades have been tremendous. Looking forward, the opportunities are orders of magnitude greater than in my youth. That said. it is also certain many qualities have been lost. No argument can be made that those of of my parent’s generation would handle the opportunities and challenges of today better than we are. Yet, it very well may be true that we should pay more attention to what this generation did, and what they learned by doing it, and how we can apply these values to this time.
January 1, 1998
voice of this document:
VISION STRATEGY EVALUATE
click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox
April 10, 1998
July 19, 1999
reformatted and Undate added June 4, 2012
this document is about 97% finished)
Cpoyright© Matt Taylor 1998, 1999, 2000, 2012