When aviators and former aviators get together, stories are told. Some are from personal experience, retold with ego or humble there-but-for-the-grace-of. Some are stories heard from someone involved or from mishap reports. And then there is scuttlebutt. A good ol’ Naval term, scuttlebutt.
The origin of the word "scuttlebutt," which is nautical parlance for a rumor, comes from a combination of "scuttle" -- to make a hole in the ship's hull and thereby causing her to sink --- and "butt" -- a cask or hogshead used in the days of wooden ships to hold drinking water. The cask from which the ship's crew took their drinking water -- like a water fountain -- was the "scuttlebutt". Even in today's Navy a drinking fountain is referred to as such. But, since the crew used to congregate around the "scuttlebutt", that is where the rumors about the ship or voyage would begin. Thus, then and now, rumors are talk from the "scuttlebutt" or just "scuttlebutt".
Interesting how this plays into the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” of World War II.
A few years back I blogged about one such story, Dark Waters I, here. “Everyone” in the military aviation community knew the story because it was so unusual. Hynotizing an aviator! But no one I knew was within two degrees of separation, much less an eyewitness.
Fastforward to a recent dinner at Agile’s home, our friends for over forty years and a fellow Marine fighter pilot with my Andy. The two aviators were reminiscing over drinks and gazpacho with Agile’s grown son (yes, we are that old), telling him stories of almosts—almost running out of fuel, almost crashing and burning, way too many almosts for this member of the society of the grounded. And then the A-4 pilot in the Sea of Japan story came up. I was telling what I knew from what my guy had told me from what he had heard from the scuttlebutt, spooky story of cold water in the night. And Agile spoke up.
“The full story is even spookier.”
Agile was at the Pentagon at the time and had occasion to hear the story that did not make it into the official report. A couple days after the accident they found the plane in 40 feet of water. The canopy had been wrenched off but lay upright on the bottom of the ocean next to the plane. The pilot was hypnotized, but couldn’t remember how he ended up in the water, how he got out, how he got the canopy off. All he said under hypnosis was that “George” told him to take off the canopy. “George” told him to get out of the plane and swim to the surface. Further investigation turned up only one George in the pilot’s life: his roommate at flight school who had been killed during training.
Comforting to think friends watch over us no matter what separates us--time, distance or death itself.