HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Darker Waters

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. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day

Semper Fi

"Bullet" Maj Donald Stuart Jones USMC

1st Lt Bernie Plassmeyer USMC

"Donut" Capt Willie Duncan
It is personal.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thank You for Voting for WING WIFE

Wing Wife: How to Be Married to a Marine Fighter Pilot An Al's Books and Pals Nominee for Memoir 2013!

Here's the link.

Writing a book is a labor of love. Recognition of the writing helps keep me slogging away. Thank you all who have read my memoir and help keep the fighter pilot attitude alive.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Flash Flood

An Excerpt From My Novel-in-Progress, A Commanding Officer's Wife

I walked through the family room. Julie, redhaired and petite, laughed with her husband Okie, named for his accent and attitude. Blonde, tall Elaine listened, smiling with her husband Packrat while a mustached Burner told some kind of funny story. There was young Flash--last name Flood--with Lucy, his very young wife. She wore loose pants, a Guatemalan woven hooded shirt and dangly bead earrings—a late-to-the-scene hippie surfer chick.

Diane whispered in my ear. “I’m told the video of his ‘taking a nap’ is making the rounds at the squadron.”

 Flash had just survived an unconscious ejection near San Clemente Island. The accident had been the main topic of conversation for weeks.

He’d been flying against another fighter. Flash--trying to look good at the field and impress Fog, the other plane’s veteran pilot--made a very quick turn at least a G or two above his tolerance. Neither Flash nor the G-suit could compensate quickly enough when the blood pulled out from his brain down to his feet. Flash checked his six--looked behind the plane--over his left shoulder and promptly ‘took a nap’.

“Is Steamboat Willie here yet?” I asked Diane.

“I saw him in the backyard with a beer. He’s been drinking more than usual since--”

I could believe that. Steamboat had been Flash’s RIO. With an unconscious pilot in the front seat, the fighter came off the turn doing odd things, like rolling over and falling out of the sky. Steamboat Willie, stuck in the back with no controls, tried to get Flash on the intercom. No response. The plane continued doing weird things and Steamboat Willie saw his front-seater’s head flopping from one side to the other. He called out, “Flash? Flash!” As the plane pointed nose down, passing 10,000 feet above sea level, speeding toward the center of the earth, the wise backseater yelled, “Eject! Eject! Eject!”, command-ejecting both of them. Flash didn’t come to until he floated in his chute, about to hit the water, with absolutely no clue where he was or how he got there.

As part of the accident investigation, they put Flash in a centrifuge, spun him up to a certain amount of G-force, told him to look back over his shoulder and he blacked out. In the interest of scientific inquiry--and maybe to mess with him--the investigators had the centrifuge cranked up twice more. Flash turned his head and it was, “Say sayonara, baby” all over again.

“I’ve heard the tape’s a cult hit,” I said. “Easy to believe the guys love watching Flash’s eyes roll back in his head over and over. Simple minds. Simple pleasures.”

Diane and I both laughed.

“I just can’t believe Lucy’s reaction the day of the accident,” I said, then wondered if I should have kept my mouth shut.

“What reaction?” Her eyes lit up. She loved hearing stories about other people. Any gossip she heard spread faster than germs from a sneeze.

 “Never mind.” Yep, I should have kept my mouth shut. “She can’t help being nineteen.”

Diane grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall. “We can talk here without being overheard. She’s nineteen? I thought she was still in high school.”

The party behind me had kicked into another level of laughter, beer bottles clinking and people arriving. I knew I should go do my ‘hostess with the mostest’ thingy but I also knew Diane wouldn’t let me until I told her the whole story.

I looked around to make sure no one else listened in. “Once the helo had plucked the crew out of the water and flown them to Miramar, Alex called Flash’s wife.” The guys tried to contact the next of kin before the story came from unreliable sources--like other wives.

 “Fog never tells me anything,” she said.

“Alex calls me whenever anything happens, so I’ll know he’s okay even if I hear there’s been an accident. I worry more since my brother’s accident.”

Diane patted my arm, her eyes serious. She knew.

“Anyway, when Lucy answered the phone, he told her Flash’d been involved in an aircraft accident and had to eject over water. He said, ‘He’s okay and uninjured.’ He braced himself for the cries of panic, or the silent thump if she fainted following the words ‘accident’ and ‘eject’.

“I would have.”

“Cried or fainted?”

“Both,” Diane said. “I get hysterical when reminded how dangerous it all is. And ejecting’s more dangerous than flying. At the very least, both Fog’s knees would be smashed if he’s rocketed out.”

I nodded. My brother used to talk about the hazards of being six-three in a fighter jet. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to pull the handle. “Alex told her Flash’d call as soon as he could.”

“And--?” Diane prompted.

“She said, ‘Oh. Okay. Tell him I’ll be at the beach.’”

“Oh my goodness!” A laugh burst from Diane before her face softened as she looked over my shoulder toward the very young wife of the youngest lieutenant. “She has no clue.”
          I nodded my head. I read somewhere that ignorance is temporary, unless it proved fatal. Now thirty years old, my last seven years of marriage, children and surviving one tragedy after another had taught me a lifetime of lessons. Maybe I could help her find her way through life with a pilot so they both survived. I vowed to get together with her soon. Maybe we’d walk the beach together and talk.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The WING WIFE: Interview by Keith Jones

J Keith Jones author of In Due Time and The Boys of Diamond Hill read Wing Wife: How to Be Married to a Marine Fighter Pilot and asked if I'd do an interview for his blog. I am honored to have been asked. To read the interview and find out more about my writing life go HERE.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marine F-4 Phantom Foray

November 1-4, 2012, San Diego

Mike "Lancer" Sullivan
Bob "Fox" Johnson
JP "Monk" Monroe

The contact email is:
We are now ready to proceed with the greatest ‘mother of them all’ reunions - the "Marine F-4 Phantom Foray". San Diego, as the home of so much Marine TACAIR, has been selected as the site of preference.

The primary goal is to bring together all participants of the Marine Corps community (aircrew, maintenance, administrative and other personnel who have supported the F-4) for long overdue recognition of their exceptional contribution to Marine Aviation History.

The two committed speakers we have for the banquet are the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, who flew F-4s, and the former President of McDonnell Aircraft when the F-4 was the King on the Block!

Wives, girlfriends, family and friends are invited and encouraged!

The selected hotel is the Town and Country Resort, which so many of you are familiar with. The dates are Thursday 1 November thru Sunday 4 November 2012. Early arrivals will be Wednesday 31 October and checkout Sunday 4 November. The room rate is $113 + 12.5% tax per night and we have booked 400 rooms. We hope to grow this number and encourage each of you to forward this information to your friends. If you plan to attend please consider reserving your room as soon as possible so we can gauge potential additional needs. A room deposit is required but you can always cancel your room later and get a full refund. Hotel reservation information is at the end of this email. 

Communication regarding the reunion will be conducted exclusively by email from Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. Mailed-in registrations must be paid via check or money order. Advance sales of shirts, caps and other memorabilia will be available from a merchant who is giving us a huge break on prices. Further information on this will be provided later. Items will not be for sale at the reunion.
  • Thursday – Welcome Aboard Reception. Possible Early Bird Tour Friday - Tours to USS Midway, Flying Leatherneck Museum, & Open House by MAG-11
  • Friday Evening - Squadron Dinners (arranged separately by sqd. leaders)
  • Saturday - Pictures, Memorial Service and a Farewell Banquet
  • Sunday - Farewells
A large, centrally located Ready Room with beverages and snacks will be open throughout the reunion. All are welcome! We also have on hold several suites and smaller meeting rooms should squadrons wish to have their own Ready Rooms. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, function space is being held for squadron dinners on Friday night. Groups may choose to contract with a local restaurant instead. Squadron dinners are to be planned directly with the hotel by the squadron leader. Squadron leaders should contact Molly Dey at Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. for further info on individual squadron Ready Rooms and Friday Dinners.
Let’s all work together to make this an historic event! Ideas and volunteers are always welcome.

Semper Fi,

Mike "Lancer" Sullivan, Bob "Fox" Johnson, JP "Monk" Monroe

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rank and Flying

The main job an officer had in the squadron was to be a pilot or RIO. Pilots were judged on their competency in the air, whether they were ‘a good stick’. This ranking went on a scale from “a damn fine stick’ to ‘unsafe at any speed’.

Lieutenants, once they earned their wings, needed to fly often to build up competence, confidence, and situational awareness. Good RIOs helped with the training after the training command sent the young 'uns to an operational squadron and the best RIOs helped keep them alive in bad situations. With a nugget, also known as an FNG--Fucking New Guy, a RIO had to keep an eye out for trouble on the horizon of the lieutenant's experience and a hand ready to command eject. Generally, lieutenants knew less than they thought they did and were an exemplar of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. A strong squadron scheduled flights to give the lieutenants the experience they needed everyday. When not flying, FNGs were good for weekend duty and holiday duty, voting officer, drug and alcohol officer, mailroom duty, mess officer, dues collection--anything that had little or no effect on actual flying operations.

With luck, lieutenants became captains. Captains flew. The backbone of the operational squadron, the good ones helped both ends: training the lieutenants and getting work done for the OpsO, XO and Commanding Officer. But they had no grey hair, no responsibilities to worry about except to become the best damn pilots in the free world and beyond. Every fighter pilot wanted to stay a captain forever.

Eventually captains either left the Corps or were promoted to major. Majors in the squadron were the OpsO who scheduled flight, the XO who took care of the admin and kept the CO happy, and the Maintenance Officer who made sure the planes all took off each day. Responsibility was their life. Once in awhile they got in some flighttime, at least enough to maintain flight status and flight pay, but the dark specter of Life After Flying hulked over their lives as shit hot pilots.

The CO was a Lieutenant Colonel. Only one per squadron. Being a CO of a fighter squadron in the Marine Corps was an honor, a privilege, and life-changing. The good ones maintained ties throughout their lives to those who served willingly under them and at their wing.

But not all get there.

In the Air Force, aviators fly. Someone else does all the other jobs in a squadron. The Marine Corps, with a smaller force and budget to draw on, needs all Marines to do their duty: to run the 3 mile PFT; to know how to carry a rifle, to load, shoot and clean it; to serve with the grunts on occasion and learn what the Marines are doing on the ground when they need fire support.

Aviators fly, but good Marines do more than that. Good Marines support the whole mission, the operation of the squadron, the training of the lieutenants and stepping up to the responsibility of the rank of major and above. A Marine who never serves a ground tour, never does a favor for his Monitor (the guy in a cubicle in the Pentagon who has to fill all the billets), that guy--he thinks he's Peter Pan, but he's just a lost boy. 

I knew some of those lost boys. Some never married, never should have. A few people I knew loved the flyboys and married them. Usually those boys stayed in NeverNeverLand, while the spouse took care of the real world.

My favorite people knew that Tink's fairy dust wouldn't last forever and they accepted grounding in reality. Just as a squadron needs real Marines, so we need men and women who get married, have children and teach them right from wrong; people who do their best to do what's right.

I know my guy misses the rush of pushing the envelope, a cat launch off a pitching deck, a perfect ACM against a worthy opponent. But I love him for everything he was, has been since his last flight in a Hornet, and still is today.

When were you last captain of your soul?

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Expect the Unexpected Part 2: Flight Suits

The green Marine flight suit with its multiple pockets, zippers and velcro served many practical purposes. Velcro allowed for squadron patches and nametags to be changed out as needed when changing squadrons or when the guys wanted to "look good at the field" of an O' Club away from home. Some favorite nametags: "Dick Gazinia" "Hugh Jardon" and "Roger Ball".

The Marine Corps, frugal to the core, issued one or two new flight suits a year. Lenny "Toad" Bucko, a Marine fighter pilot who flew the MIGs out of Tonopah for Red Flag, attached to the Air Force for the tour. He remains awestruck with the number of gadgets and flightsuits he found in his locker when he checked in. "Five!" he said. "And they told me to just let them know if I needed more," confirming rumors the Air Force got the good stuff.

Flight suits had front zippers that zipped both ways, allowing aviators to "take a leak" while strapped in the seat. A few intrepid souls used them to continue on their quest to "look good at the field" by ball-walking at the O'Club--unzipping from the bottom, pulling out the family jewels, rezipping down, and then talking to women as if nothing was unusual.

My guy's multiple pockets carried a variety of items, all accessible with the g-suit on. The outside sleeve had narrow pockets for US Government black pens, and a zipper to a compartment underneath for a pad of paper. The baggy side pockets on the legs held the most important items for survival.

He kept flint and steel; firestarter--a rectangle, the size of Double Bubble pink chewing gum, of a waxy substance that pulled apart into cotton ball shreds; a signaling mirror--an ingenious 3 by 4 inch mirror with a hole in the center to allow sighting on an oncoming ship, plane or helo; Charms--yes, the candy; bottled water, a survival knife, a shroud cutter switchblade capable of cutting through fifteen shroudlines at a time, a survival radio, a pen gun flare, a green flashlight with an optional red plastic lens to keep the light from affecting night vision, and a foil space blanket (thank you, race to the moon!).

And he always had a John Wayne key, also known as a P-38 can opener, in his flight suit for ready access to the C-rats in the raft. Everything had a lanyard attached. Even if he dropped some lifesaving item, he still had it attached to his suit.

He never expected to eject. He never had to. But he was prepared if it should happen.

There are times when my purse resembles the pockets of his flight suit. I always carry a small flashlight--in the old days I had a mini Maglite, now I've converted to an LED with my iPhone (the flashlight app) for backup. I carry gum and breath mints, a Kind bar, aspirin and migraine meds, my Kindle with 1500 books on it, extra pens (though the black US Government pens have disappeared into the junk drawers of time), reading glasses, sunglasses, a glasses repair kit, money (sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes just plastic), a glass nail file, nail polish, Jelly Bellies for my grandkids, hand lotion, my moleskin notebook, Tide-to-Go, and sometimes a bottle of water.

There are always unexpected events in our lives with our children, our spouses, our friends: a car accident, an illness, an estrangement. My purse and his flight suit won't protect us. We have to keep our mind and hearts just as prepared.

I am expecting the unexpected and I'll be ready.

Also published as a column in the Military Writers Society of America's monthly magazine, Dispatches. MWSA Column

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fighter Pilot Rule for Life: Lowkey Information

The first plane my guy flew was a T-34 propeller trainer, the T-2 was his first jet, then the T-2B, a twin engine T-2 jet, the TF-9 jet trainer, and finally in VMFA-333, he flew the Phantom F-4. All of the planes were double-seaters with an instructor or a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) in the backseat ready to tell him when he was doing it wrong. It served a dual purpose to have dual seats. The backseaters kept the valuable plane from terminal damage and also kept the young, brash, and maybe-not-yet-up-to-snuff pilot from terminal damage. A lot of time and money had been invested in both aircraft and aviator.

If a pilot had figured out a way to auger into the ground or lost his S/A or departed from controlled flight, a RIO or instructor would verbally help him get his act together. The best RIOs and instructors kept cool in the lightning storm. The idea wasn't to destroy the young pilot's confidence but to train him up to be a calm, steely-eyed gunslinger with wings and sidewinder missiles. Even after leaving the training command there were many times an extra set of eyes or another brain proved valuable. When worse went to worst, the RIO also had a command-eject capability.

And then in 1983, the new latest fighter arrived at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station: the F/A-18 Hornet, a single-seat, high-tech aircraft that featured computerized instrument panels, nine on-board computers (more now!), and television screens to aid in bombing run accuracy. The training squadrons had two-seat planes, but once finished with the flight simulator training and the instructors, no RIO flew as a backseat driver or failsafe guy.

McDonnell Douglas had a solution. They asked a secretary to record some standard warning messages in a calm, female voice. (Millions of dollars went into research to determine that a female voice was easier to hear in a stressful situation) The F/A-18 Hornet voice warning system was called by the aviators Bitchin’ Betty. In the worst of circumstances, her voice is composed and measured: “Left engine fire. Left engine fire” or “Bingo Fuel. Bingo Fuel.”

Here's what I've been wondering: why does my beloved other ignore my voice in disasters? Could it be that jumping up and down screaming and using tons of !!!! does not make my point better?

So I've been practicing. I keep my voice low and slow. "Honey, you are about to turn left on a red light and I do not think that tractor-trailer sees you," and "You might want to bring your wallet that is on the bedside table before we leave with our luggage to catch a plane to Timbuktu," and "Darling, the ladder you are climbing to put lights on the second story of our house has not been latched properly and is about to collapse."

Not my fault if he does not hear my reasonable warnings. Not my fault, but in a marriage we both suffer the consequences.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Military Writer's Society of America's Book Discussion Forum March 23-25

Please join us for the Military Writer's Society of America's first book discussion forum running March 23-25 on the MWSA site. I am honored that the topic will be my memoir, WING WIFE: HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT. Joyce Faulkner, President of MWSA will be the moderator.

I encourage everyone to participate, even if you haven't read WING WIFE, especially if you have written, are in the process of writing, or are thinking about writing a memoir. We'd love the perspective of military types--Marines and other services--aviators and/or their spouses. Everyone's comments will be useful.

The idea is to talk about craft and to talk about the military experience.

Writing Techniques for Memoirs Link:

WING WIFE Content and Message Link: 

If you are not a member and want to comment on a thread, write Joyce at and ask to be added to the site.