Above and beyond

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

This week finds your columnist and Grannie Annie at the Air Force Academy beautifully sited at the foot of the majestic snowcapped Rocky Mountains. The time of drudgery that I spent here as a student has paid off in a lifetime of appreciation for the place and its product of well-trained men and women dedicated to service to country that are turned out each year.

Grannie and I have come to say good-bye to a dear friend, Marian Reardon, wife of Mike one of my classmates. She will be buried today in the Air Force Academy Cemetery a place of well-kept dignified beauty. It is both our wishes to eventually be buried in this place so the good-bye is more of a so long see you later kind of a deal — no hurry.

Marian and Ann became good friends as they endured their first pregnancies together. Mike and I were going through pilot training at the same time. Both first born daughters even were christened with the same name. Then through the years our paths crossed many times throughout our Air Force careers. Good friends.

Recently your editor Bruce forwarded an email that had been sent to him for publication. As you can see it is an honest man’s thoughts for a fellow crewman’s impact on a stressful time in their lives. Combat does that to a person. I personally knew neither individual yet feel kinship as fellow tanker crewmen flying the same type aircraft on the same missions. I quote:

Good day,

I am an Air Force veteran and served with Lee Franklin. We were on the same crew for a year.

We flew a KC-135 which is an in-flight air-refueling aircraft, basically a flying gas station. We were stationed in Grand Forks North Dakota. I would like to share something with your readers.

I wrote this in his memory.

Lee Franklin

Navigators are a strange breed. They see the way when no one else does and we follow that path without question. Pilots get a lot of credit that really belongs to a navigator. Lee was a navigator and we followed where he told us to go.

Tanker crews usually lead relatively boring lives. Other planes line up behind us for gas and sometimes we lead small planes across the emptiness of wide oceans. Not really all that different from your local gas station attendant in most ways. Inept copilots and hangovers were the only dangers we faced. Most of the time.

Sometimes it was different, very different. A fighter was in trouble over the North, a place full of anti-aircraft missiles, flak, and enemy fighters. Tankers are large containers of jet fuel in awkwardly large planes with no defense. Tankers did not fly over North Vietnam. No one would do that but Lee’s crew did that to save someone in danger. They risked it all. They brought one back.

Most heroes are never acknowledged. They do their jobs running up tall buildings that are collapsing and on fire or they pull someone out of a flood raged river or they parachute into a forest fire. They do things that we cannot even imagine doing. I am not such a person but Lee Franklin was that kind of man. Remember him.

George M.A. Cumming Jr.

Nice tribute. I suspect the pilot that wrote it was being a bit humble because the tanker carrying that navigator over the north also had two pilots and a boom operator as a crew and they all committed together.

It also triggers memories from 1967 for your old columnist because I’ve been there and done that. Our navigator, Dean, led us into North Vietnam four times to give fuel to shot-up fighters with leaking fuel tanks trying to make it back home. We carried charts (maps) that showed “suspected SAM sites” and we simply stayed 20 miles away out of those surface to air missiles range of effectiveness.

It worked for Lee and George and it worked for us. Oh yes, officially we never were authorized to fly over North Vietnam so there was never any official recognition. However a guy’s gotta do what a guy has to do and the fighter pilots loved us for it.

That is how I saw it.

Dick Trail

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