Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Fifty years ago today I was in the United States Air Force in charge of the intelligence operation of a squadron of RF104 reconnaissance aircraft.

It was Itazuke Air Base, a pretty much shuttered JASDF Air Base – shuttered until the Pueblo crisis, that is.

The US military had to open it back up after the massive influx of – resources – in support of the Pueblo Crisis had been deployed to South Korea and South Korea had cried “uncle” (translation: “we can’t absorb any more fucking Americans; we don’t even have any beds for them”).

So the Kadena RF104 guys moved over to Japan and I got to join them on a temporary assignment from Offutt.

I had been at Offutt for three months, just back from a year in Saigon; I had already begun to become antsy about being out of some sort of hostile environment: Offutt was a great base for Colonels and above; First Lieutenants really had no place there.

I was a First Lieutenant.

So I volunteered for the Pueblo Crisis and I got it.

No one else volunteered.

A few years later when I had just gone on quota as an IBM salesman I volunteered for a new sales plan nobody else would take: Plan 4; that turned out pretty well; so did Intelligence officer for the RF104 Cotton Pickers.

(I saw one of their planes in the old plane graveyard in Out There In NoWhere Arizona a few years back; the yellow and black checkerboard pattern on the vertical stabilizer made me remember Paul and Ernie, my Itazuke friends who died a couple months after I had returned to Offutt, and they had returned to Kadena, when, on take off Paul got disoriented and guessed wrong on which way to push the stick; they went fast into the runway upside down; that is frequently fatal.)

At Itazuke I had a simple job.

It was a lot like what I had always wanted to do for a living which was to be an entertainer.

But for Vietnam (a massive absorptive agent of young men who wanted to do something else) the RF Trio might have been just ahead of, and subsequently been blown out of the water by, The Beatles (the Brits were lucky; they didn’t have to go to Vietnam).

A lot of groups were blown out of the water by The Beatles.

I would have liked to have been part of one of those groups.

But in America – unless you were named Drumpf – you went to Vietnam.

If you were lucky, you got some say in how you went – I was able to get a commission in USAF so I didn’t have to carry a gun and go into the jungle and shoot randomly into the leaves and tree trunks and all that other jungle shit and hope that that would keep me from getting killed; but I did have to go; and that pretty much killed the RF Trio.

So I was at Itazuke fifty years ago.

I briefed the pilots.

The pilots flew over North Korea and took pictures.

By the time I got there, one of our planes had not returned – only a few days into the deployment (guys don’t die only a few days into their deployment, do they?” I thought I heard someone say).


A few days after I got there we got pictures back of the missing plane.

It had not quite made it over a mountain.

Other than that, the pictures that came back were pretty mundane.

But we looked at all of them

We looked at them and tried to figure out how we were going to get the Pueblo back

Which was why these Kadena based 104s were there in the first place: North Korea had attacked and captured a small Navy intelligence gathering vessel back in March 1968 or so, and all hell had subsequently broken loose.

We were, after all, still up to our asses and going deeper, in Vietnam.

So another potential war was not an attractive option.


In one of my several memoirs – Saigon 1967 - I document the contents of a document that I had the privilege to read that tells the tale of how all this – the Pueblo Crisis began.

It’s pretty Key Stone Cops.

Really fun stuff.


All of this writing in this post so far has been a lot of fun, but it has nothing to do with why I started to write this post in the first place.

The reason I am writing this post is that fifty years ago today Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

I was coming back to the clutch of cabin-like Itazuke hooches that we all lived in.

It was maybe 1800 local time.

My friend Joe was sitting on the steps of his hooch.

I was about to say something, but Joe spoke first.

“They killed Kennedy”.

I was transported to a college classroom into which had just entered a normally calm to the point of being catatonic professor who glared at all of us and said “I guess you have heard that they have killed Jack Kennedy!”

The two dead Kennedys, as I tried to keep walking, and not to fall – dead myself maybe: I felt that impacted by the curious confluence of Kennedy being dead, once, back then, and now, I guess, again – that I was not sure that I was going to want to keep being alive.

And I was interested that in both cases “they” had done it.

“Who are ‘they?’” I couldn’t suppress from my thought stream.


On my way to Itazuke, on the plane from Travis, I had a book that I was reading.

On the Beach.

And it had been only days since MLK had been assassinated.

The plane seemed to me to be cloaked in a semi-transparent sort of darkness that might be in some sort of not very good movie.

But I kept reading On the Beach and going deeper into the dark transparency.

So now, as I tried not to fall – perhaps dead – out front of Joe’s hooch – I had a revelation: I had MLK, JFK and RFK.

All dead.

And Nixon loomed.

And I really wanted – if I didn’t die – to be positive about my country.

But history intervened.

And we got Nixon.

And now we have donnie.

JFK, MLK and RFK can be seen in the homes of millions of people all over the world.

I wonder if in the future primitive hovels are going to have pictures of an orange fat man with a weird yellow wig hanging on their walls.

I do doubt it.

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