Sneak Peek From “Witness to the American Century”
Friends, I can hardly believe I am saying this, but I am almost finished with my second book project. This has been a unique opportunity and I think you will all be very surprised at what’s coming. It’s a collaborative work of non-fiction and I’m a ghost writer.
My step-father, Capt. Allen C. Brady (USN-Ret, pictured above, seated, with Bishop Mack Stokes), is a 30-year Navy Veteran, and has spent his life strategically placed inside of what is easily called a living, breathing American History textbook. He’s a real life Forrest Gump.
Pearl Harbor…he was there.
Berlin, Germany when Hitler came to power…he was there.
The Cuban Missile Crisis…he was there.
Seven years as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton…he was there.
He’s 87 now. A friend of our family finally, FINALLY convinced him to write his memoir last summer. On a series of legal pads in long hand, he wrote out the things most of us only get to hear from professors and the History Channel. I took those notepads and I transcribed every story. They made me laugh, they made my jaw drop, they made me stop typing and read in astonishment some of the things that man has seen. Some of those stories overwhelmed me with sadness.
What a life. What a life. What a life.
It’s definitely Pops’ book, undoubtedly Pops’ life. In his career as a fighter pilot, however, he was never trained in the intricacies of narration and I promise you, he knows nothing about describing the scenery for the reader. I can give you an example…
Me: “Pops, you say that when you were being trained to fly those jets, you went to that school, the NASWF, or something-something like that. Regular people don’t know what that stands for.”
Pops: “What!!! Are you kidding? Everyone knows that.”
or this one….
Discussing the post-detonation beer he enjoyed in the Marshall Islands one evening: “Yeah, we were drinking a cold one and Clark Gable came and sat down at the table with us.”
He had NEVER mentioned this little detail of the story before in the four or five times he’d told me the story of Eniwetok. He doesn’t think those details are important.
So you can see why he needs me. If it weren’t for me, the reader would never know what the torture actually did to his back in Hoa Lo prison, how it sounded when his plane was hit by that missile, and how it felt to read a letter from home.
It has been an honor to work with him on this project. He built the house and I simply decorated it. I cannot wait for everyone to read these stories. My hope is that it changes the kids who pass through my classroom, and it inspires the people who love this country, and that it makes all of us remember our definition of what a hero is.
Here is the first chapter of “Witness to the American Century”
A FLASH OF ORANGE LIGHT
On board Aircraft Carrier Kitty Hawk at Yankee Station, off the coast of North Vietnam, January 1967
Fighter pilots at war don’t have time to miss their families. It was three weeks after Christmas and my wife and family were halfway around the world from where I was at that moment. I focused on the task before me: bomb and destroy a series of bridges in the rural northeastern region of North Vietnam. President Nixon had temporarily stopped our assault on NVN because of the holidays but US jets still continued to attack areas of South Vietnam, which was still occupied by the Viet Cong. We bombed a few obscure targets being directed by air controllers flying their small observation planes but when the weather happened to be bad, we were often kept airborne in our trusty A6s.
Just past the middle of January, the weather started to improve so a large air strike was planned for January 19, 1967. Two carriers would participate, each one launching three strikes, for a total of six. Normally, strike assignments would come from headquarters in Saigon. Our airwing staff would assign which squadrons would participate. Then, a strike leader was tasked with briefing the participants on overall tactics and the A6 contingent would generally serve as the navigation lead to the target area because of our inertial navigation system. On the first strike of that day, I led the whole strike force to the target area. The strike leader commanding the F4 group would initiate the attack phase. I was in the lead section of four A6s. There were F4s and A4s as well, for a total of about 20 aircraft, as I recall. As we approached the target, I could see the tell-tale smoke puffs of anti-aircraft artillery called AAA. We descended to about 3000 feet and went to full power. The F4s on our tail hit burners and passed us. Some A4s were attacking AAA sites with 20 mm guns and rockets. A4s had launched SHRIKE anti-radiation missiles, which home in on the enemy radar signals, launching them high in the air where they would leave contrails. Of course, the missiles would be seen by the enemy but they would have to either shut down their radars or have a SHRIKE missile down their chimneys, so to speak. Unexpectedly, our missile warning light came on, indicating that a surface-to-air missile had been launched at us and was receiving guidance information. The F4s came on the radio and ordered our group to hard turn to port. Shortly after I had the target in my sight, I radioed that I was pulling up and then all the A6s pulled up as well to gain sufficient altitude to roll into a dive-bombing maneuver. I acquired the target in my crosshairs and pushed the release button at 3000 feet, then I pulled out and immediately jinked to the left doing more than 400 knots. Suddenly, I heard an explosion and saw a flash of orange light. With a jarring thump, the control stick was ripped out of my hand and although I tried to grab it and continue maneuvers, it gave no response. The aircraft started rolling violently and I knew it was time to get out.
The A6 has a large canopy that slides rearward on release. When you start the ejection sequence, the canopy slides back and keeps going, eventually leaving the aircraft completely. To initiate the ejection sequence, you are supposed to reach for a yellow handle on the instrument panel in front of you to get rid of the canopy and then pull one of the two available ejection handles, either the one over your head or the one between your legs. After I was hit, the G-forces were so great that I couldn’t reach the canopy handle, so I reached for the handle over the back of my head. It was difficult, but I knew that if I didn’t find it, that would be it! I managed to grab onto it and then pulled as hard as I could. There was a noise and then a wonderful acceleration as I blasted through the canopy. The top of the seat was above my head so it broke through the canopy first. (Actually, if the rails had been damaged, the canopy might have gotten stuck halfway and I would have crashed up inside of it, which would be another way to die.) My bombardier navigator, Lieutenant Commander Bill Yarborough, a skilled navigator and a great friend, ejected as well. He and I never spoke again as the G-Forces made it impossible for us to talk to each other during our spiral downward. After I ejected from the plane, several actions ensued, all of them occurring in a mere two seconds. When my chute finally deployed, I looked down and saw that the ground was only about 100 feet below me. I prepared to execute a hard parachute landing fall. When I hit the ground, since there was no wind I was unable to roll and so I crashed in a sitting position, which was rather painful. About 100 yards away from where I landed, I saw the smoking hole in the ground that I knew was the remains of my aircraft. I called out for Bill but got no response. He must have died on impact, his chute failing to deploy fully before hitting the ground. I could see Vietnamese people running toward me but I was in a wide open country of rice patties with no avenue of escape. I knew I would be captured. The report that was submitted by the pilot in the plane behind me, Lt. Ron Waters, reported to Navy officials after the crash that he saw my aircraft when it was hit and watched it break into two burning pieces and then fall to the earth.
Back home, my family held their breaths for nineteen months, wondering if I survived.