In honor of this holiday, our AFW Safety Officer and Command Pilot, Jim Dell, shares a short story on his experience aboard the USS Midway and his current role at AFW. And we salute the USS Midway Foundation for their support of our flights for veterans in need.
Fourth of July Mission Remembrances
by Jim Dell
This story begins around the 4th of July 1987 when I had my first flight from the aircraft carrier USS Midway. Midway was steaming around the Philippine Islands, and I was a pimply-faced midshipman on an aviation cruise, the summer before my senior year of college.
I was assigned to VAQ-136, the EA-6B Prowler squadron on Midway. My first carrier flight was as an SLB, self-loading baggage, riding in the rear of the four-seat Prowler.
Sitting next to me in the Prowler was Lt. Doug “Gasm” Hora. Doug knew I was scared because I had my helmeted head pressed firmly into the headrest of my ejection seat, apprehensively awaiting the unknown forces of a catapult launch. So, Doug punched me in the arm. He did this to ease my apprehension and to get my attention to watch the Hornet launch off the port (left) catapult. Previously, Doug had thrown my midshipman cruise manual, the one I had so diligently completed, over the side of the boat, which I didn’t think was funny at the time.
Shortly after the Hornet’s launch, the Prowler began to shake as the pilot shoved the throttles into military power for the catapult shot. A couple of very tense seconds later, BANG…and my head was thrown back into the seat, my oxygen mask smashed against my face, and the ejection seat slammed into my backside as the catapult fired. Two seconds later and traveling at 140 mph, I felt a deceleration and a floating sensation as the Prowler began its climb away from Midway. That was both terrifying and fun, I thought to myself.
I was shocked later that year when I learned that an EA-6B had crashed off the Midway. CDR Justin Greene, LT David Gibson, LT John Carter, and LT Doug Hora had not returned from a mission in the Indian Ocean on their way to confront Iran for some misdeed. They were truly lost at sea, never seen again. I teared up as I remembered Doug’s compassionate punch to my arm.
Fast forward 30 years and I find myself a docent on the USS Midway, which is now a museum. When I walk up to her plank, memories of my time as a midshipman, Doug, and the others return. I think it’s the diesel marine smell of the boat still lingering in the air that sparks the memories. I enjoy regaling visitors to the Midway with stories of Doug and the others that I had met that summer. It’s not the same mission as in my days as a Naval Flight Officer, but it’s a good mission of keeping their stories alive.
These days I find myself no longer flying missions off carriers, but instead flying missions of compassion for Angel Flight West. I love a good mission.
My new mission is that of Angel Flight West’s Aviation Safety Officer. Let us this Fourth of July celebrate the men and women who sacrifice in service to others. I’m also going to laugh about Doug throwing my cruise book over the side.