Gather 'round, friends, and I'll tell a tale of how I almost died in an embarrassing way.
I was a young stud in the 25th Infantry Division, serving as my platoon's RTO.
And so it came to pass, we deployed to Korea for Team Spirit '87.
Team Spirit was a HUGE biennial exercise with US and ROK forces for the defense of South Korea.
And so it came to pass, one major part of our exercise involved my little platoon taking part in the largest air assault mission since Vietnam.
The 25th ID, supported by elements of 8th Army and 2nd ID, airlifted an entire brigade of light Infantry in one lift. It was massive.
And my platoon leader and I were on the very lead helicopter of the lift.
Now, the UH-60 Blackhawk, which we were riding in, normally seats 11 fully equipped troops. The seating configuration is 4 seats along the back wall of the troop compartment, 4 seats forward facing back to the rear, and 3 seats forward back to back with those.
A smart platoon leader (which mine *usually* was) would sit along the back wall of the troop compartment by the door, because it gave the best situational awareness. But on this day, LT O, for some damn fool reason sat in the middle of the forward three seats.
As his Radio Telephone Operator, I had to sit next to him. I was never more than 2 feet from him ever. That was my sole purpose in life, to provide him the link that the radio gave us to company, and all the love and support Big Army could provide.
So I'm sitting in the forward seat of a Blackhawk. My radio is in my Alice pack, which, as per normal operations, we've taken off our backs, and strapped across our chests for the chopper ride.
Eventually, our really huge and totally for show air assault arrives at the Landing Zone. Which, this being 1987 Korea, in March, is a frozen over rice paddy, of course.
Having landed, it's time to expeditiously unass the bird.
But, with the tight confines of the front seat, and the bulk of about 90 pounds of rucksack strapped to my chest, it's not quite that easy. Turns out, the only way to get out is to back out. And that's when things started to go sideways.
The seats on a Blackhawk are aluminum pipe frames with nylon sheets, braced by wires.
As I'm backing out, with my dead cat like agility, I managed to get one foot entangled in the wires and fall out of the Blackhawk backwards, with my leg still firmly trapped in the bird.
And having landed in a rice paddy with about a half inch of ice over a few inches of water, found myself both stuck to the Blackhawk, *and* as an added bonus, my head submerged and pinned down by my rucksack, which very conveniently slid up over my face.
And of course, having my breath knocked out by the impact of my fall, I aspirated a shitload of rice paddy water.
BTW, you know what Koreans fertilized rice paddies with back then? Night soil. Which you and I call human shit.
So, my normally very bright Platoon leader is pulling like hell on the H-250/U radio handset and not able to grasp why I'm not following along, which keeps pulling the rucksack further over my head. Meanwhile, the very helpful crew chief on the Blackhawk...
Is, instead of reaching down and freeing my boot from the bracing wire, is instead kicking at my boot to free me, and painfully inflicting injuries to an ankle that's going to spend the next two weeks humping over hills in Korea that would make a billy goat puke.
By the mid 1960s, ejection seats had become quite sophisticated systems. The GRU-7 seat from Martin-Baker was a Zero/Zero system. That is, if you were sitting still on the ground, and ejected, the seat would fire you to a sufficient height for a successful parachute deployment. It would also automatically separate you from the seat, and deploy the parachute. Further, it carried an emergency oxygen supply in the seat pan in case of a high altitude ejection. The seat pan also contained a one man life raft in case of overwater ejection.
Friend of the Blog Rick actually took a GRU-7 for a test drive in the real world.
I just went outside and looked up. The sky is the same cerulean blue it was on that fateful Tuesday morning. I’m in a different state now, half a continent away, and 3000 miles from the site of the attacks. But the sky is reminding me that while the death and destruction were limited to New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, the effect was felt across the entirety of the US. As an added reminder, looking up, I saw no contrails this morning, reminiscent of the eerie absence of air traffic in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
I was working at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. As most mornings, my carpool and I arrived early, and had a cup of coffee and cigarettes in the member lounge above the trading floor, and then took the escalator down to the floor to get ready to take orders for the opening. Already American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The news shows were just starting to show the pillar of smoke gushing from the wounded tower. Our small team gathered at our desk, not quite grasping just how catastrophic the damage was. We quickly heard that a plane had struck the building, but didn’t realize it was a jet airliner. I immediately thought of the incident where a B-25 had accidentally struck the Empire State Building many years ago. But that was in bad weather. The skies of New York City were as pretty as anyone could ask for.
As we watched, and struggled to understand, at 9:03am, United Airlines Flight 175, live on television, slammed into the South Tower, erupting into an enormous fireball, and snuffing out the lives of hundreds of innocents. At first, I could not grasp it. Did I see what I plainly had? Of course not. Such a think cannot happen, who would do such a thing? But within seconds, I understood. I knew what had happened. And I knew, in my bones, who had done it. Oh, I don’t think I figured it was Osama bin Laden and his al Qeada lackeys. But I knew it was Islamic terrorism.
Despite this clarity, this understanding of the enemy, confusion reigned. There were reports of more hijackings, and some said as many as 14 jetliners were streaking towards targets across the US. I wasn’t the only one in Chicago that figured the Sears Tower was on the hit list. And given that the other half of our team worked a block from there, we called and suggested they might want to leave their office, and link up with us. It also quickly became apparent that there would be no trading that day, and thus, no point in staying. So we began to leave. And just as I stepped on the escalator to the lobby, I took one last look at the television screens. It was 9:59am. At that instant, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into a stupendous cloud of dust. Again, I couldn’t quite pr0cess what I had seen. Indeed, I hadn’t really seen the whole thing. I didn’t know, didn’t quite grasp, that the entire column had crumbled, a cascading failure all the way to the bottom. And my friends couldn’t understand when I tried to tell them the tower had collapsed. Buildings just don’t do that.
My friends and I quickly reached our carpool, and hastened to head home. We were hardly alone. The outbound lanes of the highway were as crowded as rush hour. The inbound lanes were virtually deserted. Of course, we listened to the radio, trying to glean every last bit of information. And of course, there were conflicting reports. Reports of the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 slamming into the western side of the Pentagon at 9:37am eventually came in. And eventually news of the collapse of the North Tower, at 10:28 reached us, though we were confused, and didn’t realize it wasn’t just a repeat report of the collapse of the South Tower. It wasn’t until we were safely ensconced back in Indiana that we learned of the fate of United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. And of course, it would be days before we learned how the passengers, realizing their fate, took what steps they could to prevent an even greater tragedy.
We all have certain images from that day seared into our memories. The gigantic fireball, the falling man, police and firefighters rushing to their doom as civilians worked their way down the stairwells, the dust covered zombies on the streets of Manhattan, the grey pall of dust flowing over the harbor.
These images and more steeled a resolve in the heart of the American people, a terrible anger. And yet, almost instantly, there were those who, beneficiaries of the opportunity of America, having done little to earn their way, ashamed of themselves, cloak themselves not in accomplishment, but assumed moral superiority. They assume it must be that America is somehow unfair, and thus at fault. The first few to denounce the US were greeted with scorn and contempt. But again and again, they spoke, and like a river wearing down a rock, they persisted, until today, not a small number at least wonder if maybe they have a point.
Our resolve, our determination to roll back the campaign of terror, to secure our own interests, has collapsed, as surely as the twin towers on the Hudson.