LakeTahoe - July 2000
Otto Kreisher
VAH-2, 1962-65
How long has it been since we all were young together? Strangers becoming more like brothers than friends.  Sharing things that most will never know, building bonds that are stronger than blood.
 Cat shots into a formless black night, when sea and sky are one.  Only the gauges point to altitude and life. Or into a hot, still day, when lift seems but a theory.  Straining against the straps, willing it to climb.
Hours strapped to a hard seat, mask cutting your face.  Seemingly alone in a universe of three. Stretching for home, fuel balanced against Charlie time.
"Foul deck.  Continue to hold."  Can sweat replace fuel?   CCA through the muck, bathed in St. Elmo's ghostly glow.  Pilot on the gauges, B/N searching for the sight of the plane guard's wake or Mustang's faint lights.  Gear down. Flaps down.  Hook down.
"Call the ball."
Pin point of orange, two green bars.  "Folder five, ball."  Air speed, line up and ball. Seconds to get it right.  Pitching deck, don't chase it.
"Folder five, power!"
A rush of lights.  Jarring hit.  Scraping hook.  Please catch.  Full power.  Slammed into the straps.
From flight deck chaos to the ready room's warmth and the LSO's dreaded review:  "High start, low in the middle.  Okay three."
And there were joys that never grew old.  On top of sun-blessed clouds, little less than gods. Or high in a clear night, a billion stars humbling the soul.
The low-level rush, hills grabbing for your guts.  Face in the scope, find the aim point, track.  Master bomb on. "Follow PDI." Tone.  Pull! Two and a half Gs.  Release.  Roll.  Shack!
Happy hours at the club.  Unplanned weekend parties.  Married couples who'll feed bachelor JOs.
Off to WestPac.  Mai Tais beneath the "bang bang tree. "Popcorn and "juice" in the JO bunkroom. Atsugi for hotsy baths and Sake to forget night traps.  Cubi and San Miguels, "fragrant river" and "monkey on a stick." Hong Kong 's good cheap suits and floating restaurants.  Pollywogs becoming shellbacks on crossing the line.  Down under, where past sacrifices still bring respect.
Finally, homeward bound.  "Open up those Golden Gates."
But life on the edge brings soaring highs AND crushing lows. Friends so full of life, can they really be gone?  Empty ready room chairs bring the sad truth:  Fatherless kids, wives now widows and men who will never grow old.
"Glory, glory, what a helluva way to die."  "And they'll never fly home again."
Practicing for war until the real thing came.  The wrong war, in the wrong place, fought the wrong way.  Too many good men gave their all for so little good.  Does anyone remember but those of us who loved them?
 The Wall may be black, but the names are golden.
Now those who remain come together in joy.  So many years have flown and our bodies are weaker. But the memories and the bonds are forever strong.
 And, for a moment, we all were young together again.