Let me tell you this, we were almost 32,000 men on this ship.
But at that given signal, 32,000 men became one.
There would be 50 to 60 zero’s setting up over the target waiting for us,
with an altitude advantage, and we’d have to dogfight these guys,
plane by plane, minute by minute, until we got the bombers reformed
and out of there again.
If you’re going to survive, you’d have to stay with your wingman.
and your wingman to stay with you.
If you win, you win. If you don’t, you don’t get back.
I lost my very best friend the first day of combat.
Never seen again.
That’s part of war.
Not the easy part.
The special attack was not an attack.
It was an act of defense.
They were acting to defend their loved ones, parents,
siblings, the weak.
To protect them.
And the times we were hit we lost a lot of very close crew members.
And the average, I would say the average crew member on that ship at the time
was probably 19 years of age.
We were very young. If somebody got killed, you know, you didn’t
have somebody to run to and pour your heart out to.
You shipmates, and they were scared, and you were scared.
But you always did what you had to do.
You always did your duty.
And if you didn’t, this ship wouldn’t be here today.
We were in the Cold War. We practiced the launching of conventional
weapons, but we also practiced low level simulated
strikes into the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons.
And the threat of the Soviet Union was real
and we felt that when we were deployed to the Mediterranean that we were in the
front line of defense. We felt like we were out there making
sure that the Russians wouldn’t drop anything on the United States because we
were out there ready to retaliate if we if we had to.
And there was a feeling of doing something important
that was really one of the most pervasive feelings that we
were out there really making a difference in preventing World
War III from starting.
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other thing,
not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
Preeminence in space was a condition of our
freedom. The people on the other side of the Iron
Curtain thought the same thing.
And it was that competition which drove us more than
even the curiosity that goes with pioneering.
The first thought that I had when I got into orbit was
not something involving pioneering.
It was “Hooray, we Americans
have another man in orbit and now we’re tied with
We were right at the height of the Cold War and the communists had vowed that
they were going to take over and conquer the world.
We had the choice-
either we were going to go to Vietnam and try and help save Vietnam,
or we could stand by and do nothing and the communist just knew what they wanted
and take over the world, which we weren’t going to do.
They were flying 18 hours a day. The poor guys who worked on a flight deck had
no… They would just fall out on a plane’s wing for a half hour catnap between
launches, and then be back. And…but then again we always knew we
had friends that were laying in the mud over there.
Most of us had people that would join the Marines or the Army or different
places, so we were doing our job to maybe make their job a little easier.
I think most of the American people realize that what we did there, we did in the
best interests of the people we were trying to help.
It just didn’t work out. So…I think there were lessons learned.
When I came home, I really had an appreciation for what our country really is,
the freedoms we have and why, you know, so many of us were willing to go there
and fight to protect these things that we we take for granted every day.
And as Paul Galanti one of the other POW’s has said, he
says, “You can never have a bad day when you’ve got a door knob on the inside