Posted By POSCA
When Posca was a child (back when TV was black-and-white and French fries were cooked in lard), he had fallen in love with ordnance items—bombs, rockets, missiles, artillery shells, etc. The reason was simple: there were Sunday night TV shows that emphasized heroism in the face of great danger. One show highlighted Brit EOD techs disarming a bomb in a subway station and another, which Posca can see in his minds eye, was about a guy who spent a night softly sifting soap flakes into a vat of accidentally-created nitroglycerine (some clown had mixed the wrong chemicals). I think one of these shows was hosted by someone by the name of Ronald Reagan.
So, when he decided to run away from grad school in Boston to join the Air Force, and the Air Force offered him Intelligence or Munitions, he jumped at Munitions knowing it was the path to EOD. (Besides, his brother, an Air Force Officer at the time, told him, “Look, if you go Intelligence you’ll just end up in a windowless, airless room sifting through trivia. At least in Munitions you will have a vehicle and go outside one in awhile.”) Munitions was it, and during Munitions Officer School at Lowry AFB, Posca was assigned to the SAC track, which required the security clearance he would need for EOD, and it gave him an area of concentration different from the folks in the TAC track. That is, POSCA found himself focusing on nuclear weapons, aka “silver bullets” or “crowd pleasers” Because he had an insatiable interest in them and everything about them, he became a very good Special Weapons Officer for the Strategic Air Command. (Yes, Posca has thought about this a lot; spare him your candy-ass recriminations. It was the Cold War.)
Posca’s first operational assignment was the XXnd Heavy Bombardment Wing, where as a second lieutenant Special Weapons Officer he also served as the Wing Nuclear Surety Officer, which meant he would be the first person fired if the hated SAC IG found something amiss. (The real motto of SAC was “SAC eats its young,” not “Peace is our profession.”) For the first 6 months or so, Posca was the “honcho” of the Weapons Storage Area, which means that a pair of very patient and very tired senior NCOs led him around on a short leash and got him fully trained. (By the way, Posca’s brother was wrong: for the first 6 months he worked in a windowless, airless room and almost never got to drive his vehicle.) After the WSA, he went to work on the flight line, which he was supervising all the stuff pertaining to the loading and unloading of silver bullets and conventional munitions of B52s, as well as maintaining the weapons release systems on those aircraft—not easy to do on the ancient B52D mode; most of its inner workings were made from carved sticks and strings.
On one particular day Posca was supervising an operation at the alert facility—the place where the bombers and tankers sit waiting to be called to perform their nuclear strike mission on 5 minutes notice. (This specific alert facility has actually appeared in movies. Must be the perpetual sunshine.) It is an extremely secure, heavily guarded and controlled base within the base. Don’t try to climb the fence; use of deadly force is authorized and expected.
Posca was in a good mood this particular morning because he had recently learned his wife was carrying their first child, and it was a boy. He was experiencing all of the feelings the male ego promotes at such a time (“yeah, I’m the man’) but his ego was not out of control. To tell the truth, Posca was just getting his feet wet on the flight line and at the alert pad, and he was keenly aware that he had much to learn. He did know the alert aircraft had to be rolling for take-off in 5 minutes if the strike was to have a chance of succeeding. Given the proximity of the XXnd Heavy Bombardment Wing to the Pacific, Russian sub-launched missiles would have a very short flight time before hitting their target. And he certainly also knew that SAC HQ had a habit of calling an alert just to see how quick the air crews could scramble to their aircraft and do a full run-up of their engines. This would be followed by an order to stand down until the next time they were tested. Beyond that Posca knew very little. That’s why he was on the alert pad, following his folks step-by-step in the checklist they were using.
The operation Posca was following on the alert pad that morning was going smoothly. One of the B52Ds was kaput and so a “yo-yo” was underway—his folks were dropping the nuclear package from the kaput plane and then loading it into the replacement plane. But just as the package was being lowered from the kaput plane, SAC HQ decided to sound the klaxon, and all hell broke loose. Posca watched the aircrew running to their aircraft (sometimes one of them would snap an ankle or leg and get dragged up into aircraft). Posca was positioned in a maintenance “bread truck” just aft of the kaput aircraft, but it did not protect him from what came next. He closed the door to the truck and put on his inner and outer ear protection. The blowback from several B52Ds and KC135 tankers is something everyone should experience once. Posca immediately realized the suspension of his truck needed some work, because it was rocking back and forth so violently that he could not follow the checklist in front of him, In fact, he actually began to belief the truck would be blown over. “Loud” cannot capture what Posca was experiencing.
However, just when he was adjusting to the noise and violence, something odd and completely unexpected happened. Out of the corner of his right eye—and he can see it to this day as clear as a he can see his own hand—there was movement. One of the B52s went to max military power and drove right up and over the chock holding its wheels in place. What the F***? It was leaving the alert pad—and Posca knew of only one reason for that. This was no aberration. One after the other, the other planes followed suit, and they were hauling ass to the end of the runway to take off. When I say hauling ass, I mean hauling ass. They were almost reckless in the way they went about their business.
At that very moment, Posca BELIEVED he had 5-10 minutes to live. This was no exercise. These fully loaded aircraft—and I mean fully loaded aircraft—were about to fly their portion of the strategic strike plan. Posca KNEW he and his budding family would soon meet the Soviet fireball. Oddly enough, he became very calm, almost peaceful—perhaps because he thought it would be painless and happen in the twinkling of an eye. And something else happened that has always stayed with him. The only thing he could think was, “I have never met my son.” A moment of utter lucidity before the bright flash. Posca sat back in his bread truck and waited for the end.
Obviously, he wasn’t killed in WWIII. A minute or two later, the aircraft began taxiing back to the alert pad, and Posca became weak in the knees. They weren’t going to take off? You mean, we aren’t at war with the Soviet Union? Every ounce of strength drained from Posca’s body and was replaced with an indescribable joy and gratitude.
Posca then ashamedly realized that his troops had gone about their business like nothing had happened. Being old heads, they knew that SAC sometimes ordered the engine up followed by the so-called “elephant walk.” The alert aircraft are ordered to taxi to the head of the runway, presumably to see just how many are really ready to take off. Being green, Posca had no knowledge of this maneuver, but he is forever grateful for the experience. He learned what he would do when death was near-by.
This became his first real day of thanksgiving. We never truly know when we or our loved ones literally can be gone in a puff of smoke. Posca got to meet his son and the two wonderful daughters who followed. And although he continues to be subject to fits of madness that vex those he loves, he is grateful for every day he has had since he died in the third world war. My friends, when you grab that ladle on Thanksgiving Day, remember IT IS ALL GRAVY.
Posca knows because some lessons are never forgotten.