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The General, page 2

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I added airspeed to pass other aircraft, skipping the downwind leg, and entered final. Despite full flaps, the excessive speed and altitude made it too risky to land at Bolling. No time to advise them, and asking the Navy for an embarrassing favor was unthinkable. Therefore, I made an unannounced abrupt landing at Anacostia and quickly turned off the active runway, dimmed the lights, and made skulking S-turns along the dark network of taxiways linking Anacostia to Bolling.

Once inside Operations, the General and I slipped through the hubbub of pilots spouting epithets about some fool cutting them out of the traffic pattern. Quietly, we filed the required flight plan and disappeared into the night, seemingly unnoticed.

Meanwhile, I took great pride in performing my purchasing and contracting responsibilities. Once, I caused two neighboring Universities to share a single cyclotron, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. My work pleased Colonel Sharply; nevertheless, I continued to fear becoming that proverbial rotten apple.

Despite our unholy alliance and silent disrespect for one another, the General continued to call on me to pilot him about. Often he had no choice. When I flew him to a formal reception in his honor, he passed the time talking on his ham radio, installed back in the passenger area. As we approached the airfield where the reception awaited, I instructed the Crew Chief-at least twice-to ask the General to reel-in his antenna, a lead ball twice the size of a softball trailing sixty feet from the tail of the aircraft. Believing it secured, I landed and taxied toward the festivities that included a brass band and honored guests.

As we approached the parking area, the crowd seemed distracted and bemused. I later realized they had spotted a section of the fence, entangled by the antenna, dragging along behind our tail dragging Gooney Bird. Meanwhile, I tapped the brake lightly, making a smooth synchronized turn right up to the red carpet.

The General was still talking on his ham radio so I exited first, carrying my obtrusive red garment bag, down the steps of the aircraft. The band played a J. F. Souza march and I felt good about finally completing a flight without a mishap-until I noticed the ridiculous entanglement. Stupefied, I ran down the remaining steps, avoided the red carpet, and lost myself in the crowd.

The Crew Chief could handle it from there.

My last contact with the General came when a personal emergency required him to fly to Mississippi. This time, no crew chief flew with us: it was just the two of us. We ran into a massive thunderstorm along the way. Losing clear air space fast, I asked the General to fly visually until I obtained an instrument clearance over the radio. I thought better of trying to do both at once, and the General detested Air Traffic Control.

As the darkening clouds converged on our remaining flying space, he put the plane into some unusual positions-by accident. Under the challenge, he twitched convulsively, but I pretended not to notice. The Gooney Bird could take it; however, the calamitous effect produced by the General and me in combination took its toll on both of us.

After we arrived at the airbase, he ordered me to stay on-call so that we could return to Washington D.C. "...on a moment's notice."

I never left my quarters, except to go to mess. In hindsight, I should have gone to mass instead.

On the third day, two MPs rousted me out of my quarters and escorted me to the Base CO who accused me of being AWOL and placed me under arrest-"General's orders," he explained. The General had already borrowed another pilot to fly back home. Rhetorically, the CO asked me if I intended to make the Air Force a career! I deferred comment. Instead, I produced an affidavit from the barracks officer indicating that I had never left the immediate area. The CO released me, shaking his head in sympathy and bewilderment. He showed compassion by loaning me a familiar T-33 jet to fly back to Washington, DC.

Joyously, I did barrel rolls much of the way home.

The General had risen to a level of incompetence and lingered there, thanks to a "dutiful" staff that overcame his shortcomings and protected him from seeming the fool. Unlike those staff members, I was unwilling and-in many cases-unable to cover for him adequately. As for my attitude toward the General, I had no mischief in mind-other than my basic nature-or any "duty" hang-ups or career concerns.

The next morning, I learned a special review board had forced the General to accept early retirement. My thoughts turned inward. Undoubtedly, our frenzied times had something to do with it. Before his departure, he tore-up a decent Efficiency Report on me written by Colonel Sharply and replaced it with his own blistering diatribe. I have referred to it on occasion to remind me not to thwart authority. So far it hasn't taken.

I never saw or heard of the General again. Robert Harrell Note: This story is true, but the names are fictitious.

To contact Robert Harrell, Email Robert at harrell@zeecon.com
Copyright © 2003, Robert D. Harrell, all rights reserved
Horseshoe Bay, TX
June, 2003

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Robert Harrell was born in the early 1930's. An avid sailor and golfer, he lives in Horseshoe Bay, Texas.
Robert Harrell