Lindbergh’s Own

Flag Day MonumentOn Thursday Barbara and I walked the parking lots at lunch and were treated to one more air show, courtesy of the Missouri Air National Guard.  Two F-15 Eagles were doing low level passes, back and forth, up and down the runway.  There were a few breaks in their flight pattern to allow an occasional Southwest 737 to land.  The roar of their Pratt and Whitney engines set off car alarms in the parking lot as we walked about the blaring cars.  On Sunday the Guard leaves Saint Louis for Whiteman Air Force Base, in central Missouri.  It is all part of the ongoing base realignment process.

The roots of the Missouri Air National Guard and the 131st Fighter Wing trace back to the 110th Observation Squadron, organized in 1923 by Major Bill Robertson.  One of his Robertson Aircraft Company’s pilots at the time, on the St. Louis to Chicago airmail run, was Charles Lindbergh.  Lindbergh became a member of the 110th in 1924, hence the nickname, Lindbergh’s Own.  When I moved to Saint Louis the 131st was flying McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms, the Saint Louis Slugger.

At the time of my arrival to Saint Louis, I had the opportunity to meet with some of the pilots of the 131st.  They told me their stories… 

There was Paul, with his Silver Star earning rescue.  He flew a Douglas Skyraider, a Sandy, the last piston engine air vehicle in the Vietnam War.  With his single seat aircraft he once landed and then rescued multiple downed pilots, all the while under fire.  I still see him around the cafeteria.

There was Mike, a hot shot young test pilot, just retired.  He once put ten-thousand on his personal MasterCard, at a ferry fuel stop in Cold Lake, Alberta.  They just would not take his government issued American Express.

He was a smoker when I met him.  He once spoke about how some pilots had to smoke while flying long flights, like LAX to PAX and back.  He described the procedure.  The pilot would open mouth cup his oxygen mask, sharing his mask’s oxygen with his cigarette.  Otherwise the tobacco would not burn.  The ashes would then be tucked into a flight suit pocket.

The best story involved Dave.  This story predated my arrival to Saint Louis.  By the time that I arrived, it was legend.  Dave was on his way across the river on a training flight.  As was the practice, Dave decided to practice a dive bombing run on one of the passing river barges.  He setup, dived, had the tow in his sight and then pulled up.  It was then that one of his external fuel tanks broke loose, plummeted down and hit the river barge.  Oh Shucks, he must have been saying, as he circled around and dove down to see what damage had been done.  The story goes on, that seeing the fighter-bomber circling around for another attack run, the barge crew abandoned ship and actually dove into the river.

For Dave this should have been a career ending incident.  I mean, imagine your commanding officer throwing down the newspaper, while yelling about the headline, Guard Bombs Barge.  It was here that fate took a hand.

Dave returned to Lambert and was instructed to sit at the far end of the tarmac.  A hijacking incident had developed.  Someone wanted to go to Cuba.  It must have been in the news, because while Dave cooled his heels at the far end of the runway, a situation was developing.  A private citizen, driving a Cadillac, crashed through the airport fence and then proceeded to ram the hijacked airliner’s landing gear.  The hijacking, Cadillac and ramming was all front page, Dave was defiantly back page.  Dave overcame this incident.  He eventually rose to command the 131st.

Today is Flag Day.  It is a fitting holiday on which to bid farewell to Lindbergh’s Own.

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