"The one that got away"

June 16th, 2009  
Mark Conley

Topic: "The one that got away"

It’s funny. When I see my father, now 76 years old, I see a different man than in my childhood. He now is kind to dogs, and young children, and goes to Disney World a lot. But as a kid, I saw this man in his prime: This was once one of the most dedicated (and feared) aircraft line maintenance sergeants that Tactical Air Command ever had back in the 1960’s. And even after I finished my own 20 years in the Air Force, I still can’t believe some of the stories they told about this man. Like this one…

My father ran the 11-7 midnight shift at the tenant TAC field at the local air base. His group was noted for the rapid repair and return to flight status of the days broken F-4 Phantom’s avionic, radar, and fire control systems. And he was the boss, the line sergeant that did it all. Oh they had a Chief (pre E-9 type: kinda like a master sergeant but ill call him a Chief) and a Captain that were responsible for the maintenance to get done. But they wisely turned it over to my father because he had such a way to motivate the crews. They stayed in the background to fight the administrative battles, and if there was a ruckus, wisely stayed at there desks.

My father was a type A personality. He wasn’t your funny type person. If you were on his crew, you had to work. No screwing around. He didn’t tolerate goof-offs I am told: he simply got rid of them to day shift.

So, one day they sent him a new airman. He met the young man, and assigned him with another Airman to remove a radar assembly from the cannibalized F-4. A two man task, because the unit was heavy. All fine and good. He left and went about his line duties for the other 13 or so aircraft.

Till he came back an hour later and discovered the new airman was not working the task he was assigned. He asked the other man where he was. “He over there talking with the Captain” was the disgusted reply. So my dad went to the Captain, found his airman, and gently re-directed him back to the line to help the other man remove the radar. And then he went back to his duties.

30 minutes later, he went back to see how the airman was doing. Again, no Airman. He asked the other Airman where he was. ‘He over at the orderly room, talking with the Chief” was the reply. So, my father went to the Chief, and again, recovered his Airman, took him back to the aircraft…and then privately told him if he caught him goofing off one more time it was going to be a WTW (Wall To Wall) counseling session.

A wall to wall (WTW) counseling session, to say the least, involved few words of improvement. This was the 1960’s. Sergeants didn’t have a lot of time to explain things, and oddly enough, WTWs really worked at helping you remember things. Now, I as a lad of 14 years, I had a few experiences with WTW counseling from this man, and I must say they left quite an impression on me. And the wood paneled walls in my bedroom had a few impressions, as funny dents and scrapes in them from the sessions as well.

About 0400 hours in the morning. My father was just bringing a radar set out to the plane for installation, and looked over to see…no Airman.

He asked the other Airman where he was. The airman didn’t say a word, he just disgustedly pointed with his thumb at a hanger about 600 feet away…to where the airman was engaged again, in a conversation with the maintenance Captain.

It was at this point my father lost it. He saw another man who was engaged in heavy duty repairs to a landing strut on an F-4. He walked over to him, reached into this mans tool bag and pulled out a large aircraft wrench and hefted its weight a few times in his hand. The man asked him “where you going with that”? My father was reported to have said “I’m headed to a homicide” and preceded towards the hanger at a slow controlled walk.

Call it a survival instinct…this Airman had it. Looking over his shoulder from about 600 feet away, he saw my father coming towards him with a wrench in his hand. Putting two and two together quickly, he proceeded to leave the Captain, and headed to the orderly room, towards the Chief and safety.

As fast as this young man would move, my father matched him, pace for pace. The Airman went to a quick pace, so did my dad. When the airman noticed this and started jogging faster, so did my dad. When my father was about a hundred feet from him, the airman finally snapped; he just up and took off running. So did my father. As I heard it, it was the race of the century on that flight line that night.

By now my father had covered 500 of the 600 feet needed to get the object of his attention. His time was impressive too. My father was in excellent shape. In addition, he was in what we called at the house “lit up all over mode”. He was encased in an anger that rivaled the berserker Viking: a case of adrenalin flowing in a righteous rage so exact, I doubt that anything would have stopped him.

The men knew my father. They knew that the kid had been warned. A hundred men on the flight line immediately held court, weighed the evidence, and convicted the airman of the crime of ticking my father off. As my father flashed by them going ninety miles an hour, all the work stopped and the men just watched. Cries of “get the little sonofabitch” rang up and down the flight line. My father swears he doesn’t remember the men cheering him on at all; all he thought about was the airman.

My father was less than fifty feet from the rapidly accelerating airman, and the orderly room, when some cooler heads prevailed. Two burley sergeants tackled my father and took the wrench away from him. Cursing, my father watched as the young man ran into the orderly room.

A few minutes later, the Chief came out of the orderly room. He took in the whole scene: my father writhing and cursing with two sergeants sitting on him, the line crew laughing and such, and just turned and walked back into the office. Chiefs are wise men noted for their intelligence and inter-personal skills, and this one was no exception.

My father finally cooled off, and was allowed to enter the orderly room, after promising to see the Chief first before any mayhem ensued. He found him at his desk, looking at the leave book, and drinking a cup of coffee. My father looked around, and noticed the airman was gone. He asked the Chief where the airman was. “Oh,” the Chief replied. “He’s at the hospital about now. Seems I had to send him there because he was acting delusional. Swears that an elderly sergeant was about to kill him with an aircraft wrench.” “You wouldn’t happen to know if that story was true” he continued, looking at my father thoughtfully.

“Well no, not that I know of” my father wisely replied. The Chief looked my dad in the eyes, and said” you know, you haven’t taken any leave at all over the last few years. Why, I think its time you took some. As a matter of fact, why don’t you take about two weeks starting tonight?”

My father did take it, as there was suddenly two Air Policemen that escorted him to a base taxi outside to take him home right then. Chief aren’t Chiefs for nothing. He made sure my dad stayed scarce for the whole two weeks too. Seems the doctors that treated the kid at the hospital started to believe that there was a half crazed homicidal maintenance sergeant out at the TAC field, and started poking around looking for him. I think they wanted my dad for a social actions life improvement program called anger management. How the TAC administrative group laid them off the trail ill never understand.

The airman was transferred out to another maintenance crew on the base, during daylight hours and as far away from my father as they could get him. Anyone the airman told the story to thought he was crazy, as no one believed that a hundred men cheered on his immediate demise by my father on the TAC field that night. After a while, it was forgotten by all.

But to this day, he is always remembered by my father. Oh yes. When he and I occasionally do swap stories about our military careers, his favorite story he reminisces about is the one that got away.
June 16th, 2009  
holy crap, i hope you did not piss off youre dad to much mark
June 16th, 2009  
Good story!
June 17th, 2009  
That sounds like a good man.... glad he served and I'm glad you served. Thanks for the service both of you have provided.
June 18th, 2009  
Mark Conley
My father was an aircraft line maintenance mechanic...a knuckle breaker. I worked in a hospital...he was so glad i didn't have to work on a flight line, although he loved it.

Thanks 5.56...just reading the story is thanks enough. I love writing for this board...its the best.
June 18th, 2009  
Brilliant story Mark.
June 18th, 2009  

Topic: hi

hay i like your story... Id like to put it on the sire that I'm on... its a knife collectors community and its a group that i run called the story board... i would really like you to join and post it or give me permission to post it for you (giving you credit for it)... if you could get back to me i would really appreciate it... thanks
June 18th, 2009  
Great story!!!
July 17th, 2009  
I'm starting to like your old man Mark.
May 17th, 2010  
I'm impressed

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