Nike before the swoosh. The beginning of “Just do it.”
Yes that is a relief of the Goddess Nike. I think you can see the beginnings of a swoosh in the flowing dress. This picture was taken in late 1969 and the Nike relief is still standing in the same location in a town in Turkey – anyone care to guess the name of the town? Hint: it was where Mary went to live out her later years. And yes, that is me with the aviator glasses and bandage over my eye. More later as to how I got there and how I got the owie.
So now is later and I’ll tell more of the story.
First, the town is Ephesus. Ephesus was the second largest city behind Rome itself in the Roman Empire in the time of Christ. It is currently located near the Turkish town of Selcurt and some 8 KM from the sea. In its prime, Ephesus was a major port but the bay silted in and access to the sea was lost.
Shortly after we finally fleshed out the squadron, the 16th Fighter Squadron, there was a sudden increase in tensions with the Soviet Union with encroaching flights from Bulgaria too near Turkish airspace. Since Turkey was a NATO member, President Nixon ordered a response by the Air Force. Fighter’s stationed in Germany reacted first but we soon were alerted to deploy to Turkey for an extended stay.
Rapid deployment was something we were tasked with so within about a day we were on our way to Turkey. Three flights of four aircraft each were deployed. We left Eglin and flew out over the Atlantic where we rendezvoused with our KC-135 tankers for the long haul to Seville Spain where we would get some crew rest and then complete the second leg to Cigli Air Force Base near Izmir Turkey.
The first leg to Seville would take 8 hours 29 minutes, or so the planners figured. Counting ground time before takeoff and after landing, we would be close to 10 hours between the nearest “head.” But not to fear; the Air Force has a backup plan for crews flying the F4, which did not have a “pilot relief tube.” We were given piddle-packs. Yes, these plastic bags with a compressed cellulose sponge were a convenient (not) way to go when you could not hold it anymore. When full, the bag would be almost the size of a football. Anyway, TMI.
I really liked the long overwater deployments because I got a lot of “stick” time and multiple opportunities to fly the plane during refueling. My front seater, Cisco, was very trusting – I don’t think I would have risked my career on a numb-nuts back seater’s flying ability. But Cisco wanted me to be able to have his back once we got in combat. He had this premonition that he would take a ‘golden BB’ hit and he would want me to be able to get his arse home. So whenever he could, he gave me the stick. I learned to fly formation, then landings – he could not find a way to let me take off – and finally refueling. Of course, he had to perform a few functions I could not do without using emergency procedures which would damage the plane; that would include lowering the gear and flaps for landing and opening the refueling door for air-to- air refueling. I just ate it all up and kept thinking the flying skills would help me get to pilot training, which they almost did.
Anyway, we finally made our way to Turkey and settled in for our deployment at Cigli. The Turks were still flying F-100’s and they were good with them. We flew a few mock dogfight engagements with them and I have to admit the Super Sabre was a good turning machine. We won most of the engagements but the Turks won enough to keep their pride.
As usual, Cisco and I found a way to get into trouble. On one mission, one that was purposely aimed at threatening the Bulgarians and Russians, was to a temporary bombing range very near the border with Bulgaria. The range was of course on the western side of the Turkish Straights that separate the European part of Turkey, known as Thrace, from the larger part of Turkey. The selected bombing site was about 50 miles from the city of Kırklareli. Given the situation, the Turks, who were part of NATO, persuaded several large farms to let us drop bombs for show. Of course, the bombs would be inert, filled with concrete instead of explosives, but they were the same weight as active bombs; in this instance, they were 750 pounds each and they threw up a lot of dirt when they hit the ground traveling at over 500 mph.
Because we were newbies to the area, our flight was led by a gung ho Marine F4 pilot who had served time as an exchange F100 pilot with the Turks. On the ground were a number of high ranking NATO generals observing our firepower show. Given our lack of experience at that time, Cisco and I were in the number four position in our flight. After we completed our bombing runs, our Marine flight commander decided we should make a high speed, low level pass over the range. He signaled us to take up a trail position: each of our four aircraft would line up just behind and just below the aircraft in front. Trail was often used when we performed high-G maneuvers. We accelerated to “military” power about 10 miles from the drop zone which rapidly got us up to about 600 mph by the time we were approaching the target. But the crazy Marine also kept descending until he was about 500 feet above ground level. That, of course, meant we in #4 position were even lower. And he kept descending until I was sure we were going to be scraped off on the ground. Just as we were abrest of the reviewing stand, he began a sharp pullup and called “Burners now!” Which we did. But Cisco and I were so low that our jet wake blew over the tent adjacent to the reviewing stand – set up as a temporary bar for the generals – and it settled on the generals in the stand.
Of course we did not know this as we were pulling a lot of G’s zooming up and trying to maintain position. I told Cisco that I was able to look out the side of my canopy into the eyes of the generals as we popped the burners and they did not look happy.
And they weren’t happy. In the short flight back to Cigli, we – Cisco and me – received orders to report directly to the American general acting as base commander. And he was not happy. The scene was just too reminiscent of the scene in Top Gun when Maverick and Goose are chewed out for buzzing the tower, but of course this was long before Top Gun was filmed. For some reason, that’s all that happened; butt chewed, career threatened, get back to flying. And we did.
The last week of the deployment, the Turks invited us to their Officer’s Club for a casual dining in – a long standing tradition among fighter pilots. So we ate good food, drank a lot and made too many toasts: “To the President of the United States!” drink. “To Kemal Ataturk! drink. and on and on and on. Toward midnight, someone challenged us to a football game – Turks v Americans. We pulled the tables back to the walls and used a crystal bowl as a football. The game quickly deteriorated into a wrestling match, something Turks are especially good at. At one point, I had the “ball” and was nearing a touchdown – the main bar – when I was tackled. Somehow I ended up falling onto a doorknob, cutting a long gash on my eyebrow. I was so drunk I really don’t remember, but that is what our flight surgeon told me as he stitched up my eye. And he too was right there drink for drink during the party. Miraculously, he did a great job and the scar is almost invisible now. The next day, we were not sober enough to fly, so our squadron commander gave us all the day off and my group took a sight-seeing trip into Incirlik and to Ephesus.
And that’s how I got to be photographed by the goddess Nike.