Overview: This is a series of articles by two 13th Bomb Squadron pilots, Mel Eisaman and Ron Smith, covering a critical period of the Cold War 1957 through 1963. During that time, the squadron changed aircraft and transitioned through a series of missions. The series reflects personal experiences, anecdotes, and world events as they impacted the Grim Reapers. In this part, Mel joins the 13th.
Little has been written about just what the 13th Bomb Squadron was doing during the late `50s and early `60s. The contribution made to the Cold War era was highly classified on our side and widely known by the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans. While the Northern Tier-based SAC crews sat alert in their snug facilities with family visitation privileges, enjoying their spot promotions and shining their Combat Readiness Medals, we enjoyed the comforts of “Kunsan by the Sea”, content knowing that if the big deal ever came, our part of the war would be over before the SAC crews made their first refueling.
The “Fighting” 13th was stationed at Johnson Air Base, Japan, as one of the three 3rd Bomb Wing Squadrons and then moved to Yokota Air Base in late 1960. There were also the “Friendly” 8th Bomb Squadron, and “The Other Squadron,” the 90th.
The British-designed Canberra was selected by the Air Force in March 1951 to be the USAF’s next-generation tactical bomber. Since the builder of the Canberra, the English Electric Company, lacked the interest or the capability to meet USAF production needs, an agreement was made for the Glenn L. Martin Company to produce Canberras under license. The Air Force required many changes to meet tactical needs, and the Canberra design ultimately evolved into the B-57 series of aircraft.
Our B-57s had many improvements over the original British Canberra. For example, the airframe was beefed up to allow higher “G” loadings and a rotary bomb door was introduced. The rush to production without the flight testing normally accomplished with a prototype aircraft eventually resulted in many problems. Even after many aircraft were delivered, there were unexplained accidents and problems encountered that resulted in groundings while modifications were made. One grounding lasted about four months.
Although the 3rd was programmed to convert earlier, all of these delays resulted in the bulk of the 57s arriving in mid-1957. By the time I arrived in November 1957, the Wing was fully equipped and had been tasked with a nuclear mission. By then, there wasn’t a B-26 in sight. A B-57 Mobile Training Detachment (MTD) was in operation and a high-security facility had been established for the bomb commander school and a target study area. Most of the crews were operationally ready and had been assigned targets.
Each squadron was equipped with at least one C model for training purposes. The C model was identical to the B model with the exception of the back seat. It had a full set of flight controls in the back and was hated by some navigators because the yoke was in their way and they did not have their nice map desk to work on in the C model. Other navigators thought it was great because it gave them the opportunity to get a little stick time.
There were about a half a dozen orange and silver colored B-57 E models sitting on the south end of the ramp. They had been assigned there as a tow-target squadron, and in late 1957 were assigned as a tow-target flight, a part of the 8th Bomb Squadron.
In the middle of all this conversion, someone decided it would be beneficial to have some replacement pilots coming in with a little more jet experience. The personnel system started looking for those with a thousand jet hours. In 1955 when I started instructing in the T-33, anyone with 500 or more jet hours was a little beyond ordinary. Three years out of pilot training, I had accumulated more than 1200 single-engine jet hours, so was a shoo-in to be fingered for an overseas assignment to the 3rd. Preceding me to the 13th by a few weeks were Flip Johnson and Arnie Lasher. Both had logged considerable jet hours instructing in single-engine jets.
About the time I entered the picture, the Air Force had decided to close Chitose Air Base on the northern island. An F-86 outfit there was deactivated and a home was needed for those pilots who were not near completing their overseas tour. G.Y. Jumper was our wing commander at that time and, not knowing or having much idea how many pilots there were that might have a thousand jet hours, he told Fifth Air Force that he would take any pilot from that outfit who had a thousand or more jet hours. There were more than he thought. So each squadron ended up getting their fair share of additional pilots. As I recall, Joe Brodeur and Bob Greyell were the ones coming from Chitose that were assigned to the 13th.
The talk of the day was, “What are we going to do with all these extra pilots?” Due to the PCS move, I was a little bit behind on pay time, and I can remember having to scrounge time on my own to try to meet my pay requirements. I did this in an H-19, an L-20 and then finally a T-33.
I thought it a little strange that there wasn’t much effort to take care of the flying requirements of us FNGs but then I heard the story of Tom Dimeo’s bailout.
It seems that, just a short time before,Tom (who later became my navigator) arrived needing time for pay. Someone said, “Hey, this guy is going up on a local flight to get some night time. You can go with him. It’s just a local flight so there is no navigation involved.” Tom thought this was a good idea. They took him to the aircraft and stuffed him in the cockpit. “If anything happens. Rotate these handles, the canopy will blow, and then squeeze the trigger and out you’ll go. Then open the seat belt and kick away from the seat. Then pull the ripcord. Everything will be OK.” (This was before the time of automatic opening belts and automatic opening chutes.)
After they bored holes VFR/OT for the allotted time, an instrument approach was started. The weather was reported as a 4,500 to 5,000 ft overcast, but they failed to break out at minimums and made a missed approach. Another ADF approach was tried and hand - offs to GCA were unsuccessful. The final controller was never able to get them on his scope. Eventually they were out of fuel and the pilot said, “Tom, PUNCH OUT.” Everything went as briefed and Tom floated down to a rice paddy near Tachikawa. The survival kit contained flares and an emergency radio but about all Tom found that he was familiar with was a whistle. While the helicopter circled the area, Tom’s whistle got the attention of the local Japanese and eventually rescue arrived. Tom was unhurt. The pilot was also OK but of course the aircraft was lost. Some Japanese made off with Tom’s survival kit and later the supply officer thought Tom should have to pay for it until someone explained that it could be written off as expendable after a bailout.
Back at Johnson, the Wing Commander was present when Tom arrived and someone yelled, “Look, he’s got low quarter shoes on.” So, two new 3rd BW rules were made. #1 – No one will ever fly with low quarter shoes again. #2 – No one will ever fly in a B-57 again without first attending the MTD aircrew course and personal equipment training.
The exact cause was never determined but it was thought that the pilot misread the altimeter by 10,000 ft and was actually making his missed approaches 10,000 ft too high. Tom probably wasn’t of too much help on the altitude as this was his first assignment after Nav school, his first ride in a jet and he probably had never seen altimeter needles go around more than once. It is interesting to note that even though the pilot took the brunt of the blame for this incident, it wasn’t too long before the USAF came out with the advisory that it was possible for someone playing with the Kolesman setting knob on an altimeter to turn it completely thru 10,000 ft and cause a 10,000 ft error. Altimeters were soon modified to prevent this happening.
I think Flip Johnson and Arnie Lasher had already started their B-57 transition, but the rest of us were kind of told, “You aren’t going to be flying a B-57 and we don’t know what to do with you.”
There were a number of T-33s assigned there at Johnson at that time, so we FNG jet jocks were relegated to flying the T-33 as long as we stayed out of everybody’s way. It was a pretty good deal while it lasted. They saw no need to send us through B-57 MTD, through bomb commander school, or any other preliminary things we could have been doing. So it was pretty much of a relaxed situation where we mostly flew every day at our own liking. They did put one responsibility on us. They came up with a deal called “Hot Rod Pilots” where we would be scheduled as a stand-by courier pilot if the need came up to run something back and forth between any of the bases there in Japan. It put us on stand-by duty quite frequently, but I don’t remember being sent on more than a couple of courier flights.
Marcus Worde was our squadron commander when I got to the 13th. What I remember most about Mark was his insistence on – well, not his insistence, but his obsession that everyone use a checklist. Now, you’re going to get a single-engine jet jock to use a checklist? And what do you mean, use a checklist to preflight the airplane? My God, if a guy doesn’t know enough about his airplane to preflight it without a checklist, he ought not to be allowed to fly it! Of course what Mark was after was getting a challenge and response method going on the checklist between the navigator and the pilot. I guess that was OK in the B-57, but we thought it was kind of ridiculous that we ought to be doing something like that in a T-33. I mean, how the hell do you read a checklist when you take off in weather flying on somebody’s wing?
Along about sometime in February of 1958, the “duh” factor kicked in a little more and suddenly someone realized, “Hey, this guy’s leaving and that guy’s leaving. What the hell are we going to do? How are we going to cover their targets? My God, we’ve got to get those FNGs checked out in the B-57.” (I really think that the situation had been understood at squadron level but hamstrung from the Wing or Fifth AF level.) So then started a crash program to get us checked out. There was MTD and all that stuff and I believe I took my first dual flight in the 57 on the 6th of March 1958.
I can hardly ever forget my first flight in the B-57. Howard Ice was the IP. Now, Howard was our ops officer when I got there and he was about to take over as our squadron commander upon the departure of Marcus Worde. We started out the door with our personal equipment and Howard says, “Well, come on, we’ve got to go down to the 8th – down the ramp to the 8th. Our dual’s not available today so we’re using their C model.” Well, I had been observant enough to see that there were some carts there that I thought some of the people used for their personal equipment that you could pull out to the airplane, but I was in no position to argue, and I threw that chute over my shoulder just like Howard did. And you have to understand that, at the time, our B-57 chutes were seat packs with a global survival kit attached, which was probably about 8-10 inches thick and loaded with a lot of goodies. I’m not sure what that whole thing weighed but it seemed like at least a hundred pounds. Anyway, I took off down the ramp trying to keep up with Howard and was about worn out by the time I got to the airplane and had to try to climb the ladder and get that chute into the seat.
Of course, Howard knew that I was a single-engine pilot and so he certainly was about to straighten me out on what those rudder pedals were for, that they weren’t just there to hang the toe brakes on. As soon as we were airborne, it was first one engine pulled back and then the other, and he said, “You’re a single-engine pilot, so let’s see you fly this thing on single engine.”
After about two hours of that, when we landed, my legs were so weak and shaky from trying to hold that rudder on those single engines, I could hardly climb down the ladder, and then I had to lug that damn parachute all the way back up the ramp to the 13th. Howard was pretty nice to me, though, the next day when we went out. He explained that we could put our chutes and other personal equipment in the little carts and pull them out to the airplane. He also showed me how to adjust the seat, the harness and the rudder pedals, so on single engine you could jam that rudder full in and get your knee locked and hold it without your leg shaking all the way home.
So, “There I Was,” well on my way to becoming an operational ready pilot in the B-57. I continued to fly the T-33 also and maintained proficiency in both aircraft for about a year, until someone at headquarters sent a message prohibiting dual currency.
As the Cold War dragged on, and the concept of “Massive Retaliation” came to be widely accepted, many Air Force tactical units in PACAF and Europe had been assigned nuclear missions. In Europe, even tactical reconnaissance units stood nuclear alert. Following the trend, the 3rd Bomb Wing had evolved into a nuclear force. In the late 50’s and early 60’s everything the Wing did took place in the context of a general war.
A prime example of the general war attitude was the employment of B-57s on “Faker” missions to test the reaction of Soviet and North Korean fighter defense systems. Missions were flown to probe Soviet defenses around Vladivostok and Sakhalin and occasionally later north of the 38th parallel off the North Korean coast. Howard Ice, then Operations Officer of the 13th, recalls flying near enough to see the city of Vladivostok on two separate flights. A typical Sakhalin mission was a good 4+20 hr. flight when operating from Johnson AB. In winter, the requirement to wear a “poopie” suit magnified the discomfort of these missions but discomfort was forgotten when a Soviet fighter came up for an intercept. Fortunately, a steep turn at the right moment was all it took to evade the fighter. (The B-57 could out turn any jet flying during that era.)
The primary tool for evading intercepts was the AN/APS-54 radar warning system (officially a Radar Receiving Set). This system enabled the crew to determine when the fighter was in the search mode and when the fighter achieved a lock-on.* On some flights, our own ground radar could also provide the fighter’s position.
Returning to the squadron’s main mission of the time, the B-57’s primary nuclear weapons delivery system was the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS). LABS enabled the delivery aircraft to approach the target at low altitude and, hopefully, minimize the risk from radar and AAA. Moreover, the low altitude approach gave a reasonable chance of finding the target without reliance on relatively sophisticated navigation systems because the B-57 didn’t have such systems. B-57 crews had to rely on dead reckoning and pilotage.
According to the 3rd Bomb Wing SOPs, the LABS run was made at 410 to 420 knots indicated, and usually the altitude was about 100 feet above the deck. In training, the bomb door was opened when crossing the bombing range boundary. In actual combat conditions, the door would have been opened much farther out to allow time to extend the retractable fin on the Mark 7 “special weapon.”
The approach was planned directly to the center of the target; however, an offset could be computed to allow for wind, assuming such information was available. At the target, the pilot pulled up into a 3½ G maneuver. The pull-up was accomplished using the pitch and roll needles on the LABS instrument. A few degrees past the vertical, the bomb was automatically released and traveled on up to about 9000 feet. And, of course, it then turned over and came back down, hopefully right on the target. Meanwhile, the aircraft went over the top of the maneuver about 5000 feet.
At first we could choose between a LABS loop recovery or a so-called Immelmann maneuver over the top. The loop recovery option was deleted or given up sometime in 1959. One of the reasons was -- who wanted to be going in the wrong direction to escape from the target after dropping the real thing? Though going over the top was usually referred to as an Immelmann, it more closely resembled a half Cuban 8 because you wanted to roll out nose down and be descending and picking up speed in order to get as far as possible away from the weapon when it went off.
On the LABS maneuver, the navigator usually made the computation for the offset for wind. In addition, the navigator helped in calling out the LABS pull point, particularly the long/short aspect.
The second mode for delivering nuclear weapons was the SHORAN bombing system. This enabled a drop from a fairly high altitude and the system was quite capable of pretty good accuracy. As a matter of fact, we were about as accurate with SHORAN as LABS.
SHORAN was also a team effort with the navigator controlling the bomb run. The pilot did have an instrument – it was called a PDI (Pilot Deviation Indicator) -- that he could use to fly the arc, but the navigator was pretty much in control of the whole bombing operation. If the pilot wasn’t that good at flying the PDI, the navigator could talk him down the arc. Some of the navigators referred to that as the banana-on-a-stick technique. The reference was to the front-seater as an ape leaning toward the banana depending on which shoulder the back-seater dangled it over. Some say this was a prime example of navigator humor. Others say navigator humor is an oxymoron.
We also had an APW-11 radar bombing system that could be used for medium to high altitude drops. It was ground radar controlled via directions given to the pilot on a special instrument on the panel called a Flight Command Indicator. Although practiced for a time, this system was given up as an operational ready requirement by 1960.
Tactically, both SHORAN and APW-11 had distinct disadvantages for use in actual combat. Coverage in the target areas was limited and vulnerability to fighters and radar at medium and high altitudes was unacceptable.
And then there were the so-called “conventional” weapons. We practiced dive bombing, skip bombing, rockets and strafing with eight 50 calibers on the earliest B-57Bs, and four 20 millimeters on all of the later B models. The 13th was not tasked to maintain operationally ready qualifications on conventional weapons, at least not for the first two or three years. Initially the 8th had the sole conventional weapons responsibility and was designated as the Mobile Strike Force. Eventually, all three squadrons were required to maintain proficiency on conventional techniques.
When speaking of the LABS maneuver and escaping from the detonation after delivery, we have to consider aircraft paint. Most B-57s, with the exception of the E models, came off the production line with the traditional “Intruder” black paint and the red markings that everybody thinks is sexy. To this day, the popularity of the black/red scheme is evident because every place you go, if somebody wants to show you a picture of a B-57, it’s black. If you go to a museum, they want to have the thing painted black.
The black paint did not last very long in the 3rd Bomb Wing. It was immediately recognized that if you’re trying to get away from a nuclear detonation, one of the worst things to have is black paint, which absorbs heat. So right away there was a big effort to strip the black paint and initially our birds were repainted with a special heat reflective paint. It was probably best described as silver or a light gray in color. It’s true that sometime later they gave way to just stripping the paint and flying the aircraft in a bare metal scheme. It was probably decided that the bare metal was just about as good as the special reflective paint.
This paint conversion took place in early 1958, and was mostly completed by the summer of 1958 so, for the record, the 13th B-57s were black for a very short period of time. The rest of the time in Japan, and when they first went into Southeast Asia, the B-57s of the 13th were either reflective paint or bare metal. Nevertheless, the idea of a black intruder was implanted early on and, because of that, we in the 3rd were known as the Black Bears. The wing operation center call sign was Black Bear and, when we had a recall, it was always a Black Bear recall.
Recalls were the first event in a demonstration of the Wing’s combat capability and were fairly frequent. A recall could accompany a locally generated exercise or Fifth Air Force operational ready inspection (ORI). They usually started in the middle of the night or early morning so the Wing could demonstrate its ability to generate from an off-duty status. Nobody had a phone in those days and people were alerted either by Air Police or another unit member knocking on the door. Some amusing anecdotes resulted from people being surprised in the middle of the night; however, none are appropriate for this family publication.
The crews would report to ops, receive their assigned aircraft, proceed to their airplanes, and go through a loading exercise. Yes, a loading exercise. We had the Mark 7s there at Johnson and would take the weapons out and go through an exercise loading them on the airplane, and when everything was finished, we would stop, download, and then proceed with the flying events using 25 lb. practice bombs.
The Mark 7s at Johnson were not complete weapons. Under the existing U.S. basing agreement with Japan, nukes were not allowed in country. But if the weapons were minus a certain component, it was an explosive device but not really a nuke. So the idea was, if the big deal ever came, we were going to have the essential part flown to Japan and, by the time we got the aircraft loaded, the missing part would be there to make the thing a full nuclear weapon.
The first flying event was a simulated combat profile consisting of navigation legs ending at a bombing range for a LABS delivery. Crews were graded on times over target and LABS scores. Next, there was a climb to altitude for a SHORAN drop. Sometimes the profiles were of such length as to require a refueling stop -- not necessarily at Johnson -- before the SHORAN event. Mel remembers being tail-end Charley to all of that and ending up refueling at Misawa and flying the last SHORAN mission out of there in the middle of the night. It seemed like the whole exercise took more than two days without any sleep. Of course, crew duty time and crew rest were not prime considerations in those days. A few years later, Ron Smith recalls mentioning crew rest among some of the more senior members of the 13th – and being laughed out of the room.
Early on it was evident that there was a need for a faster reaction to a general war situation. As previously described, Japan-based units were encumbered by the requirement to keep critical weapon components outside the country. There was no such requirement in South Korea. Thus the so-called “Quick-Strike” alert concept was born. Units on alert at Kunsan with fully functional Mark 7s (that is, no missing components) could react in 15 minutes.
The story of Quick-Strike, how it was initiated and how it evolved is next.
In 1958 the lofty powers in Washington (now known as, “Inside the Beltway”) and Hawaii (even then known as, Pacific Command and its Air Force component, PACAF) must have concluded that a faster reaction time in the event of a nuclear war initiated by the bad guys would be a good thing. Doubtless some diplomatic effort had been involved, perhaps a matter of years, but the upshot was that South Korea became a TDY base for alert forces from Japan-based tactical nuclear forces. The operation came to be known as Quick Strike alert. This installment of, “The Forgotten Years,” starts with Mel Eisaman’s memories of the first B-57 deployment. That deployment was conducted as a squadron operation by the Fighting 13th.
Over the years, there has been some controversy over which B-57 unit actually started quick-strike alert in Korea. Robert C. Mikesh’s book, “Martin B-57 Canberra,” notes that the 8th Bomb Squadron deployed to Kunsan (or K8, from the Korean War days) in August, 1958. That is not in dispute; however, Mel’s files contain Headquarters 3rd Bomb Wing Special Order B-174, 23 June 1958, directing officers and enlisted personnel of the 13th TDY for approximately 40 days to the 6170th Air Base Squadron, K8, Korea, for the purpose of, “Operating and maintaining aircraft in support of a classified mission.”
As Mel recalls, “That first deployment is particularly memorable to me as, being one of the extra FNGs***, I ended up having to dead-head to K8 on a C-119, one of the three times in my life that I’ve been completely terrified in an aircraft. But that’s another whole story.”
At K8, the squadron set up Quick Strike alert from scratch, literally. There was a ramp called Pad C and there were some revetments. Available facilities included two Quonset huts on one corner of the pad. Maintenance set up in the one Quonset hut, and operations in the other. All aircrew personal equipment, operations, scheduling, everything, were jammed into one little Quonset hut. The crews were billeted in what they were told were some old Marine family housing units. They had been modernized a little bit with running water and a shower and toilet, but just about like everything else in Korea, they were infested with rats.
But then there was the good old Kunsan Officers’ Club. Its name was The Bottom of the Mark and those who served there could appreciate the irony. But many off-duty hours were spent there in good fun. There was a movie shown every night at the club and it was almost a given that there would be a power interruption right in the middle. Mel says, “I think I remember one time that we got through an entire movie without the power failure. We often laughed that President Syngman Rhee shut the power off in retaliation for the times we buzzed his palace.”
Looking back, Mel ruefully recalls some of the things that happened during the early deployments in Korea. “Sometimes I think it’s a wonder we didn’t blow that whole side of the Korean Peninsula off into the Yellow Sea.”
“On the first day that we loaded the aircraft, we had three airplanes loaded and were in the process of loading the fourth when something happened and the tip tanks were accidentally jettisoned. So 640 gallons of JP4 hit the ramp and was running under that aircraft and on down the ramp underneath the other three loaded aircraft. In the middle of all this sat an APU running and throwing sparks out the exhaust stack. There were a few near heart failures before things got calmed down and a disaster was averted. Of course there was a scramble to figure out why those tanks came off accidentally and I think that it probably was finally decided that there was something about the personnel safety switch and residual voltage and a glitch in the sequencing of the loading checklist. It seems we had avoided all this in our practice loadings back at Johnson because in the simulated loading situation, the checklist was rearranged slightly. At any rate, the situation was corrected by changing the sequence on the loading checklist.”
Initially, the squadron was tasked to have four aircraft on LABS alert during the daylight hours. Other than the four on alert, the rest of the squadron went about a pretty normal schedule of flying training missions out of Kunsan.
As the 13th Commander Howard Ice remembers it, he sent the first report of, “Four aircraft loaded and on Quick Strike alert,” on the 4th of July.
By mid-July, the 13th was getting settled down pretty well in its routine when the Lebanese crisis took place. The U.S. resolved to provide some military support to the Lebanese government. In the scramble to make sure that U.S. forces were properly located, the decision was made at some level to temporarily abandon the Quick Strike alert at Kunsan and get the 13th Bomb Squadron back in position at Johnson. The Grim Reapers were all packed up and back in Japan in about 24 hours from the notification. Again, some of the FNGs drew short straws and ended up dead-heading back to Johnson on another terrifying flight in a C-119.
Again, Mel remembers, “Back at Johnson on the 25th of July, several of us were flying local training sorties. The weather was such that a weather penetration was necessary; there was or had been a light rain at Johnson. I was right behind Norm Silver and his pilot Sully Pike in the ADF holding pattern to the north of Johnson. They changed frequency on the penetration, so I didn’t hear their conversations with approach. Shortly after, I was cleared for penetration and approach but part way down was directed to divert to Yokota as Johnson was closed due to an emergency. I can’t recall exactly what the weather was, but do remember sighting the column of smoke during my approach to Yokota. Sully and Norm had crashed short of the runway in the Japanese town of Iruma. Sully, along with two Japanese boys, was killed. Norm, though critically injured, survived. A rescue chopper at Johnson had been alerted during their approach and was airborne and over the crash site immediately. They were able to get Norm to the hospital at Johnson in just a matter of minutes.”
In August there was another world crisis. As Mel remembers it, “I believe it was the second Taiwan Straits crisis, when the CHICOMs (Note: stands for Chinese Communists; no longer politically correct in the 21st Century although they remain Chinese and Communist) started a massive artillery bombardment of Qemoy and Matsu islands, Chinese Nationalist (also no longer PC) territory. I think that started about the 23rd of August and lasted through October of that year. This is when Bill Ricketts and I believe it was the 345th Bomb Squadron from Langley AFB VA deployed their B-57s to Kadena. This relieved a bit of the 3rd Bomb Wing’s responsibilities in the area and I think it was then, still in August, that the decision was made to resume the Quick Strike alert.” This time the 8th Bomb Squadron was deployed as a unit to continue what the 13th had started in July.
At a Canberra reunion, a misguided former 90th member stood up and declared that the 90th started the Quick Strike alert in the fall of 1958. Of course, he was promptly booed out of the hospitality room. Although that time frame was accurate for the first exposure of the “Other Squadron,” it was not the inception of Quick Strike.
Some of the confusion about who started what and when is understandable because all three squadrons had been running training missions to Korea prior to June `58. There were many training sorties that went over to use Koon-ni Range. Many recovered at Kunsan. Some may have been there a couple of days TDY and flown training missions to Koon-ni Range and so forth, so the 90th guy can be excused because 90th crews had been to Kunsan and flown some training flights.
The 13th deployed two more times to K-8 during the fall of 1958. It soon became obvious that the logistics involved in rotating entire squadrons to the same location once every month was not practical. In addition, the need to support an entire squadron’s training requirements at the TDY location proved much too costly. This prompted the establishment of a consolidated effort with each of the three squadrons providing individual crews concurrently to meet the alert commitments. The crews rotated on a one for one basis, consolidated maintenance was coming into fashion, and by Christmas 1958, after spending more than 70 days at K-8 since June, the deployments of the 13th as a squadron came to an end.
By late 1958, the Kunsan alert force had evolved into a consolidated 3rd Bomb Wing effort. Squadron commanders were rotating in the role of pad commander and the average crew rotation was seven days. The 3rd Bomb Wing settled in for the long term. In time, Japan-based F-100s joined the effort at Kunsan.
During this time, a new B-57 aircrew alert facility was under construction. It followed WWII building design, based on Quonset huts, and it initially took the shape of an “H.” Reflecting their superior creative sense, the aircrews referred to the facility as, “The H Building.” During the next years, countless hours were spent there and many stories came about -- some of them good, some of them bad, but all with some level of humor.
One of these stories concerns a spy discovered by Mel. In his own words:
The establishment of the Quick Strike alert at Kunsan was super duper Top Secret. When the 13th came home and the next squadron deployed, no one talked about where they were or what they were doing. Of course some of the wives didn’t take long to figure it all out.
When the 13th deployed the second time, the so called “H” building was under construction. We occupied each part as it was completed. Off duty one afternoon, I was watching the Korean carpenters building multi pane windows. I marveled at their skill in taking a rough piece of wood and with only hand tools, make a window sash that looked like it came out of a factory.
Suddenly the horn blew and a “Fastboy” scramble was announced. I noticed that one of the carpenters stopped planing the window sash, raised his cuff, and punched a big chronograph on his wrist. The alert crews ran for the aircraft, fired up, taxied to the end of the runway and rolled on a simulated takeoff. (At this time we taxied to the runway and then aborted - a practice that was soon discontinued.) As the aircraft rolled on the runway the carpenter again clicked his chronograph. It dawned on me, “My Gawd, he’s recording our reaction time. Not only that, carpenters don’t have big pilot watches. My Gawd, he’s a SPY.” I thought about pulling my snub nosed 38 and killing him but, with its accuracy in mind, was afraid I might miss. So, I casually moved to the operations room and related what I had observed to the Pad commander. He immediately contacted the OSI team and soon one of the agents arrived to get my story. He thanked me for being observant and went on to explain that they knew who the carpenter was and what he was doing and that they were watching his every move.
By this time we had discovered Peking Polly on our AM radios. Just like the gals in previous wars, she played great American tunes interrupted occasionally with rantings in broken English designed to point out the shortcomings of those on our side. She often spoke about Ike Eisenhower and his misguided Pentagon warriors. It wasn’t long after the spy incident that she interrupted the music one night saying, “You boys with your atomic bombs sitting 15 minute Quick Strike alert at Kunsan call yourselves freedom fighters. We call you WAR MONGERS.” They knew who we were and what we were about. It finally sunk in - we weren’t there just for retaliation but also as a deterrent. We wanted them to know what we were doing. The SPY had unwittingly become our double agent.
* According to the Dash 1, the Radar Receiving Set AN/APS-54 transmits visible and audible warning to the pilot when an airborne interception or airborne gun-laying radar system is in position to offer a potential threat to the airplane. The visible warning is displayed by indicator lights on the pilot’s indicator panel and the observer’s AN/APS-54 control panel. The red lights go on when radar signals arrive from the direction of nose, tail, or both. The green light (observer’s panel only) goes on during absence of signals. The audible warning is an audio tone in the headset and corresponds to the pulse rate frequency (high pulse rate for airborne radar and medium pulse or low pulse rate for gun-laying or ground radar) of the intercepted signals.
** FNG defined. By long-standing Air Force tradition (11 years in 1958), a new guy (FNG) was relegated to the most menial of duties. An FNG was defined principally by his length of service in his current unit of assignment. Amount of time in the unit aircraft type, total flying hours, total jet time, and other relevant factors were trumped by the “known quantity factor.” Squadron commanders, operations officers, and others known to, or remembered by, those two worthies were exempt from FNG status.