Queens Die Proudly
Our Sea Loft in Hilton Head, where Gail and I lived 1992 until January 2000, is small.

It is a glass octagonal shaped structure that sits on the intersection of a stand of pine and an estuary.


Gail and I opened the 800 plus square feet so that almost the entire area is one space. There are three sleeping lofts tucked up in the rafters - one over our work area, one over a dressing area and the last over the food preparation area.


One of the outstanding aspects of this environment is the light. The early morning light comes in over the water and shines into the sitting/food Preparation area. Some mornings can take your breath away. The quality of the light is like descriptions of the Mediterranean - although I have never seen it myself and cannot say from direct experience. The great Barcelona architect Antonio Guadi said, however, that the light in this region is the true geneses of it's architecture and art.


I often sleep in this loft - it is really a reading area and I like to fall asleep at night by reading. The view from the loft, in the morning, is capable of provoking powerful flashes of insight and memory. This happened to me a couple of days ago when I awoke. Our food preparation area - you cannot call it a kitchen - is tiny. It is also floor-to-ceiling glass on two sides and cantilevered over a small patio where deer, raccoon and birds come to eat. Because of the small space, and because we do not like large in-your-face appliances, the refrigerator is a half-size under-the-counter type.


On it’s front door is a magnetic map for tracking hurricanes. Knowing what the summer parade of hurricanes is doing is, naturally, something of high interest to anyone living in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That is if they have any common sense. Usually, the press of work has both Gail and myself up long before the sun rise and we enjoy the morning light from our work stations which are on the far side of the Sea Loft. This morning I was enjoying the luxury of sleeping “late” with time to enjoy that magical zone between awareness of one kind called sleep and another kind called being awake. I looked down and at the refrigerator door and the map showing the last hurricane of the 1997 season. Instantly, I was transported back 50 years to the Philippine Islands and the first time that I had trackeded a hurricane - they call them typhoons there.


Now, I want you to understand that this was not simply a memory in the usual and weak sense of this word. It was a perception. A return to the full sense of the place and my presence there. In those days I really enjoyed typhoons. I understood their danger. I enjoyed them never-the-less. Perhaps, that is what this piece is about - danger. Danger and the various ways that one can respond to it. What is risk? How do you best deal with it?


You see, this was 1947 and I was a child in a two-generation Air Force family. My grandfather was in the air force - it was called the signal corps then - when they had three airplanes. My entire life has been framed by this family history and the Second World War which was a time when more of my friends became fatherless from random mechanical error than ANY combat loses that would be acceptable to the U.S. public today. Danger to me, at nine years old, was not an abstraction, it was a day-to-day reality. A risk taken every time someone you knew took off in an airplane.


People I knew and liked could be dead the next day. It happened. It happened more than once.


My Father flew first B-24s and then B-17s in the Pacific during the War. The B-17 was a beautiful airplane and a big one. It was called the “Flying Fortress” and, until the B-29, it was one of the largest and most able bombers in the world. Those who flew it had an unreserved passion for the plane. Of all the large bombers is was, perhaps, the most graceful ever to fly. Even today, in the world of jumbo jets and other large works, to see a B-17 fly can provoke a feeling in me that is close to joy - it is a pure esthetic experience.


My Father was commissioned prior to the U.S. involvement in the War. He was a second lieutenant at the time of Pearl Harbor. 18 months later, at age 23, he was a lieutenant Colonel and Wing Commander. When you see those old WWII films and you see airplanes, in rigid formation, blanketing the sky, this is a Wing. It was a simple process of elimination in those dauys - those that lived were promoted. Flying out of New Guinea, in the early days of the war, the attrition reat of B-24s was 50%.


I never liked my Father much. Actually, he was my step-father and he made it clear that, in some mysterious way, I did not meet the definition of being a member of his family. Having met members of the family, I agreed with the assesment - wholeheartedly. He and I shared few perceptions. We disagreed about most things and found little common ground. However, there were a few areas where we shared a abiding interest and intense passion. Flying airplanes was one of them.


My Father was a pilot’s pilot. He was not much liked - or even respected - outside of this one area. He was, considered, at the end of the War by General Ubank as “one of the most outstanding officers in the US Air Force” and he left the Service, in 1953, never having been promoted again. After the War, he messed up as an Intelligence Officer, as a Squadron Commander and in a series of other assignments from California to the Pentagon, to Florida and Texas. But he could fly. I have seen grown men get tears in their eyes watching him bring a B-17 in to a perfect 3 point landing. This was art!


As soon as the Air Force ended his career as an Officer (10 pass overs in those days and you were out), they immediately hired him as a civilian instructor, for a much larger salary, teaching flight training. This event was one of the early mysteries that got me interested in organizational theory.


In the 40s, you always watched takeoffs and landings. You urged the planes into the air and back onto the ground. It was far from certain that they would fly or return safely. When a Flight returned, you counted - you stared to see the order and the makings of individual planes. The question was always who's husband or father was not coming back. This is not an abstraction nor a metaphor. It was a fact of life. A fact lived every day because life had to go on no matter the circumstances.


The Air Force, then as now, is a tight society. Everybody gets to know everyone else very fast. perfomance is a critical issue. It is not about someone messing up and losing some money for the stockholders - it is about dying. Because of this and other closely coupled reasons, this society is one of patronage and mentoring. Young officers are taken “under the wing” of older ones and brought along throughout their career. My Father, as all other senior Officers, had his cadre of younger men. My Mother, likewise played her role as “The Colonel’s” wife, part hostess, part mentor to distraught wives, and I am certain, the object of the sexual fantasies of a number of junior, unmarried and callow fliers far from home. She was a strikingly beautiful woman and vivacious as hell. Good judgment, it was pointed out many times, was not her strongest attribute.


All of this made a dance and community that was an exciting place for a 9 year old to be. Life was lived here at a level of intensity far greater than in the civilian world I was not to experience for several more years. One did not do this for a job. This is not how you earned a living. This was serious. This was mission-driven and it took commitment (you strapped your ass into a seat of a plane), competency (fuck this up and someone dies), and a curious mix of technical acumen and pure visceral guts (“There I was flat on my back at 30,000 feet without a parachute...”).


Navigation, in these days, was done by “Dead Reckoning.” The aircraft did not have anything like the equipment that we have in CAMELOT today.

My Mother was an extremely intelligent women. She also was also a totally unrepentant egalitarian. This made her tenure as an Air Force daughter and wife an interesting one. To her, all people were inherently equal but fell into two groups: interesting and not. Those that were interesting got her full undivided and remarkable attention. Those that were not - got nothing. Other than this, she treated everybody the same. Generals and poor workers got the same treatment: a fast assessment, then full attention... or oblivion. As often as not, it was not the General. She raised me as an adult. I learned to read two years before school started with the “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge. You can imagine my shock when I got to “Look at Spot chase the bouncing red ball” during my first day of school. I ended up in the Principal’s office by 10 am. I was told that this was a record in her 30 years of teaching experience.


I was raised in a serious, intense, passionate adult society. My friends were not other children. My friends were young officers who found themselves in the orbit of my Father and Mother. There was always one young, intelligent, energetic pilot that had a close attachment to my Father and poorly disguised puppy love for the Colonel's wife. On every base that we lived on, I attached myself to one of these and we became close companions until some damn bureaucrat messed up and sent him away. You see, most of them were only ten to twelve years older than myself and had been though experiences most never have. They had a truncated growing up time and I had a better education. Even match. They loved my parents - with a mixture of respect, fear, family attachment, competition and sexual longing. Their contemporaries were competitors for attention, resource, opportunities and access. I was, perhaps, the best companion they ever had. I was, certainly one of the few people they could talk to and share fantasies, fears, hopes and despair. I was a neutral “place” in a world where neutrality did not exist.


Tom was my friend in the Philippines. He was considered one of the hottest fighter pilots in the Air Force. He was an Ace in the War and could take a P-47 and wax any pilot alive flying the faster and more nimble P-51. At Clark Field, in 1947, the big topic over scotch was who - if anyone, ever - would succeed in taking Tom in air-to-air combat. No one ever did to my knowledge. Tom and an airplane were one thing - a work of art.


However, the next question was if Tom would get his regular commission and get to stay in the Service. This was a big topic, in 1947, as the Army and Navy was scaling back to peace time levels. You see, Tom had a incident “in his Jacket.” It was not talked about - not openly that is. All I was told that Tom lead a flight of 47s into a mountain and everyone was killed - except Tom.


Remember, I said that navigation was primitive in these days. No radar. Basically, air speed, altitude, attitude, clock, paper charts and hand calculations and notations. Bombers had a dedicated Navigator. Fighter pilots had to fly and navigate at the same time. Flights were organized in patterns. This was done for defensive reasons and offensive. In the correct pattern, pilots can cover each other's vulnerable areas - blind spots that all planes have by which they can be successfully attacked. In offense, mostly in Bombers, a pattern of bombs were laid to cover a target. This was saturation bombing not the precise take-out-the-specific-target capability possible today.


In Flights, one navigator lead, and in Bomber runs, one bombardier guided the Flight over the target area. This was a great responsibility. In situations like this everyone relies totality on the competency, bravery and diligence of the others. You cannot fly your mission if you have to be “looking over your shoulder” wondering if you Wing is there to protect you - or, if you are in the right place.


If a bombardier is wrong, an entire flight, and the lives lost, are wasted. If an navigator is wrong, an entire flight can be lost - all dead.


Many laugh at the “bonding” that takes place among warriors - don't laugh unless you have been there.


Imagine now, you are in a small - these planes were small - cold, fighter with extremely limited range in a violent storm. Visibility is zero. You are in mountainous country - oh yes, I forgot to note that there were many mountains in those days that planes could not simply fly over. They had to fly around them. Your radio is cutting in and out, you can barely keep contact with the 19 souls that are depending on your skill. You have been the air for hours and your fuel is down to a few pounds. You hands are numb. You are barely old enough to legally drink. Strapped to your leg on top your flight suit is a chart that you can partially read in the dim light of the cockpit. On it are the plots you have made - calculations of air speed, wind drift and magnetic compass deviation. You check and recheck your chart, you hope your estimate of set and drift are correct. You do this while watching compass, altitude, attitude, air speed indicators. You retrim the plane - necessary as fuel falls - and stare out of the few square feet of plexiglass that is your only window on the world. 350 knots seems very fast as suddenly, out of the mist, appears the highest mountain on the island of Luzon. There is no time to do anything except be aware that you have, somehow, failed your companions - your friends that protected you through three long years of War.


One of the things that I liked most about my life at that time was riding in the front seat of an open, windshield-down jeep. Tom used to take me, on the few days I was allowed out of bed, on his rounds. We visited the planes, and those repairing them, and many other places on the Base. There was always great activity as an entire Air Force was kept in readiness. One sunny day, Tom took me up on a small plateau that overlooked much of the Installation and told me what it felt like to kill 19 people that he loved - and what it was like to live afterwards.


Tom was a total professional. He was completely cleared in his Court Martial. The Air Force decided, however, that there was no role from him in the modern Service.


The last time I saw Tom was two years later. He was living in a trailer in a dusty Texas town that had no past or future. What was left was memory, beer and a job that had no meaning. There is little space for warriors in peacetime.


Medical science was even more primitive, in those days, than the airplane's navigation systems. Two years before going to the Philippines, I was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. This was a serious condition at the time. The “cure” was, essentially, to spend time in bed. I was told (by the time of the third “attack” in the Philippines) that I would never live an active life again.


I had two prized possessions that occupied my days in bed. One was an erector set complete with an electric motor. This was the large set and an amazing number of interesting devises could be structured from its many parts and a little imagination. The other was the 1947 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. There is a story about the Encyclopedia. Some time before I had asked my Mother “what was gravity.” A satisfying answer was beyond parental competency so, ever resourceful, she ordered me the “Golden Book” series encyclopedia. The day of its arrival sparkled with anticipation! I sat down and opened it to the appropriate section and found out that gravity was the tendency of one body to be attracted to another. I knew that! The disappointment was crushing. Her response was sure and immediate, and shortly after our arrival in the Philippines came the Britannica shipped all the way across the Ocean. This was heavy duty stuff in those days.


This time I was more cautious, placed the entire 23 volumes (complete with mahogany case!) next to my bed and retired with the appropriate one. It said essentially the same thing but took about 30 pages to do it. I saw that the matter was more complex than I had imagined and that a strait forward, simple answer was not forthcoming. The article, also, referred to a number of others, which in turn, referred to more. This was going to take some time!

Knowledge, it seems, was both ambiguous and clear, missing and expanding, contradictory and useful. I decided that the only organized thing to do was to read the entire work - so I did. A through Z. Atlas, Dictionary and supplements. You can do a lot of reading when you live in a bed and get one-half hour out of it a day.

Of course, there was a great deal I did not understand - and, there was a lot that I did. Basically, I got my primary education during those two years in the Philippines. To this day, I still enjoy the Britannica and carry it on a CD ROM wherever I go. I like to set it on random and let it flash articles and graphics as it will. This was an intense book-learning period that I was not to match, until I took two years off in the mid-70’s to do nothing but read again. These two reading-periods bracketed twenty-five years of experience and reading a book or two every week. One was my undergraduate degree - the other my doctorate.

This scan experience spoiled me for school and most human discourse. As late as High School I was known to argue with my teachers and march into school the next day with the appropriate article tagged. This made me very popular. Gradually, I learned that even the Britannica did not have it all but that humankind had amassed an architecture of valuable information that was - largely - ignored. I learned that this information could blind you or augment your creative abilities depending how you used it.

The Britannica also taught me to think twice and look below the surface of things. It was late one evening and I was reading in my bed. It was a calm and quite night punctuated only occasionally by the sound of land mines being exploded off in the distance. On the wall to my left was my chart with the (official) Air Force issue pins from Operations plotting the track of the latest Typhoon heading our way. On the stand on my right was my latest Erector Set creation which was a large crane capable of lifting a mighty payload. In this case the payload was a plate of freshly cut fruit that my Father had brought back from a flight to Borneo. I turned the page.


I proceeded to read an article documenting U.S. Trade with Germany during World War Two. I had friends killed in this War. I had seen children my age learn of their father's death. This was personal not something that I had read about or just seen in news reels. It seems that the trade was not only extensive but in strategic materials. The ordinance being blown up seemed to punctuate my reading - almost like my heart beat. I learned a lot that night. I learned that things are not always as they seem. That there are contradictions and complexities in life - many competing interests and aspects. That sometimes people lie. More often they lie to themselves. And, there is much that any single person will never know. Huge effort can be done for the wrong reason, or no real reason - or mixed reasons. But at the bottom of it all it gets down to someone succeeding, failing, bleeding or dying - maybe finding some measure of life and happiness. Nearly 30 years later, a book was written on this subject. It was called “Trading With the Enemy” - it did not make any notable inpact on the public.


The bombs going off night and day was a natural part of life at Clark Field. The Japanese had left a lot of ordinance upon retreating in 1945 as we had in 1941. Some of this was just left over war materials and much of it was deliberately planted to cause damage to whoever came behind. Land mines were all over the place and they were represented in many sizes and shapes. My Father had been at Clarke for six months before my Mother and I arrived there. The very first thing he told me when I got off the ship - I mean before “how are you” - was that I was to never pick up a wire or medal object that I was not absolutely sure I knew what it was. I took this seriously - but wasn't inclined to loose sleep over it.


One day, about a week after getting there, we were in our yard and I stooped down to pick up a wire - we were cutting the grass and I didn't want to foul the cutter. My Father whacked me, hard, grabbed me by the shoulders and repeated his instruction in quite forceful terms. A few weeks later some kids, that I came over on the ship with, found a Japanese “Butterfly” bomb and brought it home and tried to take it apart with a screw driver. One was killed, another blinded, another lost arms and leg - all were hurt badly. On board, I had played with these children - now this had happened because they did not understand the instruction or their parents had neglected to drive the point home. Never pick up a wire unless you know what it is attached to.


As stimulating as the Erector Set, Encyclopedia and occasional jeep trips were, life in a Bed can get dull - it pushes the imagination of a 9 year old. However, imagination turns out to be a reliable and true companion. Even so, the occasional breaks with this life were welcomed by me. That is why I loved the typhoons. These provided a complete break with life as usual, and even today, I find it hard not to like them a little.


Most of the housing at Clark was temporary and not suitable for surviving a really big storm. New concrete structures were being built for the enlisted personal but the officer's families were housed in large sprawling tin-roofed houses that featured exposed 2 x 4s inside, a 10 inch screen strip at the top and bottom and sliding windows without glass. They had plastic filled screens that let in the light. There were three exceptions. Three very large concrete and brick three-story houses that had somehow survived the War.


These were the Senior Officers Quarters. One each for The General and the two most ranking Bird Colonels. When a bad storm struck two things had to happen. First, the planes had to be sat in 24 hours a day in case it became necessary to fly them out. This was quite simple to understand; protect the mission critical assets at all costs. The second thing was each officer's family had to report to one of the three Senior Officers Quarters. All of us pushed every thing we owned into the center of our living rooms, covered it all with heavy water-proof tarps and tied it all down. All then reported to the Quarters. The General had a gas electric generator (the only one beside Operations) and being the democrat that he was he shared with all three houses.


A good typhoon can last several days so this is how life was organized: We kids had the third floor of each house. The parents the second floor for catching a little sleep (and, I often expected, more than that); the first floors were reserved for the biggest party that could be held under the circumstances. The officers rotated duty sitting in the airplanes and keeping essential operations going, getting a little sleep and attending the bash. As they were to say in California, years later, way cool!


It was strictly against the law to drink within 24 hours of flying but try fighting a War that way. In this community, there was complete understanding of a little known scientific fact that a few minutes of pure oxygen can do wonders (or seem to) for many hours of alcoholic consumption. Rules are important but so is common sense!


These were magical times. The howling noise outside. The grand party down stairs where most military protocols gave way to the more fulsome culture that flourished underneath it - and, the intrigue of the second and third floors. The third floors were usually more occupied with swift, organized pillow fights that raged from one room to another and sometimes (quite illegally) from house-to-house. Always lurking was the stimulation that the girl (whoever was this months object-of-youthful-desire) was sleeping just a few beds away!


Best of all, my parents would always seem to forget that I was destined-to-die if I experienced any exercise or stress at all. These you see, were happy moments unfettered by rules, order and restriction. I had a cadre of young officers trained who phoned me the storm coordinates every 15 minutes and I got quite good at predicting the course and moment of ultimate impact. This sense of timing has never left me.


Before the Philippines, I has survived two major Tropical Storms, one in Florida (where we spent three days in a storm cellar wondering if a huge tree was going to fall on our house - it fell - but missed. And one, at sea on the way to the Philippines. This latter storm was a ball. We were in a Liberty Ship half way out across the Pacific Ocean. These Liberty ships were troop transports and build by mass production methods in 90 days during the War. They were small for a ship but big to me. The cabins were small and accommodated several families - even for high-ranking Officer's dependents.


The ships were built out of 1/4 inch steel plate and engineered, you might say, close to the wire. It was possible to sit in the cabins (far below water line) and watch the outer hull bend and change shape with each roll of the ship. During the typhoon, these engineering calisthenics were truly assume. I remember thinking that what stood between me and tons of water was some engineer's understanding. All of this made most of the parents and many of the crew sicker than a dog. We kids loved it. We raced toy cars down the corridors as the ship rolled. Eating was great fun because the food would go sliding by and we just took a bite as the various plates zipped along. Parents though this was disgusting. The Navy was big on ice cream, and with so many sick, it was possible to get six even seven helpings every meal!


Unfortunately, even Tropical storms blew themselves out and things returned to “normal” what ever that is. There was much to learn here. Nature is bigger than you are. Don't fear - or resent - a storm, you opinion doesn't effect it. Sit in the airplane (maintain station). Enjoy the break.


To this day, I am amused at the modern media after-storm reporting of a Tropical Storm and the “tragedy” of someone losing a home. Somehow these people are made to be victims. Victims of what? They choose to be there. The risks were clear from the beginning. I would not like to lose our Sea Loft to a Hurricane (in a Hugo strength storm, our roof can be 13 feet under water), but I will never considerable myself a victim because of it.


Weigh the odds. Act accordingly. Index properly. The storm is not an abnormality - it is a normal low probability with a big impact. Track it's course. Get out of the way. Don’t put anything in the path that you are not prepared to lose or fix. It is part of the cost.


Another break in the routine of crane building, encyclopedia reading and occasional flights of fancy were our periodic trips into Manilla. While only 40 miles,this was a several hour drive across an impoverished and war-torn landscape. It was also considered dangerous - which added greatly to the charm of the trip. Much of the territory was partially controlled by a military organization called the HUCKS. This group was made of up remnants of the Philippine, Japanese and American armies. A rag tag crew of more-or-less left leaning political persuasion that many believed got its start back in the time of the Spanish American War. Which was just a little further back in time from the post WWII Philippines and that period is from now.


Although the HUCKS rarely physically hurt American personnel, there were, however, numerous incidents of personall being stopped and robbed. It seems that they took everything. I heard about one case where a young Officer, wife and child were left naked on the side of the road (what they called roads) - sans everything. I always thought that the HUCKS had a highly developed sense of humor and “use everything” esthetic to go along with their somewhat dubious political principles.


We always traveled with a loaded and cocked Army-issue 45 automatic on the front seat of the car. All three of us were “checked out” in its proper use. There is a process and protocol here that is very strict. And important. On one of our rare trips to Manilla we got lost. The day started with my Father telling us that he woke up with a strange dream. It seems that we were driving and lost and a man stepped out dressed in a weird combination of uniform elements from several armies. He even had the leaves sticking out of his helmet like in all those old WWII propaganda movies. In my Father's dream, he was shot in the head and it left a perfect hole just like the popular Little Abner cartoons of the day. My Mother I found this highly amusing and took to calling him “Old-Hole-In-The-Head” for most of the trip.


Philippine roads were more an abstraction then a reality and the drive was difficult. The scenery was beautiful but depressing when you looked at the state of most of the people. In time, we realized that we were lost. Road signs were non existent and getting around was not unlike navigation in the air or on the sea. Compass, map, mileage. My Mother insisted that my Father was lost and going in the wrong direction. He reminded HER that He had been navigating for some time now. SHE reminded Him that she had been in airplanes and flown one long before he ever knew what one was. This is true but another story. Meanwhile, it was getting dark and I could no longer read my encyclopedia.


Sure enough ahead of us, stepping out of the dim, was a soldier dressed exactly like my Father's dream. He was carrying an old bolt action Springfield rifle. Yes, we were close enough to know this - I recognized it because it was one of my Grandfather's favorite pieces and he had regaled me for several hours on its's virtues. I had never considered my Father very quick outside of flying and a fair ability on the basketball court, but I must say I was impressed on how fast he turned a 1941 Buick Coup (our prize!) and sped off in the opposite direction! It goes without saying that it was years before “Old-Hole-In-The-Head” lived it down.


We, finally, found manilla, the Port, and my Father's older Brother’s Ship. He was in command of an LSD and I loved to crawl all over it. There was a time when I could probably get around that ship better than all but the most experienced Chiefs. The various adventure on this ship are, also, another story but I will tell you that of all the peoples on the Planet, the ones who knew how to truly live were the Officer Corps of the US Navy!


This tale, also has a lesson. It is that you can get into a lot of trouble while arguing who is more lost. It also points out that what you do in the split second between seeing the danger and acting can be very important. It teaches you to pay attention to you own hunches. Weak Signals we call them, today.


It also leads me to a short discourse on gun protocol. I grew up around guns and ordinance of all kinds. I played in hangers among and in what were, for the day, the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world. I never thought twice about it except that I was taught by voice and example that this stuff can bite. You were “checked out” before you used it. Checked out by someone who was certified as knowing. This was even true of recreational sail boats, and on one Base where we lived, pilots had to be “checked out” by me before they could use the boats. This was not a rank thing. This was a knowledge thing.


It has always amused me that you can hardly buy anything in our society without instructions but that the really interesting things, like people and civilizations, don't come with any. In addition, the average citizen can get their hands on an amazing array of stuff without having to demonstrate competency of any kind. In the military, it was different.


The first airplane I ever flew in was a B-25 - a two engine medium Bomber made by Martin. I was 8 at the time. The first thing that we did was sit in the cockpit (my Father in the pilot’s and me in the co-pilot’s seat) and go through the entire preflight check list. This preflight was a paper list (covered with cellophane) and was not to be skipped or done my memory. Props feathered - CHECK! Brakes ON - CHECK! Fuel pumps ON - Check! And on and on - gages, fuel levels, navigation lights, temperatures, pressures, safety equipment, switch states, radio and intercom, until: Ignition switch On - CHECK! This was a procedure. It had an order. You did not get into this machinery and just fly it!


My Father and I flew it alone (although is a three person crew aircraft no counting gunnery members). I performed all of the copilot functions from the check lists as instructed. I taxied the airplane under his guidance (he did the foot peddals which I could not reach). He had flown two and one-half tours during WWII. He had been flying 7 years the first time he took me up. His experience, (low) thousands of hours, the check list (DOCUMENTATION based on 43 years experience of AIRPLANE) protected us.


On that flight, I went down into the plexiglass encased nose that was the bombardiers while my Father flew at full military power as close to the ground as possible. It felt like we were cutting sage brush with the props. Most likely - we were! It scarred the hell out of me and at the same time excited me beyond belief or description. Flying ever since has been totally boring. Why did he do this? It must have stretched the rules beyond repair in even the looser 40s pre-Cold War Air Force. I think I know. In a couple of hours I knew what my Father did - and how he did it. I have never forgotten.


Guns too had a procedure. Prior to going to the Philippines, about the time of my first flight, my Father took Mother and me out onto the desert to learn to shoot. Never point the piece at someone unless you intend to. Always check the chamber every time you pick it up. Never threaten with an gun unless you are prepared to use it and understand the consequences. Understand the safety features of the piece and every condition under which it can fire. The automatic has four steps to fire. The piece must be cocked. It cannot fire otherwise. The safety (where your thumb rests) must be OFF (snapped down). Your have to be gripping the handle - it has to be tightly pressed. And, the clip has to be fully inserted.


On the road to Manilla the piece is cocked, safety ON, clip OUT to the first notch. In this condition it can be used as a hammer with complete safety. Pick it up, depress the safety squeeze the grip, and push up the clip with you left hand and you have a WEAPON. Point the piece naturally, look AT the target, squeeze slowly - don't jerk. Fire two rounds - the second will adjust aim automatically. Remember, this is a close in weapon - 30 to 60 feet (except for experts). Count the rounds!


If you don't want to understand these things, use a rock - you will be better off.


The B-17 was loved because it flew. The skill of its Team, ground crew, air crew and the formation of which it was a part, with the plane made up an effective system. This was understood by all those who risked their life every time they took to the air. In the first few months of WWII the US Air Force stationed on the Philippine was systematically destroyed by an overwhelming force. A book was written by one of the pilots, I met him during the War and read the book afterward. It's title was “Queens Die Proudly.” It tells the story of moving the planes at night, flying missions, scrounging for fuel and ordinance (often brought in by PT Boat). It describes the death of each crew and plane until it was no longer possible to maintain a Force in the area. This “system” performed beyond passion, endurance and reason. It endured and accomplished its mission. This was not a job.

There are many forms of danger. In the modern world they are often confused. Danger of any kind is rarely addressed and dealt with appropriately and front on. Paradoxically, great risks are taken out of laziness, indifference or ignorance.


When Gail and I got CAMELOT we asked a lot of people about all the ways a boat can sink. Many didn't want to answer. Some said it was “bad luck” to talk about it. Some forms of danger are natural. A Tropical Storm is dangerous. It is not subject to our control or opinion of it. It is better to stay out of the way of this kind of danger, but if in a Hurricane, good design, intelligence, disciple and knowledgeable procedures go a long way toward evening the odds. Don't ever feel like a victim though, it dulls the senses, wastes time and is metaphysically unsupportable.


Many dangers are human-made. We have an obsession with risk abatement, a visceral attachment to “action-movies” and propensity for taking unbounded risks with our technologies. On many scales of recursion, we place sophisticated machinery and global systems in the hands of people who have no idea what a procedure is. We do this in the name of making money and keeping a job even when there is no mission that can be related to common sense, individual health and the benefit of humanity. Mindless commerce grinds on.


It seems like so much of modern life is a relentless machine with no governor, or load stone. No compass - not even dead reckoning. I sometimes think that we are too protected. I wonder if more people had an experience with real risk - and death if they would be so causal about the world we seem to be building. Here, often, skill and art is sold into slavery to do stupid and sometime evil things. Do we understand the consequences of our technologies and political decisions? Or, do we do what is expedient without concern for the future we create?


Most dangers are fictional. They are internal demons projected on the screen of humanity that play out in gruesome ways. Here there are true victims and true tragedy. How often we build fantasies into global movements and conflicts that do great harm. WWII is an example. The Inquisition is another. Read today’s newspapers. Looking back, after so much was lost, how important are the things we fought over. Japan, post WWII, has accomplished virtually all of the points in the 1936 “CO-Prosperity” doctrine that lead them to war with the United States - without violence, peacefully, using trade. By the war, had Japan become militaristic and raciest - you bet. Were we equally raciest and careless and imperialist in our response. Most of the people who died had little to do with the policies that produced so much needless waste and pain.


1947 was a wonderful year for me. I keep it locket tightly in my soul so that I will never forget. I walked on the streets of Japan, in a city where 100,000 had died in one night by deliberate fire bombing, months after a bitter war in which we had dropped the atom bomb on them. I walked unguarded and unprotected except by a humanity that transcended politics and killing. I saw nothing but happy, friendly faces and hands that reached out in affection.


I danced with a ship in the middle of a vast sea and wondered which would prevail, this time, human technology or the storm. I did this with no animosity for the storm and a deep appreciation for the ride.


I learned what it was to be told that I live my (most likely short) life in a bed - that I could not do the normal things. I saw people picking themselves up from the horror and poverty of war and start rebuilding their lives.


I experienced the death and maiming of playmates. I befriended a young man, hardly older than myself, that forever carried the burden of those 19 lives, yet, could dream, laugh, play and desire - and work.


I played in a world that most would not see for several decades. Technology augmentation... downsizing.. vision... mission driven... commitment... global impacts... What are these WORDS to me?


I leaned that humanity had amassed a great body of organized knowledge. That it was full of wonders, contradictions, holes, unpleasant revelations and was rarely used by most - even in a culture that was technology focused at the time. I brushed physical danger from another human and learned that, perhaps, intuition should not be discounted. I learned that you did not have to see the other as a monster and that there can be plenty of humor in the situation.


I am grateful for the intersection of a morning light, a Hurricane chart, 50 year old memories and a little insight that caused me to re-member these prizes in a new way.


What does our society really know of danger?

When you FUCK up people die.

There is little space for warriors in peacetime.

Things are not always what they seem.

Don't pick up a wire unless you know what it is attached to.

Protect the mission critical assets at all costs.

Rules are important but so is common sense.

Nature is bigger than you are. Enjoy the break. Maintain Station.

Weight the odds. You can get in trouble while arguing who is lost.

The split second action taken after the perception (of danger) is important.

Technology can bite - but there is a PROCEDURE for everything.

Queens die proudly.

June 5, 2012 Update
It has been 65 years since the events I tell of here and 14 and a half years since I first told this story on my web site. There is no doubt that my time at Clark Field was the greatest single shaper of my subsequent life and work.
I grew on on military bases until 1952 went to a boarding military school, then a Jesuit High School, worked a couple of years in architect’s offices, then to Taliesin until late 1958. Thus the majority of my first 21 years was spent living in what later would be called “intentional communities.” What little I saw of it and then when I got out into the greater American society made little sense to me.
I was not prepared for this world and became an outlier from the beginning. I still am although I have learned to navigate the space even while not being fully capable of relating to it. There are many rules of engagement I still do not understand and many I cannot comply with even thought I do understand them. This has provided one advantage. I have had to think through these social protocols to a much greater degree than if I had been born into them. This also means I have had to look at my own innate culture with the same critical eye.

This lifetime of critical looking, coupled with having grown up in a culture that in many ways was much more like the 21st Century than the 1940s, has provided me an uncommon perspective on our present time. Much that is ubiquitous today was being invented in the 40s right in front of my face. I thought nothing of getting my daily supply of oranges flown in from another country nor of the threat of a "terrorist" attack driving 40 miles to the city. Technology was everywhere as the backbone of the global enterprise my family worked in. At the same time our capability to act today, in many areas despite our enormous resources, is far less than would have done in the 40s. You can imagine, for example, how I look at a Katrina having grown up in a military that would have been there with relief within hours of the storm passing - not days.

At the root of the culture I was born into, was mission, competency, rule-based procedures, community, technology, a global perspective, respect for systemic consequences, and a creed that you could rely on your team. They were there or dead. There was no in between. No question that this culture had its blind spots, limits and failures to perform to its own standards. There is no question that the gains of the last six decades have been tremendous. Looking forward, the opportunities are orders of magnitude greater than in my youth. That said. it is also certain many qualities have been lost. No argument can be made that those of of my parent’s generation would handle the opportunities and challenges of today better than we are. Yet, it very well may be true that we should pay more attention to what this generation did, and what they learned by doing it, and how we can apply these values to this time.
Matt Taylor
Hilton Head
January 1, 1998

SolutionBox voice of this document:

click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted April 10, 1998

revised July 19, 1999

reformatted and Undate added June 4, 2012

(note: this document is about 97% finished)

Cpoyright© Matt Taylor 1998, 1999, 2000, 2012




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