I have greatly enjoyed reading Charlie’s blog, and when I read his first post that commented on refueling F-4’s, I suggest that I might write a post from the point of view of one of the F-4 aircrews that he frequently used to tow around the sky. He agreed, and then I promptly procrastinated on submitting my post, so I finally decided to correct that oversight.
Charlie has been listening to my stories for about 45 years, ever since we were both roommates at the Air Force Academy, and from among all my many tales of thrilling heroics, he requested this one.
In the early eighties, I was stationed at George AFB in the 563rd Tac Fighter Squadron (TFS) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/563d_Flying_Training_Squadron), which at that time was one of the Wild Weasel defense suppression squadrons in the 37th Tac Fighter Wing (TFW) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/37th_Training_Wing#George_Air_Force_Base ) at George flying the F-4G Phantom II. I flew in the back seat of the F-4 as an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO).
Like Charlie, I am also a former Cold Warrior, and if the 563rd were ever to deploy for combat, our preplanned deployment base was RAF Laarbruch, which lies very close to the border between
Germany and the Netherlands. In about 1982, I took part in a three week command post exercise at Laarbruch which was designed to familiarize the commanders in the 37th TFW with the facilities and host organizations we would coordinate with in the event of war. For me, it was an opportunity to go drink large quantities of good German/Dutch beer.
We worked long hours in the Laarbruch command post during the exercise, but part way through, they gave us a couple of days off to analyze how things were going before continuing. The first night off, a pilot from the squadron, one of our Wing maintenance officers, and I decided to do a pub crawl through Holland to see how the Dutch beers stood up against the German beers we had been drinking. Piling into the car we had rented upon arriving in
Germanyin Kaiserslautern, we headed out to perform our research.
Upon reaching the Dutch border, we showed a copy of our orders and our military ID cards to the border guards, since we weren’t travelling under passports. They waved us through, and we proceeded to the first of the many pubs we visited that evening.
About 11 pm, we decided it was time to head back to our gasthaus (hotel) in
Germany. When we got to the border crossing, however, everything was dark and there were no border guards in sight. Using my best High School/College German, I examined the large sign at the border station that we had ignored upon entering the Netherlands.
“Well, guys”, I explained, “near as I can figure, we have to go about 80 km south to Aachen if we want to find a 24 hour border crossing back into Germany.”
“Oh man, that will take forever,”, the other two complained.
As we were figuring out our next move, we saw a car approaching the border from the German side. “Let’s watch what this guy does,” my pilot suggested. “If he blows through the border, then maybe we can figure that it’s like truck weighing stations in the
U.S. Stop at them if open, otherwise continue on.” We watched the oncoming car, but just short of the border, he turned off an headed towards the light of a nearby farm.
“Crap. Let’s just blow through. We’re just a couple of miles from the gasthaus, anyway.” We all agreed, and proceeded across the border.
“Well,” said the pilot, nicknamed ZeeMan, who was the one driving, “I don’t feel any bullets, so I guess we’re OK.” Right as he was saying that, we saw someone step out of the forest a mile or so ahead of us, who then shined a million watt spotlight on us, and was waving us down. At the same time, the car we had previously seen had pull back onto the road, and was speeding towards us.
As we came to a stop near the guy with the spotlight, we saw the woods were full of uniformed figures, all carrying machine guns. The guns weren’t pointed right at us, but the weren’t pointed very far away from us, either. “Crap”, ZeeMan explained. “This is inconvenient. Let’s just act like we’re stupid GIs, and we’ll see if we can talk our way out of this.”
“Oh, I think the stupid GI part will come pretty naturally,” I muttered.
One of the uniformed guys motioned for the driver to roll down his window, and proceeded to ask us a lot of questions in high speed German. “Sprechen sie English”, I offered? “Do you speak English?”
“English?!?”, he responded, and then consulted with several of his comrades. One came around to my side of the car and asked me, “You are Americans? Vhy do you cross the border unauthorized? Driver, please stop out of ze auto.”
While my ZeeMan was getting frisked, the officer asked me further questions. We explained that we were Americans in the U.S. Air Force, and that we were at RAF Laarbruch on temporary duty, and offered to show them our orders and ID cards. Examining these, he then asked, “From vhere did you get zis auto?”
“We rented it in
Kaiserslautern,” I replied.
Kaiserslautern???”, he exclaimed a bit surprised. Kaiserslaughter was a couple hundred kilometers from Laarbruch, but that’s where the USAF had us fly in, so that was where we rented the car. “Do you have ze rental paperz?”
“Sure”, I replied. “They’re right in here in the glove compartment.” I opened up the glove box, stuck my hand in, and promptly had a 9mm pistol muzzle jammed into my right ear.”
“I am taking my hand OUT of the glove box now. My hand is empty”, I told him. I slowly withdrew my hand and wiggled my empty fingers, and said, “If you want the rental papers, YOU get the rental papers.”
Up until this point, our maintenance buddy had been asleep in the back seat. He woke up just in time to see ZeeMan being frisked, and me with a gun jammed in my ear. “This is the last time I go anywhere with Weasels”, I heard him mutter.
They had us all get out of the car, and proceeded to take all the seats out. When they opened the trunk, I was pretty sure we were screwed, because we had brought all our chemical warfare gear with us for the exercise, and we had gas masks, and rubber gauntlets and boots, and carbon lined coats and pants in bags in the trunk. “Terrific”, I thought. “Now they are going to think we are terrorists!”
After going through everything, the English speaker asked me, “Where is ze H?”
“The what”, I asked?
“Ze H. Ze H. Ze heroin! You are smuggling heroin from ze Nederlands, correct?”
“No, no! Honest, we’re just
U.S.servicemen. We came back to the border, and we were confused because it was all dark. We couldn’t read the sign, and we didn’t know where else to cross. We’re not used to this. We were hoping that this would be like crossing from Idaho to Utah, no big deal. I guess we were wrong. Really, we’re very sorry. Where should we have crossed?”
They conferred amongst themselves for a few minutes, and I caught the words “Dumkopf Ami’s (Americans)…”, so I figured our cunning plan to act stupid was actually working.
“All right”, they told us. “You can go, but please, next time you must go to
Aachen if you wish to cross ze border after 10 pm.”
They put the seats back into the car, we piled in, and started our drive back to our gasthaus only a few miles away.
“Man,” ZeeMan exclaimed. “That was intense. I ran the border twice last week and never had that happen to me either time.”
At that point, I was in full agreement with our maintenance buddy. Going out on the town with Weasels may not be such a good idea after all.