19 Delta Scout
My heroes have always been those brave men and women who have actually gone out and been there and done that, and who overcame incredible odds to inspire the world. The young Jewish girl who hid with her family in an attic in Amsterdam and wrote in her diary about the horrors of Nazi Socialist oppression before she was found and killed. The frightened young American soldier who climbed atop a burning American tank destroyer and single handedly fought against an assault force of Hitler’s best soldiers. The bold, African American doctor who gave his life in pursuit of his dream of racial equality in America. Those courageous first responders who gave their lives to save innocent lives during the 9/11 attacks. The little Afghan girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she wanted to go to school and survived to become a champion of the right of little girls to go to school. These real people are my heroes, not the grotesquely overpaid athletes who chase balls around a sports field or the Hollywood action stars who make millions of dollars shooting hundreds of bad guys in their movies then preach to us about gun control.

I know an elderly gentleman who comes into our local watering hole every once and a while and orders exactly three mugs of beer before he leaves. Although he is in his late seventies and hunched over with age, he is still rather tall and imposing. Despite his imposing size, he is quiet and reserved, never raises his voice and is, in every respect, quite unremarkable. Then one Saturday evening, this elderly, soft-spoken man came into the bar wearing a green t-shirt bearing the screen printed image of a US Navy F8 Crusader fighter jet. The big US Navy Air Show was going on that weekend at Naval Air Station Oceana, showcasing the US Navy and US Air Force’s latest and most modern fighter jets and attack bombers. The Navy was celebrating 100 years of naval aviation and vendors were selling t-shirts with images of various historical and modern US Navy fighter planes.

The Crusader was the US Navy’s first supersonic jet and was designed to be an air superiority fighter used to defend the naval fleet against enemy fighters. The F8 Crusader fighter jet served as the US Navy’s primary air superiority fighter during the Cold War and squadrons of F8 Crusaders were extensively deployed with the US Navy and US Marines during the Vietnam War where their kill record against the most advanced enemy Communist fighters could not be matched. Though we have many advanced fighter aircraft such as the Air Force F22 Raptor and the Navy F/A18 Super Hornet, my all time favorite jet fighter is the F8 Crusader which was designed in the late 1950’s.

I took a seat next to the elderly gentleman and passed him a mug of beer, telling him that I really liked his shirt with the image of the F8 Crusader. He smiled as he accepted the beer which I bought for him, surprised that someone as young as I would recognize the old fighter jet.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s been a while since I strapped into the old Crusader. I was a Gunslinger (the slang term for an F8 Crusader fighter pilot) from 1962 to 1972 and did a few tours over Vietnam. I usually don’t splurge on myself, so my wife bought this for me at the air show today.”

“Whoa,” I thought. “Did this gentleman just say he piloted my favorite fighter jet of all time during an active wartime situation?”
I smiled, feeling truly honored to be in the presence of one of America’s wartime heroes.
“Everyone knows you as Bud,” I said. “But what’s your real name, sir?”

“Ahh, Sarge,” he said, “Bud was my old call sign.”

When Bud told me his real name, I paused. That name sounded familiar, but I really couldn’t place it. Later that evening, I looked up his name on the internet and was pleasantly surprised and shocked. The old, unassuming, quiet gentleman that everyone knew only as Bud was not only an F8 Crusader fighter pilot who served in Vietnam, he was also a MiG killer! In 1967, while on a mission somewhere over North Vietnam, he was attacked by Communist enemy MiG17 jet fighters. At that time, the MiG17 fighter was the absolute very best dogfighter that the Communists had and four of them attacked Bud. He held them off flying with extreme skill and daring and managed to blow one of the enemy fighters out of the sky using two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The rest of the enemy MiG17s fled the area as quickly as possible, fearful of falling to Bud’s Sidewinder missiles or his 20 mm cannons.

Now, one of my favorite quiet time hobbies is putting together and painting plastic model kits of various different fighter jets and armored vehicles. It was a relaxing hobby that I picked up when bad memories of Iraq and Afghanistan haunted me at night. I bought a plastic model kit of an F8 Crusader fighter which I built and painted. To top it off, I found the distinctive squadron markings and aircraft identifiers of Bud’s F8 Crusader and essentially built a small scale version of the actual fighter that he flew during the Vietnam War. Finally, I mounted the model jet on a wooden plaque which I had painted to look like the deck of the carrier which Bud flew from.
The next time I saw Bud at the bar, I presented him with his gift and for the first time since I had met him, I saw the old war hero smile.

“Is that my squadron?” he said, placing the model carefully on the bar and looking over every detail of the fighter.

“Look at the tail number, sir,” I said. “That is your fighter!”

Bud pulled a pair of spectacles from his pocket and looked at the tail number, clapping his hands. “Ho! Ho! That was my tail number!” He then looked at the number painted on the simulated deck of the aircraft carrier. “Number 31. The USS Bon Homme Richard.”

He sat for several seconds, smiling and nodding, memories of his service coming back to him.
“Thank you for this, Sarge,” he said.

“You are more than welcome, my friend,” I responded. “Thank you for your service.”

“So your hobby is model kits,” Bud said. “After my time in war, my stress relief was painting. I had to stop after a few years after my eyesight started to get bad. You know that guy Bob Ross also took up painting after his tour in Vietnam?”

“I didn’t know that,” I said. “He seemed so calm and gentle and I could watch him for hours painting those “almighty trees” on his show The Joy of Painting.”

Bud laughed. “In the military Bob Ross was a real hard ass. He was the mean senior sergeant who yelled a lot and punished guys who showed up late for work. When he left the military after serving 20 years, Bob Ross promised never to yell again and took up painting. The rest, as they say, is history.”

“That’s an incredible story, Bud,” I answered. “I’d love to see some of your work someday.”

“Sure, Sarge,” Bud answered. “But if you have any other models, I’d really like to see them. I’ve always wanted to get into building models, but my fingers are just too big to do any good detail work.”

Well, in fact I had converted my garage into a man cave with wall to wall shelves with displays of military tanks and aircraft of every type and era. In addition, I had eighty different fighter aircraft hanging down and lining the tops of the wall. Other shelves contained historical books and references of military history and military equipment. In the middle of the floor were two overstuffed couches facing my large flat screen television and racks of military themed movies. And, of course, in the corner was a fully stocked mini-bar that I inherited from my father. My man cave was a virtual museum of American military history.

I handed Bud a chilled pint of beer as I walked him into my man cave. He stopped at every diorama, studying each detail of every model, including models of US M1 tanks, M60 tanks, and even the Vietnam-era M48 tank, the F4 Phantom II fighters, F100 Super Sabre fighters, the World War Two era P40 Warhawk fighters and many, many more.

“This is almost overwhelming,” Bud said, sitting down on one of the couches. “You can’t take it all in at once.”

“You are welcome any time, Bud,” I smiled.

“Hmmm….” said Bud, looking over at a display shelf on the far corner. On it, I had displays of science fiction models like Star Wars, Battle Star Galactica, Japanese anime, and models of the science fiction movies which were popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Bud stood up and walked to the shelf. “I haven’t seen that in decades,” he said. Curious, I followed Bud to the shelf.

Bud pointed to a diorama on the science fiction shelf. “That’s a plastic model I built of the supposed UFO that crash landed in Roswell,” I said, thinking that Bud meant he saw an old 1950’s black and white science fiction movie that might have featured a UFO that looked like this.
“Yeah,” Bud said. “It’s pretty accurate, but the one I saw didn’t have the big saucer shaped transparent top. Still, it’s pretty accurate.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, Bud,” I said as I refreshed his pint of beer. “You actually saw this aircraft?”

Bud nodded, still staring at the model of the UFO before walking back to the couch. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It was a long time ago, but I still remember. That there is actually a model out there of what we saw makes me think that me and Bolter really saw what we saw.”

I poured myself a bourbon on the rocks and sat on the opposite couch. “Please don’t leave me hanging, Bud. Did you also shoot down a UFO in Vietnam?”

Bud chuckled and sipped his beer. “Do you really want to know?”

“Of course,” I said.

Bud looked straight forward, as if his mind was travelling back in time.
“Towards the end of 1967, our tour of duty on the Bon Homme Richard was coming to a close. We had conducted an air strike against Communist military facilities at Haiphong Harbor near Hanoi and one of our A4 Skyhawk strike fighters was shot down by a North Vietnamese surface to air missile.”

“The A4 Skyhawk pilot had ejected and had landed in an open rice paddy. It was a race between our search and rescue guys and the Communist militia to see who got to him first. We had two A1 Sandy’s, slow moving propeller driven fighters and one Jolly Green Giant helicopter flying towards our downed pilot to pick him up. I was flying top cover with my wingman, Bolter, over the rescue teams to protect them from enemy MiGs.”

“The pilot on the ground was hunkered down behind a patty filled with muddy water and reported that the Communists had emplaced several machine gun positions inside the tree line of a hill several hundred meters away. He was taking fire from that enemy position.”

“The two Sandy’s and the Jolly Green Giant was still several minutes away so I led Bolter into a steep dive towards the enemy gun emplacements. The F8 Crusader wasn’t optimized as a bomber, it was a fighter, but we were still armed with two 1,000 pound bombs. We came in low, flying over our downed pilot and towards the enemy and released our ordinance on the target. We pulled up as four massive explosions burst in the jungle behind us. We looped around and orbited over our downed pilot as he reported that the enemy positions went silent, but there were still more Communists approaching his position. “

“We stayed on site for several more minutes, but having expended our bombs, we only had guns and air-to-air missiles which were not very effective in hitting ground targets. Soon, however, the Sandy’s and the Jolly Green Giant arrived on site. I was almost bingo fuel so I was ordered to return to the ship as two F4 Phantom II fighters from the carrier Kitty Hawk took our spot as fighter air cover.”

“Bolter and I were cruising at 20,000 feet headed southeast and went feet wet over the Gulf of Tonkin towards our ship when we were suddenly vectored to change course due north towards an unidentified aerial contact travelling at high speed towards our fleet at around 40,000 feet. We changed course and headed towards the unidentified contact, thinking that the Communists were extremely foolish to attempt to hit our ships with just a single aircraft.”

“We opened throttle and rapidly gained altitude to meet the unidentified craft head on. Our Crusaders entered a cloud bank and when we popped up out of the clouds, there it was, a silvery metallic saucer shaped object about a mile to our 12 o’clock high. The object was approaching the fleet at high speed, but when we saw it, is suddenly stopped in mid air and just hovered. Bolter was flying a half mile off my left wing and the object was between us as we zipped past it. The object was defiantly solid and definitely wasn’t anything the Americans had in our inventory. It was about 100 feet in diameter. The top half of the saucer was convex and had what looked like small rectangular port holes around the perimeter of the craft. The bottom of the saucer was relatively flat, with a smaller circular protrusion extending below it. It seemed to glow slightly, but I wasn’t sure if it was self generated or if its metallic surface was reflecting the sun.”

“Bolter and I banked sharply and dived back down to get a better look at the thing. To our amazement, the craft simply dropped straight down to 20,000 feet in a matter of seconds. We dived in a turning loop in an attempt to get behind the thing and broke through the clouds again. We caught up with the craft which was several miles ahead of us and was still approaching the fleet again. I tried tracking it for my Sidewinder missiles but the craft would make these impossible moves which no human could survive. In one second, it would be directly in front of us, but once our Sidewinders would start tracking, the craft would seem to jump a half mile left or right or up, making it impossible for us to get a shot.”

“By this time, we had closed to where we could get a gun shot with our 20mm cannon. You might be able to throw off a missile, but you couldn’t fool bullets. I was closing to one mile of the craft with Bolter still to my left when the craft zoomed 90 degrees to the right and in a second was at least ten miles away before shooting straight up into the clouds.”

“Bolter and I landed on the Bonnie on little more than fumes in our fuel tanks and we quickly made our report to the C in C about our contact with the unknown craft, describing every detail that we could about it. However, our main concern was for our downed American pilot still trapped deep inside North Vietnam. About an hour later, we learned that our pilot was extracted from that rice paddy and was on his way to Da Nang with a bullet in the leg. He was wounded, but would survive, although the Jolly Green Giant that had pulled him out was shot up pretty bad. The two Sandy’s that were covering them also suffered damage from enemy ground fire.”

“About a month later, Bolter and I were told that the aircraft we encountered was most likely the Soviet Union’s newest high speed fighter, the Mig25 Foxbat, an aircraft which as it turns out, looks absolutely nothing like the aircraft I saw.”

Bud, the US Navy Crusader fighter pilot and American war hero peacefully passed away a few months later in his sleep surrounded by family, friends and loved ones. I was also happy to see that a few former F8 Crusader pilots were at his funeral and the one thing that they could say about Bud, besides him being an awesome fighter pilot, was that he was the consummate practical joker. He could carry on a joke story for days. I was tempted to ask them about Bud’s UFO encounter, but decided against it. If he was having a laugh pulling my leg, then more power to him.

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