Pinch put me in mind of a story.
Was a time in the Old Navy where it was fashionable at certain points to wear hemi- semi- demi- quasi-humorous name patches on the flight suits of America’s Finest. There were any number of “Roger Ball” name tags at the O’Club on a Friday night. When things got late, there were even raunchier monikers attached by Velcro: “Hugh Jardon” was but the least offensive. There might even have been a “Heywood Jablome.”
I can’t say.
When I was a “selectively retained graduate”, AKA “SERGRAD” instructor at NAS Meridian, MS just weeks after I had gotten my wings, things were a little more tame. Our skipper’s name was Larry “Bulldog” Francisco, and he’d earned the call sign the old fashioned way. An F-8 Crusader jock back before you were “out of fighters,” Bulldog was built like a fire plug, with a barrel chest, a jutting jaw and a low growl when he got angry. Which was often enough.
But he also had a smile like the sun breaking out of a low overcast, and we loved him.
So much that we wanted to be just like him. Especially on cross country flights.
So we all had name tags made up for our weekend sorties. I was “LTJG Larry ‘Bulldog’ Francisco”, because you could plausibly borrow another man’s name, but taking on his rank was right out. The fleet experienced guys were “LT Francisco,” and we even had a “Larrice.” Who was kind of a hottie, and no sort of bulldog.
Usually it wasn’t a problem, because when the weekend came and the road warriors set out to get the Air Nav “X’s” in the box, we were flung to the four winds. Places close to our families, or to our student’s. Or places we hadn’t ever seen before. And wanted to. You’re 25 years old and the Navy gave you the keys to a jet aircraft, and a card to fuel it with, asking only the courtesy of bringing it back by Sunday night with no permanent harm done. The odds of running into another instructor wearing his “Larry Francisco” name tag were vanishingly small.
Excepting, of course, when the weather came in and parts west and north were socked in.
A weekend came where we all found ourselves dropping in at Shaw Air Force Base, in Sumter, South Carolina for the last leg home. Which, the syllabus having certain constraints laid against it, had to be a night flight.
Three of us arrived in short order, and taxied up to the transient line, where a sharp young airman refueled our machines.
“What time are you taking off,” he asked.
“Oh, shortly after sunset,” we replied.
“Oh, no,” he stammered. “We close down at 1800 on a Sunday night”
No way, we cried out tout ensemble. For we had checked the Airfield Directory, and Shaw Air Force Base shut down at 2200. We had loads of time.
“I mean us,” he insisted. “The transient line.”
And what is that to us, we inquired. For we already had our fuel and he was welcome to go home when the whistle blew.
The young man went inside the line shack, looking out of sorts. We were standing around shooting the breeze a few minutes later when an Air Force blue pickup truck screeched up alongside us, and a blue-suited major spilled out fuming and sputtering.
“You will by God take off by 1800,” he insisted.
We would not, we replied, for we were naval aviators and pilots in command, with a mission to accomplish and a good 4+ airfield operating hours remaining, at least.
“Who will pull your chocks, and stand fire watch,” he demanded.
We would do it ourselves. Which apparently didn’t satisfy him.
“I’m taking your names!” he said, muttering imprecations about the goram Navy.
And we scoffed, for we had all been in high school once when names were taken, and were anyway out of his chain of command. This being before Goldwater-Nichols.
Just about then a fourth T-2C Buckeye came thundering into the break, and for all that we were at an F-16 base, and the T-2 was anything but sprightly, yet was the pilot putting the spurs to it, in ways that weren’t – at that moment – countenanced by the blue suited set. A good 400 kts, and five degrees nose down to hold it, he was. It was, to us, a beautiful sight.
Major Impotent was already pulling his notebook out of his pocket and jotting down our names: “LTJG Francisco, USN” and “LT Francisco, USN.”
“LT Larrice Francisco, USN.”
Which was about when “Capt Larry Francisco, USMC” taxied up and shut down, with about ten minutes remaining before the poor, harried Transient Alert crewman was due to hang it up for the evening.
Having written down the Marine officer’s name, you could see the beginning seeds of doubt creeping across the duty officer’s beetled brow.
Shortly after sunset, we were briefed, filed and blasting out into the darkening sky, laughter in our hearts and a mere 1.5 flight hours between ourselves and our home ‘drome. The USAF duty officer duly forgotten.
Which is when Commander Larry “Bulldog” Francisco got an earful from the base commander at Shaw. Having gotten through the CO’s secretary, the bird colonel was transferred to “Bulldog Actual,” who answered the phone in his most professional voice, “Commander Francisco.”
“What,” came the exasperated reply, “are all of you guys named Francisco?”
We had an all officer’s meeting shortly afterward. A permanent retirement of the “Bulldog” nametags was strenuously required and desired.
We reluctantly complied.
Bulldog was, after all, directly in our chain of command. And he held the keys to the weekend flight schedule.
We were young, and we were stupid. But we knew which side our bread was buttered on.