Friday, January 07, 2005

2005 An Odyssey

2005 An Odyssey of life and death.

My first cousin, Cecil, and I are beginning to plan a trip to the South Pacific for the summer, maybe earlier. It's a long story but you can read about some of the history behind our trip here. We are heading to Vanuatu and the island of Espiritu Santo to visit the crash site of our uncle's F4U Corsair

- he was training to join Pappy Boyington's Black Sheep Squadron. VF214, also known as the Swashbucklers (curiouser and curiouser) and the Black Sheep Squadron flew their Harrier Jump Jets from Yuma to the funeral in Texarkana - I lost it when they did the missing man formation over the gravesite. Uncle Wayland was Cecil's mother Wanda's twin, and we are in for a long trip. It will turn out, I believe, to be both a spiritual and a physical experience like no other.

It is the top priority on Cecil's "things to do before I die," list. He is in the advanced stages of non-Hodgkins, Type B, Stage 3, lymphoma. Yeah, he did all the chemo a couple of years ago, and has relapsed big time. Prognosis is 6-12 months left for him to complete his list.

Since he is an M.D. it is doubly ironic and sad. He stays on top of the literature so he can discuss his treatment with his doctors - disagreeing or making suggestions along the way. He had a PET scan Monday, January 3, 2005 and will get the results next week, but he said it didn't look good when he viewed it. Damn, that sucks. So it is on my Things to do for Cecil before he dies List.

We grew up together - moving irrigation pipe in West Texas on his parent's ranch and cotton farm. Learned how to drive a Jeep at a young age with him, slop pigs, castrate bulls and chop cotton. We are more than just first cousins, there is a cosmic bond between us.

The purpose of our trip is to bring back Wayland's spirit - funny how he crashed on an island named Espiritu Santo. It is a promise to keep that was given to his mother. We will fly from DFW to LAX to Brisbane, to Port Vila, Vanuatu to Espiritu Santo. Then we will charter a copter in Espiritu Santo, plug in the GPS coordinates of the site, and with a canopy penetrator, rapel down to the crash site which has long since been swallowed by the jungle. We will hold a prayer ceremony, and cleanse the area with smudge sticks, and return Wayland's spirit to his twin-sister's tomb.

I will document our odyssey, if Cecil is indeed able to make the journey. Right now we are doing research and making connections with those who will ultimately enable us to complete the journey.

If this excerpt from Dr. Bookout's book doesn't get your blood rushing, then nothing will:

By Dan Bookout

Two Blacksheep Squadron pilots roll their planes over and pull back the control sticks. As they enter a long dive, their speed accelerates to 300, then quickly passes 400 mph. Crocker sees contrails form behind Bennett's wings. As they recover from the pull-up, Crocker's vision fades as he courts the edge of a dreaded blackout. Then he looks over at Bennett, and he sees the signal for yet another dive. They do a wing-over and peel off left into another steep dive. Crocker slides into formation for the attack position. Down they dive... but this time Bennett is slow pulling up. They pass 450 mph, diving straight down, with only the seat belts and shoulder harnesses holding their bodies in place. Crocker lets out a mental sigh of relief when he finally sees Bennett's Corsair start pulling up. He sees long, graceful contrails form behind Bennett's wing as the hard pull-up narrows his visual field. As the two specks plummet from the sky, the engine hum becomes a shrill scream - a sound that causes the Japanese to call Corsairs "The Whistling Death."

"Bennett's pushing the limit today, but he knows how to handle his Corsair's power. We must have been doing 475 to 500 mph on that dive," Crocker thinks. Crocker knows he must ride the fence between consciousness and blackout because, at 4500 feet, they are too low to relax the pull-up. He groans under the enormous pressure on his body as the nose rises back up to the horizon and safety. He wonders, "That must have been at least 7 Gs."

Bennett's plane suddenly seems to lurch and drop out of formation. As Crocker's plane slows and everything gets back in order,  he looks around for his leader. Nothing. Crocker shakes his head to clear the cobwebs from his eyes and again scans the skies for Bennett, but to no avail. Crocker has an uneasy thought in the back of his mind. "Did Bennett crash?" It seems that, in his last fuzzy view of Bennett, the right wing was buckled, then he was gone. "Could that be true?" Crocker turns back south to survey the jungle. At this low altitude he is even unsure of his own position. From 500 feet he sees no smoke, no fire, no broken treetops,  and no sign of an explosion. For several minutes he searches the skies, hoping. Then he searches the jungle below, dreading. Still no sign of Bennett. As he heads back to Turtle Bay, Crocker ponders, "If Bennett crashed into that area, he will be very hard to find... he drilled a very small hole in a very large jungle."

Uncle Wayland was good, very good. He was an extraordinary sharpshooter and a natural flyer. He was training for a mission that never came to fruition, one that would change history. If I ever write a movie script about that mission it will have the tag line: One man, one plane, one bullet, one target – Adolph Hitler.

Our odyssey begins …