To this day most folks call Herb “Spike.” I’ve always called him Herb. In the spring of 1968 deep in flight school in Pensacola Florida, we met each other. We got to know each other more while flying the T-28’s in VT-3 at Milton, Florida.
After graduation Herb went to the east coast and I west. On March 13, 1971, I checked into HMH-463 at Marble Mountain, in the Republic of Viet Nam. There Herb stood in the ready room. We spent the rest of the time in country and then on to wonderful Okinawa.
Herb wrestled heavy weight in college and did exceptionally well—no very well—at the NCAA finals. Now, back to Okinawa, when Herb threw a party you attended. One in particular on Okinawa, I’d drank so much I was knee-walkin’-commode huggin’ drunk, and decided to stagger out and crash back in my room.
I heard the banging on the door. Herb yelled, “Richard, you little bastard, I know you’re in there. Open the ****ing door or else.” (Or more Marine verbiage as you can guess.)
It had to be because of my drunken stupor why I chose to ignore him. Next thing I know, the 3’ x 8’ window casing in the concrete-block building crashed to the ground. He’d ripped it completely out. The venetian blinds banged from side to side as Herb crawled through the now gaping hole in my room. He yanked me out of bed, threw me in a fireman’s carry, and hauled me all the way back to his room.
The party still blared over a hundred decibels, he tossed me into a corner and said, “You little bastard. You’re not leaving my party. Here have another drink and start havin’ some fun.”
Now this one is classic Herb. It’s a long flight on the way back from Japan to Okinawa over a stretch of very cold, grey January Pacific Ocean. Oh yeah, no land in sight. We lost one of the two engines and limped along losing altitude—single engine. The reality of putting the bird into the water stared us in the face, and at night you flirted with death.
We dropped to less than thirty feet over the water that caused us to lose all radio contact and navigation aids. Herb and I exchanged cross words over who would stay in the bird to shut it down. The probability of survival for that pilot greatly diminished because the aircraft most likely would roll over and sink upside down. Herb said, ‘you’re married and I’m single, so I’ll shut `er down.’ I said, ‘No I’m the aircraft commander. I’ll do it.’ Herb shot back, ‘Listen you little bastard, I’m bigger than you, I’m staying.’ The argument continued. Neither of us could leave the other. I thought, “I don’t want to go like this. It’s cold—and sharks hang out there.”
Open ocean and nothing in sight for over an hour as the sun disappeared over the horizon. Herb and I stayed silent. Twilight lingered and I made peace with my Maker.
We see some distant clouds…maybe an island. In Okinawa we flew support to several desolate islands that served as leper colonies.
In the dusk an island appeared as we staggered closer on that single engine. Thank God.
Herb said, “Hey, Richard.”
“Yeah, Herb,” my excitement oozed on every syllable.
“If there’s natives… and they start waving…”
“Yeah,” I asked more than answered.
“And their fingers start falling off…could we try an find another island?”
I hope you can see why I love the guy. He stayed in the reserves and I’m very proud to say he retired most deservingly as a full Colonel. He flew commercial helicopters, and is now retired. His middle name is Riesling and he really gets angry with me when I call him that. Or tell anybody. So, don’t ever, I mean ever, call him that. I promised him I’d never do it…again.
Want to know more about these characters? Pick up a copy of The Money Run.