Be Careful When You Answer Yes To A Casual Question



If you ever have occasion to ask me a question that requires a yes or no answer, you may notice a thoughtful pause before I reply. It's a habit I picked up in the late 1950s.

Happened like this:

I was stationed in Japan, working as a training NCO in a cargo, mail, and passenger outfit. There were only 125 men in the outfit, so as the training NCO, I didn't have much to do. I had hopes of wangling a transfer to one of the small one-man or two-man embassy stations located along the belly of Asia -- Bangkok, Saigon, Calcutta, New Delhi, or Karachi -- but to do that I had to have experience handling cargo and mail.

As a result, I spent many off-duty hours learning how to load and unload cargo aircraft. I went down to Air Freight every chance I got and volunteered my services, which were welcomed. After a couple of months of hard work and manual reading, I was about as experienced as anyone else.

It happened that I was working late in my training office one night, why I don't remember. In came a rather breathless-looking young lieutenant. "Garrett," he asked me, "do you know how to off-load an aircraft?"

It seemed a rather silly question. "Yes, sir."

He looked very happy. "You do?"

"Yes, sir."

"Oh great! Come on with me."

We jumped in his jeep, took off across the flightline, and ended up way out on some ramp I'd never been on. "What you're about to see," he told me on the way, "is Top Secret."

That should have given me a clue that maybe I had gotten into something I really wasn't ready for, but it didn't. Nor did I catch on when the lieutenant told me that he'd been to Air Freight but none of the NCOs over there knew how to do the job he wanted me to do. Very few regular Air Freight NCOs were assigned to night shift on that base you see, because we had virtually no nighttime arrivals. I assumed that what he meant was that the one or two NCOs on duty were not available.


We got out of his jeep near a giant guppy of a C-124 aircraft and went inside it. There I got the shock of my life. What he had meant to ask was, "Can you off-load an aircraft from the inside of another aircraft?" Inside the C-124 was an F-104 fighter jet with its two seven-foot-long wings taken off.

Let me tell you, it takes a lot of doing to get an aircraft out of another aircraft. Later on, while stationed in Pakistan, I learned how to do it, and off-loaded everything, up to and including 40,000-pound fire engines for Eisenhower's visit, not to mention something like sixteen trailer-sized radio vans for our electronic spies up in Peshawar. But at that moment, I had to slink away into the night with a face about as red as a stoplight.

What, you might ask, was an F-104 fighter jet doing inside a C-124 cargo plane?

Good question.

I'll ask you a one: What if, during the battle over Quemoy and Matsu, islands off the Chinese coast that were under the control of the Nationalist Chinese, but claimed by Communist China, you got tired of seeing an inferior American fighter jet being chased around by a red Chinese pilot flying a superior Russian MiG? What if, as a result, you developed and built F-104 aircraft, armed them with sidewinder missiles, and wanted to sneak them into Taiwan without anyone knowing about it? How would you do it?

You guessed it: Slip them inside C-124 cargo planes and fly them in at night.

Another question: After the F-104 showed up, what did a Red Chinese pilot do when he saw one coming? Answer: After a couple of weeks of education, during which he learned that a sidewinder would fly straight up his tailpipe, he bailed out as soon as he spotted an F-104, without waiting for the inevitable.

For the winners, certain aspects of war can be downright fun.

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