Hard-Hitting Statement Maker

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At least twice
every football season, The Miami Dolphins football stadium is graced
by a flyover of fighter jets just before the game starts. I am not
sure why they do this, but I have observed a variety of reactions
to the event. From our season seats, the jets appear close enough
to practically reach up and touch though that is most likely my
imagination playing tricks on me. They always fly the same route
and from our vantage we can see the tails of the aircraft as the
pilots pour on the fuel turning on the red glow. They fly fast and
close to the stadium. No matter what your perspective, they definitely
make a statement.

Our closest
friends have the seats right behind my wife and me and one time
our friend observed that I had an uncomfortable reaction to the
flyover. She commented to me that it looked like I did not enjoy
seeing the aircraft doing the flyover but assured me that both of
them liked it a lot. They felt as though seeing the fighter aircraft
up close and in action gave them a sense of security. For them it
made a positive statement that the military was on the job and capable
of defending the country by hitting the enemy very hard. She apparently
had noticed that what hair I have left on my head was standing straight
up after the flyover. I replied to her that perhaps seeing low-flying
jets just as the pilots goosed their engines gave her reassurance
that someone was on the job in our post-9/11 hysteria, but to me
it only brought back memories of what those jets are capable of
doing.

I gave her
the visual of trying to imagine a stretch of wood line or jungle
about six to eight football fields in length suddenly turned to
toast from a napalm
drop. It is impossible for someone who has not seen such an event
to imagine what it looks like. I have been within one thousand meters
of air strikes two times. Calling in air strikes for a reconnaissance
mission was unusual in Vietnam. It happened once because we had
been reporting enemy operations to our commanders and by chance
a sortie was made available to us. Apparently a fighter team was
in the area and to put it plainly, wanted to drop their ordnance
rather than take it back to their base. We gave the location of
the enemy activity to the pilots, gave them our location, and watched
as they took over. The amazing thing is you know they are coming
even though you can't hear or see them. They fly low and fast —
just like when they fly over football stadiums. One jet popped into
view and fired a white phosphorous marker for confirmation. He was
dead on target so we confirmed. Seconds later, the second jet made
his first run. He fired defensive cannon fire that included ball
(solid metal rounds), armor-piercing, high-explosive, and incendiary
rounds from his four guns. Firing the defensive cannon fire is a
way of saying "Good morning" and "Good-bye"
at the same time. He started his napalm drop so it included the
entire target area and in the middle of the run dropped two high-explosive
bombs. The whole run took less than two seconds. Just as the aircraft
that had made the first bomb drops pulled up, the plane that had
fired the marker made a duplicate run repeating the action of the
first bomb run. Talk about your weapons of mass destruction! Then
both jets repeated their runs giving the area a quadruple strike.
After the bomb runs, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were
gone. We witnessed the extremes of total chaos in one moment to
the vacuum of complete silence and emptiness in the next. It was
almost more than the human brain could process.

I was awestruck
at the destruction these two aircraft had caused. Every tree, every
bush, every blade of grass was burned to a crisp. No buildings survived,
no animals survived, and surely no human could have survived the
attack. My team tried to make an accurate appraisal so a bomb damage
assessment report could be given but the napalm fire was just too
hot to allow us to walk into the strike area. We concluded that
whoever was in the area was history and reported a guesstimation
of a body count. What stuck in my memory were the suddenness and
the completeness of the destruction. In seconds we had arranged
the killing and cremation of an unknown number of the enemy and
completely obliterated a group of a half dozen houses.

The other time
I saw the devastation of an air strike was while our team participated
in a "search
and destroy"
operation. Search and destroy operations were
the Army's way of clearing an area of every living thing and destroying
any useful item that remained. It was a sure way of clearing the
enemy out of a zone or area. The only side effect to the search
and destroy tactic was it took out all the civilians along with
the enemy. But in war, civilians do not carry much value so to the
war planners, knocking off a few (or a lot of) civilians did not
matter. I am not sure why a recon team would be involved in a search
and destroy operation unless it was to give our teams a bit of humility
by reminding us what the dirty end of air strikes look like. I should
add that while serving in a Ranger unit, I experienced some jealousy
and hostility from the regular line units. While they served in
hundred-man operations and rarely saw the enemy, we went out in
five-man teams and practically always found the enemy. We wore black
berets, used special weapons and techniques, ate special food rations,
and did not have to pull KP or guard duty – all of which contributed
to appearances of elitism. So I guess that our recon teams were
included in the search and destroy operation assignment to put our
feet back on terra firma.

In the briefing
before the operation, we were instructed to kill anything we found
alive. That included people (any and all), and animals (pigs, chicken,
and water buffalo). We were to burn any standing building, destroy
any boat motors, and destroy all food such as rice or other supplies.
Part of the air strike included the gassing of the area with CS
teargas
. CS is called pepper gas or teargas but it does more
than make you cry. It makes you drop face down as you vomit and
gasp for oxygen. If you can get a breath of fresh air, the effect
ends in a few minutes. If you continue to breathe the gas while
out of breath, you continue to vomit. The nice thing about CS is
it is not lethal though it completely incapacitates you. We were
told the wind would be blowing out of the south, so the CS would
be moving ahead of the troops and we would not need our gas masks.
I am betting you can guess which way the wind actually blew: yes,
it blew out of the north.

Several jets
flew in and dropped their napalm and high explosive bombs creating
a tremendous inferno of burning life. The CS gas was dropped and
in went several companies of line units along with two of our recon
teams. All we found were American soldiers puking their guts out,
along with a few live chickens, two pigs, and a water buffalo which
we promptly killed. Well, they were enemy animals after all!
We did find and dump a huge bag of rice into a canal. We also managed
to find part of a house still standing to set afire. And in the
course of action, we found several scorched human bodies. By their
positions, it appeared as though they were frozen in place though
I guess frozen would be a bad choice of words. We found that walking
in the sticky napalm made our feet so hot our boots started to smoke
and we had to stand in water to cool them off. And there was another
sensory experience that I would like to forget — the smell. In Vietnam,
with the heat at around 100 degrees and humidity always hovering
around 100%, the smell of death always came quickly. So if the CS
did not have you tossing breakfast, lunch, and dinner the smell
of burned hair, boiling hot human flesh and the rapidly decaying
bodies would do the job. The end product of that senseless search
and destroy mission was an area destroyed, some civilians killed,
a bunch of food destroyed, and maybe a few dozen farm animals incinerated.
Oh, and after an air strike, every fire ant in the country gets
a really bad attitude and they all take it out on American soldiers
who walk through their area. We all came back with millions of ant
bites.

Maybe it is
a bit clearer now why my response to the stadium flyovers may not
be the same as everyone else's reaction. Behind our friends at the
stadium sat a fellow who was apparently a bit over-patriotic as
well as a bit over-intoxicated. Some football fans take their obligation
to become inebriated early quite seriously. Following one flyover,
I turned around to let our friend know that I had survived it again
and as I did, the patriotic fellow let his alcohol speak for him:
"Yeah! Have those guys hit those terrorist bastards! Let them
make a statement!" This was followed by a few more "Yeah's"
and some clapping and some back-slapping and concluded with a trip
to what I'm guessing included the bathroom and most likely the bar.

I pondered
the comments of the intoxicated football fan/military expert. Bombing
"those terrorist bastards," as he had so delicately put
it was a great idea. Maybe we ought to nominate this guy to George
W(MD) Bush's advisory group so he could tell them to "Bomb
the terrorist bastards." Obviously the military has not thought
of this because one bomb on Osama Been Forgotten's head ought to
do the job. Heck, make it two! Could it be that our current enemy
attackers, unlike the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor, did not
leave their return address? I'm thinking that might have something
to do with it. In fact, I think that may be the reason that while
OBL hides in Afghanistan or Pakistan (or practically anywhere) Americans
are in Iraq dropping bombs on high-value targets as well as civilians.

Oh, in the
Iraq war, napalm has supposedly been replaced by a different incendiary
device. The gasoline in the Vietnam era napalm mixture was replaced
by kerosene. I am sure the recipients of the new gadget are thankful
for that improvement. The cannon fire from the jets has also been
changed from what I experienced. Now they include DU
(depleted uranium) rounds. I strongly encourage the reader to follow
the DU hyperlink if you are unfamiliar with the health concerns
relative to its use. Depleted uranium makes an excellent armor-piercing
shell that cuts through armor like a hot knife through butter. I
noticed some news footage after our shock
and awe
portion of the Iraq war was concluded that showed rows
of tanks, military trucks, and other military vehicles that had
been shredded by the DU rounds. On the plus side, while acting as
a very effective weapon, using DU rounds helps get rid of our nuclear
waste. Well, it seems that using DU has its costs. Maybe the Iraq
war veterans will not have the napalm nightmares that haunt the
Vietnam War vets but will instead finish their lives dealing with
DU side effects.

In any case,
I think that anyone who cheers the prospect of aerial assaults,
bombings, or napalming the terrorist bastards/civilians ought to
have the opportunity to experience the damage caused by the strikes.
While others are gathered around their favorite watering hole cheering
as CNN reports on American warplanes as they bomb enemy targets,
you might notice some very uncomfortably quiet faces with a bit
of a distant look in their eyes. One of those faces will be mine.

If this article
seemed to hit you a little too hard and left you with a sense that
a statement has been made, please email it to all of your friends
who still support George Bush's war in Iraq. Let the Americans who
voted for his re-election understand exactly what they have supported.

April
25, 2006

Miles
Woolley [send him mail]
is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
including a set of triplets.

Miles
Woolley Archives

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