Waldo is Born
As I see it now, cadets fell into three different groups. Most cadets were in the middle group where they just tried to survive and graduate in order to do great things in the Real Air Force. Then, there was a small upper group that tried to make things painful as possible for the rest of us.
You know, the ones that made the new interpretations to the regulations that we heard of every Wednesday night, “When you are asked whether you wish to make a statement about alcohol on Sunday nights, if you say you have no alcohol, that means you have no alcohol in your room, no alcohol in your laundry bin, no alcohol hanging by a string outside your window, no alcohol in your car, no alcohol in your stomach and no plans to ever have alcohol pass between your lips”
Yeah, those guys!
Then there was a bottom group that tried to make it as hard as possible for that top group as they could. Waldo and I belonged to that bottom group.
When I left seventh squadron as a Smack and learned my new squadron, 39th, was nicknamed “campus radicals”, I knew I had found a home. I soon met Bruce Dodds and became an official member of the tunnel rats. I also met wild Bill Sexton from the class of ‘74’. He was part of the media group that was responsible for that psychedelic cover of the ‘72’ year book. He was definitely a campus radical and was named editor of the Talon in his senior year.
I joined the Talon at the end of our 3rd degree year and attended the first meeting with Bill at the head. We decided that we would try to become an all-collegiate magazine in the next year and we discussed the first problem that might impede our goal: Charley Baby.
You see, Charley Baby was written by the Talon editor to poke fun at wing staff, instructors, or any moving target. Because the Talon went out to every parent and every member of Congress, the Commandant read and edited every line. So many lines and/or words were cut from Charley Baby; it looked like it was written by a 3rd grade imbecile.
We couldn’t have that if we were to become an all-collegiate magazine!
At this important meeting, I suggested that we could try to use humor rather than outright sarcasm to get our point across. I remembered the short story Walter Mitty by James Thurber that we all had read in high school where Walter imagines all these fantastic adventures while waiting for his wife during their weekly shopping outings. After some brain-storming, we decided to revive a character introduced in an early 1960s Dodo: Walter F. Dumbsquat, who we renamed Waldo F. Dumbsquat, and reprinted the original Dodo column as the first installment.
I started writing Waldo our 2nd degree year and it was a huge success; not one line was cut the entire year that I wrote it. The Talon OIC changed the wording in one article when Colonel Dumbsquat had told a member of wing staff to get his trousers shortened. The OIC didn’t see the humor in it and changed the word to “lengthened”. That was the only thing changed in that first year; a huge change from Charley Baby.
A Doolie named Victor Gee drew the caricature of Waldo Dumbsquat. If you look at the big nose and ears, I think you will see a close resemblance to me. You see, I truly was Waldo F. Dumbsquat.
Eventually, Waldo graduated and went off to pilot training.
Waldo Impresses the Inspector General
I volunteered for SAC in order to get my choice of base to be near my ailing parents. In true Waldo tradition, my father had a major heart attack when I was in KC-135 training and my parents moved down to Florida shortly after I arrived at Pease AFB in New Hampshire.
It was not a good time to be flying the KC-135. The gas shortages cut back on flying hours with most of the transition going to the Aircraft Commander. As a copilot, I was lucky to get the minimum of one approach and one landing per quarter.
I did get to pull a lot of Nuclear Alert, though!
Eventually, they brought T-37’s or T-38’s to all SAC bases to keep the copilots qualified and it was the best program going, but for now, Waldo was hardly able to find the plane, much less fly it.
I had just finished an Alert tour and was enjoying my weekend off when the copilot of the lead S101 KC-135 crew wrapped his corvette around a tree and died. I was called by my Ops Officer and informed that I would start a new Alert tour on Wednesday with the S101 crew.
Of course, the no-notice Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) hit when I was on Alert with a crew I had never flown with. The seven-day Alert tour turned into nine days and we flew on the tenth day with the Inspector General sitting in the jump seat of my plane.
The Aircraft Commander had talked to me before the flight and asked if I wanted the landing when we got back. His crew had been flying bomb comp for the past six months and he hadn’t landed during the day in all that time. Always wanting to get more approaches and landings, I readily agreed.
The ORI mission was actually pretty boring with the FB-111’s taking off right behind us and just joining up rather than doing an in-flight rendezvous. It was a long flight down to Texas and we successfully gave the bombers their fuel and they went off on their bomb runs.
This was the first year that the KC-135’s would actually be graded as part of the ORI and once we took off, the only time we could lose points was during the navigation leg of the flight. I noticed the IG was falling asleep, so I tried keep him engaged in conversation; I was very polite and respectful (three bags full, sir).
During one of the Boom Operator’s sun shots, the IG decided to get up to go to the bathroom. He managed to hit his head on the overhead and knock off the autopilot. I was flying at the time and as I reached up to reengage the autopilot, I could hear the Boom Operator and Navigate growling.
I looked up at the IG and laughed, “Sir, if you keep doing stuff like that, I’ll have to have you strapped down in the back!” I learned later in life that very few Generals have a sense of humor. When the IG asked, “What did you say?” I knew I was in trouble.
It soon got worse! When the IG got back from the bathroom, he asked the Aircraft Commander if he might get the landing. The good Major believed that this was the closest mission to our real mission that we would ever fly and that we should fly it. He told the General no as I was making choking sounds in the background.
Something then happened that I had never seen before and have never seen since. Boston Center was saturated with aircraft and would not accept us. We went into holding for two hours until we were final allowed to proceed in for landing.
You guessed it; it had now gone from daylight to nighttime and the most unqualified person on the aircraft was going to land at night. I smacked the KC-135 onto the runway more firmly than I had ever landed a plane or ever would land a plane. They say the IG’s legs were weak as he descended the ladder once we were in parking.
Rumor has it that when the IG got into the Wing Commanders staff car, he reached over and grabbed the Wing Commander by the flight suit and said, “Who is that Fantastic copilot?” except that he didn’t use the word “Fantastic”.
I’m sure the Wing Commander responded saying, “Oh, that’s only Waldo.”
Second Lieutenants can usually survive a major screw-up like this, but I still remember my squadron commander asking, “Did you really say that to the IG?” Luckily, the bombers did really well and we passed the ORI with flying colors.
Waldo Escapes Causing an International Incident
Eventually, even Waldo became an Aircraft Commander.
I returned to Pease AFB as the newest KC-135 Aircraft Commander in the AF and greeted the really experienced crew they usually gave to a new Aircraft Commanders. I got a brand new butter bar right out of pilot training for copilot, a 1st Lieutenant as navigator and a three striper as boom operator.
After flying and pulling Alert together for a couple of months, we got a chance for a forty-five day TDY to England. I thought it would be a great time to get to know each other and bond as a crew.
Usually, this England TDY was broken up by a two-week trip to Spain for inexperienced crews or a two-week trip to Greece for only the most experienced crews. When, we got to RAF Mildenhall, UK, I noticed our crew had been scheduled to go to Greece. Although I had been to England many times as a copilot, I was bringing a really inexperienced crew. I chose to not say anything. I guess the drinks I had bought the scheduler on previous trips finally paid off!
We arrived in Greece at Hellenikon AFB at one o’clock in the morning. The approach to this runway was challenging because the airport was dead center in the middle of Athens and because of noise abatement, you had to start the approach at 15,000 thousand feet and dive at the runway (fun for a fighter, challenging for a tanker). In 2001, they built a new runway outside of Greece and closed this WWII relic.
The approach was so fast that my co-pilot had all he could do to get his checklists done; I ended up putting my own gear and flaps down. He at least had a sense of humor as when we were rolling out on the runway he commented, “10,000 foot checklist completed.”
The next day we received our orientation briefing and found out it was not the best time to be in Greece. It was election time and the best way to get elected was to say how much you hated Americans. Also, there were supposedly some Libyans who were infiltrating the country.
The next day we mission planned our first flight out of Greece. Although we usually swap takeoffs and landings, I told the co-pilot that since he really didn’t cover himself in glory on the way in, that I would take the next flight; he readily agreed. The next day, the mission went without a flaw except for the F-14 that joined up on us on departure just as I was wondering if there were any Libyans sitting in the Athens bazaars with shoulder mounted rockets; yes, even in 1981 we were worried about terrorists.
A few days later it was time for the co-pilot to have his first takeoff, approach and landing in Greece. We were heavy and it was a 95 degree day as we lumbered down the runway. In large aircraft, decision speed, the speed where you don’t have enough runway to stop is very important. We called it S1 in SAC and as the magic word came out of my mouth, our number 3 engine blew up; later, they found pieces of the rotor blade strewn all over the runway.
I took control of the aircraft and my co-pilot asked me why. I told him to look at the number 3 engine and he looked up at the gages saying, “Oh, it’s off.” I then told him to look out his window and see if it was on fire; it was not.
As I felt our nose wheel cross the end of the runway into the overrun, we didn’t have takeoff speed; I yanked the aircraft into the air anyway and sucked up the gear. An aircraft has its bow wave underneath it and we were literally flying on this bow wave over the little shops in the Athens bazaar.
I kept the aircraft perfectly level as our airspeed slowly increased. When we finally got takeoff speed I realized that we were in big trouble. Five miles off the end of the runway there was a high rocky outcrop with the famous Acropolis citadel on top which included a most famous building; the Parthenon.
When you are low on airspeed, you really shouldn’t turn the aircraft. I didn’t want to, but I kept having visions of being the ugly American who knocked down the Parthenon. I figured the Greeks would leave the aircraft wreckage there and put up a sign; Waldo did this!
I put the aircraft in a one degree bank and watched the Acropolis slowly move to the right of our windscreen. When we passed the Acropolis, I could look out the right side of the plane and see the Parthenon at our altitude.
The rest of the mission went without incident and we dumped 90,000 pounds of fuel out over the ocean and came back in to land. I’ve always remembered that Waldo almost caused an international incident.
Waldo and I Part Ways
I was flying high at the end of my 2nd degree year; I had just been named the editor of the Talon, Secretariat of the Academy Assembly and I was the president of two separate clubs. I was just ready to go downtown on a Saturday morning when the CQ knocked on my door informing me that the AOC wanted to see me. I changed into my class A uniform and made my way down to his office.
The AOC wanted to talk to me about the number of mandatories I had received. Every semester, we rated every cadet in our squadron at or below our class in merit. If you ranked someone in the bottom three, you had to write a mandatory as to why you rated him there.
Because I spent a lot of time outside the squadron, I was the perfect target for mandatories; and let’s face it, I was Waldo. I had tried to give myself a mandatory one time but wasn’t allowed to.
My AOC decided that he would read me each of the 23 mandatories I had received. They were pretty typical:
“Cadet Laurie keeps his room clean, but his uniform is a disaster.”
“Cadet Laurie looks good in his uniform, but fails to keep up that standard in his room.”
“Cadet Laurie should slink back up North and go back under that slimy rock he climbed out from under.” I think Walter Burns wrote this one.
Knowing the real value of these mandatories, I kept my cool until the end when my AOC concluded by saying, “The real problem here Cadet Laurie is that you are just not a leader.” That’s when I snapped.
You see, my AOC might have been a great Missile man, but he was definitely challenged being an AOC. I pointed out that our squadron had about ninety cadets in it and asked if these are the people he led? He agreed.
I listed all the organizations I was the head of and counted out the number cadets I led and it came out to be 115.
I concluded, “So, you lead 90 cadets and they follow you because they are ordered to. I lead 115 cadets and they follow me because they choose to. Now, which one of us is the real leader?”
I thought I was going to have to call the EMT’s as his face swelled up and spit flew out of his mouth; I really thought he might have a stroke. Eventually, he was able to force two words out of his mouth, “Aptitude Probation.”
As part of going on Aptitude Probation, my AOC called my father. When asked why I was going on Aptitude Probation, my AOC mentioned that I didn’t make my bed very well. My father informed my AOC that I would never have to make my bed again the rest of my life after I graduated. God bless my father, he didn’t know that I would one day own a Bed and Breakfast and I would make a lot of beds.
Another part of Aptitude Probation is that I had to go down to the cadet clinic and see a Psychologist. Obviously, there must be something wrong with me.
When I entered Captain Abnee’s office, I knew that I would like him as he had an afro that was so far out of limits that it was amazing. He was truly a campus radical.
After hearing my story, he asked me one question, “You put in a lot of extra work, has any wing staffer or any officer ever thanked you for what you do?”
I thought about it and admitted that no, no one had ever thanked me. He said, “You can do what you want, but if it was me, I would quit all that extra stuff and spend my senior years keeping my room and uniform impeccable and spend the rest of the time downtown drinking.”
I asked if he would write that down as a prescription.
So, that is what I did.
I had a great senior year and Don Hall took over writing Waldo F. Dumbsquat. He has been writing it for the last forty years.
Just remember though, Waldo was brought back to life from an obscure origin by the Class of '75.