Author: J.B. Hogan
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
J.B. Hogan is a fiction writer and poet. His latest writing credits include: “Caver” (science-fiction), Bewildering Stories, Issue 184, February 2006 (forthcoming); “Morena” (fiction), Dogwood Journal, January 2006 (forthcoming); “Last Flight” (creative non-fiction), Copperfield Review, Vol. 5 (4), Autumn, 2005; “We Do It Every Time,” “Why Wars Get Fought,” “Some Places We’ve Been” (poems), Poets Against War, October 25, 2005; “Blue Haze at Signpost 279” and “God Is a Metaphor” (poems), Poesia, Vol. III (4), October 2005, pp. 10-11; “In the Rain” (fiction) The Square Table, Vol. III (II), Summer 2005; “Campesino” (fiction), First Prize winner, Sager Creek Arts Center (Siloam Springs, AR) Short, Short Fiction Contest, May 2005; “Police Action: October 17, 1951” (fiction), The Copperfield Review, Vol. 5 (2), Spring 2005; “He Liked It That Much” (fiction), Megaera, Issue 21, Spring 2005.
In addition, he has had other short stories, poems, and non-fiction in The Pedestal Magazine, Poesia, Copperfield Review, Ascent, Megaera, Mastodon Dentist, The Square Table, Mid-America Folklore Journal, Mobius, Viet Nam Generation, The Mark Twain Journal, and San Francisco Review of Books.
Overall, it had not been a good month for the fighter wing on temporary duty in South Korea. Two airmen were seriously injured when they lost control of their jeep and ran off the flight line into a deep ditch just after noon on the third, and a week later an unexpected “rash” of chicken pox spread through the giant tent city temporary barracks leaving all missions on base considerably understaffed.
On the twelfth of the month, two F-4 Phantom jets had to make back-to-back emergency landings, putting the wing into a skittish mood, and then on the twentieth, ill-tempered Major Peterson, flying without a backseat weapons man, made a sharp turn in a cloud bank and put his F-4 point blank into the side of a mountain. The subsequent investigation was conducted quietly and quickly, but rumors circulated nonetheless that the accident was neither the result of equipment nor of pilot error. And finally, just as things were settling down from the major’s death, a young First Lieutenant lost control of his aircraft and dropped it flat down on a small, local village.
At first, incoming reports had been erratic, reflecting the confusion of the first rescue people on the scene, but over the next few hours bits of the real story began to drift in. The pilot had had mechanical trouble and he and his backseat navigator/weapons man were forced to bail out. The thick F-4, on its own, had flopped crazily, then dropped like a screaming, metallic rock dead on into the middle of the village. Lots of people had been home and casualties were high: twenty-one injured and thirteen dead at final count.
The young lieutenant came into wing headquarters the next morning pasty faced, eyes darting from side to side. Airman Hays, a southern boy from the Arkansas Ozarks nearing the end of his four-year hitch, and the clerk for wing group commander Lt. Colonel Jenkins watched the lieutenant quietly come into headquarters and timidly pass Hays’ desk. The frightened junior officer knocked gently on Colonel Jenkins’ door and upon hearing the colonel’s gruff order to enter, slipped into the room and gingerly closed the door. Hays couldn’t resist trying to hear what was being said but the sound was muffled by the door and he only heard the colonel’s voice rise a couple of times. After about twenty or twenty-five minutes, the lieutenant emerged – looking pretty much the same as when he had come in: shaky and scared.
There was another in-house investigation, quiet and quick, just as in the case of Major Peterson, and when it was over the young pilot was cleared of any culpability in the crash. The Air Force went out of its way to make arrears with the grief-stricken villagers, providing funeral arrangements for their dead and going so far as to have the base chaplain assist in the emotional memorial services held shortly afterwards. Even Colonel Jenkins was there – carrying official condolences from the U.S. government and checks in the amount of $150 per dead Korean National; checks which were delivered to surviving family members, or in cases where there were none, to a local village fund.
The colonel gave a brief, subdued speech on the strength of Korean-American relations. He reminded the assemblage of all that the two countries had been through together. He stressed their mutual concerns and defense strategies, their long, close association as trading partners, their combined mission to thwart the menace of communism. When the service was over, there was a twenty-one gun salute and everyone went home; the Koreans to their tiny hooches, the GIs back to their base.
Afterwards, at wing headquarters, Airman Hays and his two bored communications center buddies, Maglio and Donaldson, talked about the incident.
“So what did you guys think of that funeral deal, huh?” Maglio, a burly Connecticut kid with a perpetual five-o’clock shadow, asked. His partner, Donaldson, a short, thin Irish boy from far upper Manhattan, sniffed and shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess,” Hays said, his strong hillbilly accent devoid of irony, “that now we know what a human being is worth.”
“At least what a KN is worth,” Donaldson added pointedly.
“A hundred and fifty bucks,” Maglio said.
“A hundred and fifty,” Hays repeated. The three young men shook their heads and laughed humorlessly.
After a moment, Hays sighed and walked back into his office. There were bombing practice plans to type up before the end of the day and Colonel Jenkins would be expecting them on time. The crash “incident” was over and there was nothing else to be done or said about it. The mission of the wing would continue on as it always had and that was all there was to that, too. It was really simple stuff.
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