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India Hotel is Down

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India Hotel is Down


Wherever he stepped the sandy beach burned and left glass imprints of his footsteps like a bizarre pathway out of hell.

The sun blazed on the island and the constant roar of the surf and the call of the gulls filled the air.

Like most of the small islands in this part of the South China Sea, it was flat and sandy with thick, scruffy would be jungle. It would be jungle if typhoons didn't blow these sandbars in and out of existence with great regularity.

He wanted shade but that wasn't going to happen.

He took a drink from his canteen. He washed it around his mouth and swallowed.

He pulled his survival radio out of his pocket and keyed the mike, "The is India Hotel four-four. I am down. I can not receive. I'm not sure I'm transmitting but, I'm feet dry on a small island an estimated thirty miles East-South-East of Dong Hoi. I got separated from my B/N when we punched out. Will transmit on this freq every two hours until the batteries are gone."

He walked into the scruffy vegetation in hopes of finding some... What? Shade? Food? Water? None of that was here. What was here were those God awful little green snakes with red eyes.

He wondered what had happened to his bombardier/navigator Ray Howard.

As he wandered the small island, his mind wandered back to the first time he had met Ray at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Over beers as a shitty little off base bar, his instructor had introduced Ray as the one craziest pilot in the Navy.

He had to know. He asked: what made Ray so crazy?

Ray was a new kind of air warrior called Iron Hand.

Oh crap! He really must be nuts. Iron Hand actually hunts SAMs when every other sane pilot runs like hell from them.

OK, now he was curious. How does that work? SAMs and pilots are natural enemies. Aren't pilots that hunt them like a mouse gunning for a cat?

Ray had explained that the bombardier/navigator had to know what they were doing but if you flew low and fast, hunting the search radars, you could pop up, fire a homing missile and go low again.

The next day he talked to his CO and started training for Iron Hand missions.

Learning to fly Iron Hand was, as the hippies say, a trip. You take the book, throw it away and write a new book. It's a brand new game that equal parts electronic warfare, nervous tension and brass balls.

To kill a SAM, you have to give it a shot at you. At least a good sniff, enough for his radar to go from search to track.

Then you, no shit, close your eyes and fire the missile. If you don't close your eyes, when the rocket lights off, it will flash blind you.

Once the missile is away, you get to dance with a SAM. That's loads of fun if you like screaming terror as a rocket the size of a telephone pole tries to nail your plane.

He had fifteen Iron Hand missions. Every single time he brought his bird back to the carrier, his A-6 Intruder spent time in the body and fender shop.

As he walked around the island, he came to a place where there had been a fire. It had been some time ago but, people had been here.

He walked on and covered the whole island. It was shaped a bit like a crescent about a mile long and a quarter wide. He finally did find some palms and got out of the sun but he couldn't get out of the heat.

In these waters it could get very still and hot quickly dehydrating anyone without access to water.

He could feel himself getting loopy and collapsed against the trunk of the palm.

He tried to space out the water but there wasn't much of it and the heat and humidity just sweated it out of him.

He tried to sleep but unconscious delirium was more like it.

As he lay against the palm, he felt a presence. He looked up and saw his B/N Ray.

He wasn't wet, muddy and bedraggled.

He said, "I was afraid you didn't get out."

Ray said, "I didn't."

"So I guess I'm dead now?"

"No. You aren't dead. You'll be rotating back stateside soon and you'll be asked to be an instructor at Pensacola NAS. I'm here to tell you to do it."


"So that others may live."

Ray seemed to vanish like smoke.

Soon afterwards strong hands were loading him on a search and rescue chopper.

He did go back to Pensacola where he was an instructor for many years.

There is no better reason.

So that others may live.

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