Vietnam: The glass house of John F. Kerry
Political consultants tell their candidates, “When you are explaining, your are not gaining.” This is political shorthand for: Don’t try to stone your opponent on an issue when you are equally or, perhaps, more vulnerable than your opponent on that same issue.
Thus, Democrat presidential nomination seeker, John F. Kerry, has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by trying to tout his Vietnam war record when thousands of Vietnam veterans consider Kerry a deserter who, from the safety of the United States, made the lives of those who continued to fight in Vietnam much more difficult. He is also breeding a scab on his long nose by trying to denigrate the time President George W. Bush spent flying the F-102 jet interceptor for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).
Only the top graduates of Air Force flight schools get to fly the really hot fighters or interceptors. Lesser graduates get the bombers and lesser yet get the cargo planes. George W. Bush was selected to fly the super-sonic F-102 Delta Dagger which was the USAF’s first operational delta-wing, supersonic aircraft. The mission of the F-102 was to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft. As such, the F-102s were assigned to Air Defense Command to intercept and, if so ordered, shoot down nuclear bomb carrying Soviet Bear and/or Bison bombers.
Some F-102 squadrons were active-duty USAF units; other F-102 squadrons were assigned to the Air National Guard. Either way, the controlling authority was Air Defense Command which kept a certain number of F-102 squadrons, be they USAF or Air Guard, on hot pad alert –prepared to be airborne within minutes to intercept and destroy the Soviet bomber threat to our mainland.
But flying the F-102 had two downsides: The Delta Dagger’s small, thin, razor sharp delta wing required very high landing speeds – a major reason why only the very top flight school graduates got to fly it. Also, when on hot-pad alert, sitting in one’s G-suit strapped into a cramped cockpit for hours at a time was extremely confining and boring. All pilots know flying is hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer panic. Such was life in both the USAF and the Air Guard F-102 squadrons. These realities made it difficult to find pilots with the high level of skill required plus a willingness to endure countless hours of cockpit captivity.
Yet, if the Air Guard could find qualified pilots, working for Air Defense Command was an excellent fit. When an Air Guard unit was conducting its monthly drill period, that was a perfect opportunity for the USAF to stand down one its F-102 squadrons and replace it by putting an Air Guard F-102 squadron on hot-pad alert. Essentially, that is what Captain George W. Bush did for the Texas Air Guard.
Eventually, the F-102 was phased out in favor of the even faster F-106 interceptor. Eight months before his six-year military commitment was over, George W. Bush asked to be released from the Air Guard so he could attend the Harvard Business School. Because there wasn’t time to retrain Captain Bush to fly the F-106, the Air Force let him go after five years and four months of service.
So, why wasn’t his F-102 squadron sent to Vietnam? Because we enjoyed total air superiority over the skies of South Vietnam, we had no need for aircraft designed to intercept the Soviet Bear or Bison bombers. But NORAD did have a requirement to protect the continental United States against Soviet bomber attack. The F-102 was purpose-built for that mission.
And here is where those who say George W. Bush isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree can’t have it both ways. If Bush is so intellectually challenged, how did he know to learn to fly the super-sonic F-102 interceptor – the only hot jet that would not be needed in Vietnam? How dumb is that?
Next week: so-called war hero turned deserter, John F. Kerry.
William Hamilton, is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, who spent two years of his 20-year military career attached to an USAF F-4 fighter-bomber wing.
©2004. William Hamilton.