Tribute To Ron

William Wayne Weems

© 2012 by William Wayne Weems


Photo of an Air Force T-29 aircraft.
Here is yet another reminiscence involving a Tennesseean fallen in the service of his country. I don't have any political agenda in writing these. Some hope to stress the sheer numbers fallen on any particular battlefield to point out the ultimate futility of the struggle to which they were committed, others may stress the sacrifices made to illustrate the worth of the individual and the cause to which they gave so much.  My view is much closer to the Rabbi who noted from the Jewish point of view there is an obligation to honor someone both in life and in death.  When we respectfully remember those fallen in the service of our country we both honor their memory and perpetuate that memory.
There is a famous song in which the crooner laments about explicit pictures in a men's magazine: "My dream's been sold, my angel is a centerfold".  I felt at least part that way, part very old geezer when I discovered an Air Force aircraft of a type in which I had spent considerable time is now a hot dog stand called "Aero Dog" in Tulare, California.
That Air Force version of the Convair short range airliner was the T-29 "flying classroom".  One of these disappeared from the collection of a large aviation museum a few years back, and this example was likely chopped up to make the "Aero Dog" restaurant.
It was in that airplane I played with a host of navigational gadgets (some dating from the World War II era) while trying my best to get through Air Force Navigation School in the late 1960's.  I had been rejected in prescreening for Air Force Pilot School; I was so infuriated at their dismissive appraisal that I couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time that I made it a point to get my private pilot license later.  I also continued to seek aircrew status then; for a person of my status in the Air Force of that era this quest meant Navigational School.
The Air Force had pushed a host of its Navigators out of the service during the transition from B-47 to B-52 bombers. Air Force planners thought new internal navigation aids were more than sufficient for the B-52's to find their way...but there were embarrassing incidents in which these devices failed, or ground stations necessary for their fixes went out of service for days on end.  Not acceptable for an instrument of deterrence in an era of mutually assured destruction (MAD).  The kicker was when someone noted necessary elements of the automated navigational devices sent out strong electronic emissions during operation.  So much for stealth; the bomber might as well be flying with its lights on.
But that series of events also caused the Air Force to require we as trainees do an endless series of manual calculations with pencil and paper; we couldn't even use small electronic calculators because they hadn't been invented yet.  High above the Pacific Ocean, making celestial sightings with a sextant, running star tables while making the calculations to transfer the fix to an artificial map grid and all the time maintaining a deviation progression chart on the old gyroscopic compass that made the continuance of the artificial grid possible (don't ask) I discovered another of my many failings. Under this time pressure I would sometimes inadvertently write down a number like 268 as 286.  Yes, stress dyslexia.  The Air Force knew it when they saw it, knew I couldn't do anything about it even though my classroom work was excellent.  I was out of that school almost instantly.  They offered me missile school but I just couldn't see myself in a missile silo 90 feet underground for weeks at a time, key around my neck and pistol at my side, watching warily as my teammate cleaned his pistol.  As some readers might know, over time I became a Lawyer and retired from the Air Force Ready Reserve as a JAG.  But "back in those days" one of my good buddies in Navigation school was a redheaded boy from Gallatin, Tennessee named Ronald D. Perry.
Ron had no trouble with numbers, he sailed through Navigational school with scores high enough to gain him entry into the Electronic Warfare Officer school.  There he learned how to use classified electronic devices to defeat threats to the big bombers like those posed by surface to air missiles.  He was in one of the B-52's over Hanoi that had been tasked by President Nixon to bomb the North Vietnamese back to the peace talk table.  Russian advisers on the ground were running around pulling their hair out, for their North Vietnamese pupils were disobeying instructions and salvoing millions of rubles of missiles at single aircraft in an attempt to overwhelm their target's internal defenses and be sure of bringing down at least one bomber.  Ron's plane was so hit and he died, probably still at his console; never could play a game of Atari "Missile Command" without thinking of Ron.  And although Ron's remains were returned to this country for honorable burial in 1975, there is this lingering suspicion I alone might see his ghost at the "Aero Dog" or shades of others who met a similar fate.  Doubt I will ever eat there.

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