About the first two books written by Colonel Jim Roper, USAF, Retired
Opening Lines- Quoth the Raven
June 2, 1968
"I won’t do it. No way," I told John Hudson, my Beta Theta Pi roommate. We walked in the shade of hardwood trees and red brick buildings of the small central Indiana campus.
John had been accepted at Indiana University Medical School. "All you have to do is write a letter."
"Yeah, a letter saying my four years at Wabash College were the most wonderful times of my life. No way. I won’t lie for the dean or anybody." My Ph.D. fellowship in chemistry had been negated--no, annihilated--by my local draft board.
"The Dean of the College sounded serious the last time I took his call for you."
"I’m serious, too. I won’t compromise my integrity, while the federal government cancels my dreams. My very existence becomes a question when they send me to Vietnam."
"The Army may have your number, but Vietnam’s only one possibility."
"I took my draft physical two days after the Tet offensive in January. Have you ever heard of supply and demand?" I ducked behind a tree, adjusting the baccalaureate cap that stuck to my sweaty forehead. The black gown covered me like a shroud.
"What are you doing?"
"I’m waiting for that group of faculty ahead of us to pass. All I want is a diploma--not a confrontation with the dean. Without a sheepskin, the Air Force won’t accept me for pilot training--my plan B. I’ll carry a rifle for sure."
John laughed. "Why don’t you just lay back and enjoy it?"
"After you’re a doctor, do you plan to use those words on rape victims?"
John shook his head.
"How can I say I’ve enjoyed Wabash? Sometimes I enjoyed wrestling and playing football. But I paid the price by groveling for my grades. Life here was four years of sleep-deprived, last-minute intellectual chaos."
John smiled. "So?"
"First, I won’t compromise my integrity and say my experience was anything else. Second, the whole effort means nothing."
"I don’t know." With his future secure, I surmised, John couldn’t understand the turbulence that had taken over my life like a fatal disease.
"Also, I’m in a major war of words with my parents--my stepfather hates me. And Elaine has backed away from the man with no future. Emotionally, I’ve got nothing more to lose."
"Nah. I don’t want her to wait."
We approached a line of capped-and-gowned students that wound from an outdoor stage along the sidewalk beside Baxter Hall.
"Let’s talk later." John turned away.
"Get in line, soldier," a football pal yelled. He had attended Marine bootcamp the previous summer. "Alphabetical order by height."
I saluted and found my place.
The short gray Dean of the College came down the line, shaking the hand of each graduate.
When he arrived before me, he stopped, folded his arms and scowled. "I need a letter from you. The Baker Foundation is dividing the scholarship fund among individual colleges. Each Baker Scholar owes them a good letter so Wabash can receive its share of scholarship money."
"No, sir. I won’t lie."
"If you don’t write the letter, you can’t graduate."
I turned toward the fraternity house and stepped from the line.
"We all have to do things we don’t enjoy," he shouted. "I don’t care for neckties on hot days, but here I am, wearing one."
I stopped about twenty feet away. "I finished four hard years the draft board renders irrelevant. At this moment, I feel no joy about Wabash College. But our disagreement isn’t about joy. It’s about truth."
My peers in the line grumbled.
I sensed their empathy, but I stopped short of advising the dean that Vietnam was his war, not ours.
"You can graduate." The dean compromised. "Give me a letter before you leave town."
I stood fast. "I have bills to pay, sir. Tomorrow morning I start laying sewer pipe in front of Munster High School. You win. Keep your diploma." I walked.
"Come on and get back in line, mister." The dean had to yell. "Promise me you’ll write a letter thanking them for the scholarship. Be honest. I know you won’t be rude."
"Fine, sir. I’ll thank them." I marched slowly to my place in line.
Page 222. The scene is 1971, near Luang Prabang, Laos, in O-1 at 500 feet on my first mission as a Raven Forward Air Controller. I have a Laotian interpreter in the back seat. I had seen trucks and guns in action on the Trail, but for the first time I come face-to-face with North Vietnamese infantry--lot's of 'em.
I found the string of government soldiers clad in green uniforms moving near the crest of a ridge that pointed to the airfield. "We can look around the area, but the fighters have landed for the day. And we, too, must land soon." I leaned my fuel mixture, just in case.
"I understand." My backseater, Seo, spoke Lao words on his radio.
I weaved along the ridge and scouted the terrain ahead, finding no sign of enemy troops. The point man had half a mile to go.
A mortar round exploded fifty feet in front of the column. The point man fell.
The N.V.A. attack had fooled me. I had searched out to rifle range but not mortar range. I felt my anger rise. You’ve challenged me, and I take it personally. You'll pay.
The racket of small arms firing brought me to reality. I called the house. "We’ve got a battalion-sized fight going. Tell one of the FACs to get a set of T-Twenty-eights out here. Now."
"They’re eating dinner," our radio operator said, "and I think the Royal Lao Air Force is done for the day."
"And I’m nearly out of gas. But the N.V.A. is on a different schedule. They have a nasty little attack underway. Send help, please." I scoured the flat area at the southern base of the mountain.
Twenty N.V.A. soldiers, crouching in light-colored uniforms, stood and crossed a dirt trail. A kilometer farther south two mortar positions blinked as they launched their small bombs at the hilltop.
Below me, the friendlies formed a ragged perimeter. Their disarray matched the frantic radio calls in their native language.
"Hang on," I told Seo, and yanked the airplane to the right, slicing down in a two-hundred-and-seventy-degree turn, passing over the friendlies. I armed a rocket and aimed at the closest concentration of enemy troops.
I pulled off hard right, just above the smoke, then reversed left toward the mortar flashes and armed another rocket.
I could hear the distinct pop of bullets passing the wingtip as I whipped the airplane around toward the friendly lines. Damn. One rocket left. I could use a small nuke.
Aardvarks and Rangers, page 232. Scene is October 25, 1983, aboard a blacked out MC-130 approaching Grenada at 500 feet. I was the next-to-last jumper on the right door, and I carried a hundred and sixty pounds of equipment on my back.
All my years of training would soon pay off, for better or for worse. I felt strong--ready to pour fire on anyone who resisted us. My confidence in the Rangers around me was supreme. I wish I had more information about what waited out in the darkness. Just a freakin' hint.
“Stand-up.” Jumpmaster Carpenter’s silhouette appeared eerie, illuminated only by a small red light near the door. Nearby soldiers staggered to their feet and faced the rear of the plane while Carpenter opened the right side door. Another Jumpmaster opened the left door of the crowded MC-130 bay.
A blast of warm wind brought me to reality. Bits of paper and dust swirled toward the doors, now open to a noisy wind and a black sky. The musky scent of dozens of sweaty soldiers assaulted my senses, then retreated with the breeze. Jump altitude was five hundred feet. A person could get hurt.
I clicked the flat aluminum hook at the end of my static line onto the steel cable above my head, pushed a cotter pin through, and bent the ends flat. So far, so good. Shoulders hurt.
Carpenter grabbed the edges of the door and leaned outside.
I folded the few inches of slack in the yellow static line in my right hand and took a firm grip just below the hook. No turning back now.
“Check equipment.” The jumpers ahead of me blocked my view of Carpenter, but his words came through loud and clear.
For a brief second I felt a drop of sweat escape my hair and slide down my neck. I confirmed my gear was secure enough to survive a leap into the wind, then checked the soldier in front of me. Sergeant Kelly checked my rifle straps.
Carpenter commanded, “Sound-off for equipment check.”
Kelly yelled, “Okay,” and slapped my back.
I shouted, “Okay,” as I had done thirty-six times before. Just your basic parachute jump. Pain across my shoulders is huge. Think about something else.
Okays echoed down the line.
The airplane bounced against turbulence. In jolts like hatchet chops, G forces doubled the pain on my shoulders.
“Check static line.”
My line traveled snugly against my arm, around my shoulder, and into the parachute pack on my back. I inspected the line of the soldier who swayed ahead of me.
The pain in my shoulders peaked. Excruciating pressure moved me into an emotional realm. What am I doing here? Why was I born? I hope I don’t land on top of a freakin’ gun pit.
“Drop zone coming up. Get ready.”
I’m ready. Nothing to do but charge out the door when the green light comes on. Unbelievable pain. How much longer can I stand here? I wish I had a nine-millimeter pistol in my hand. I hope these MAC pilots don’t drop us in the damn ocean.
We approached the range of shoulder-launched heat-seeking missiles. We’d soon discover--the hard way--if the enemy had SA-7s. The Navy’s ignorance of flak-suppression for us special operators still pissed me off. One small missile could rip the wing off a C-130 in a New York minute.
“Stand in the door.” Carpenter shouted the next-to-last command.
The first jumper turned to face the wind and pre-dawn darkness. The snug line of troops shuffled forward.
I had to get out the door. Straps cut my shoulders like knives. When my chute opened, it would take the load off my flesh. I don’t care where I land. Just let me out.
The red light died, and the green one below flashed brightly.
“Go. Go. Go. Go.”
Carpenter slapped each soldier’s parachute and collected an armload of static lines.
The line ahead of me grew shorter. I shuffled toward the door--my moment of truth.
Carpenter yelled, “Go, go, go, go.”
The line ahead shrank to three.
“Go. Go. Go.”
Making eye contact with Carpenter, I detected a faint smile. I handed my line to him. Next step’s a long one.
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