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Fallen Comrades By

Chip Sparrow

Pilot, 49th FIS, Griffiss AFB 1971 – 1973

PREFACE: Just recently I finally got all of my memories of fallen comrades down on print after years of memories twirling in my head. I've often felt I saw or knew an inordinate number of men who were killed in the relatively short time I was in. For you having stayed in [serviced] until retirement, I am sure you were exposed to a lot of this [and more].

GREG DULL Greg was one of my best friends/fraternity brother and roommate during my last Spring semester and summer at Southwest Texas State U. He was a comic and cutup and was generally the life of the many parties. I remember his girlfriend at the time and later wife, Mary Lou and her smiling face, quite well. We lived together in a 60' mobile home and if those walls could talk! He was in ROTC, graduated, was commissioned, and headed to pilot training about six months after me. We lost contact with each other during our time in the Air Force, but reunited at a CAF airshow in Harlingen in '77. He was a civilian and had a real job! However, he soon joined the Texas Air National Guard and flew F-101s out of Ellington AFB near Houston. He went down when his jet had a catastrophic engine(s) failure and fire on takeoff. He got airborne and apparently, as I was told, tried to steer the crippled jet away from a populated area. He went down with the jet, never attempting to eject. He and his Weapon Systems Officer perished.

CHARLIE CARTER I thought Charlie was God himself! He was two or three years older than me in college but we were casual friends. He was in ROTC and after graduation and flight school went to Vietnam flying A-37s. I saw him again during my final summer in school at Sewell Park, the hang out spot for coeds and all that pursued them, on the banks of the San Marcos River on campus at SWT. He had just returned from Nam and we talked for what seemed like hours as I pumped him constantly with questions. I was headed into the Air Force in six weeks, or so. In the late '70's I

heard that he had died in a crash flying T-38s with the Thunderbirds. He was the narrator at the time, and as such would fly to an airshow destination a day or two early making sure all arrangements were in order. He was attempting a landing at Buckley AFB, near Denver, in a driving rainstorm, as I was told. He apparently touched down long and hot, and immediately began to hydroplane. He either couldn't slow the plane down or lost directional control and both he and his crew chief in the backseat ejected. Both were killed. He landed on top of one of the large hangars nearest the runway.

BOB SEABURY Capt. Seabury was my T-38 instructor pilot in flight school. He was always cheery, had a peachy young-looking face and a beautiful young wife. He never got flustered or loud when flying with me. He flew F-100s over the north in Vietnam, as a Forward Air Controller. Several months after I graduated from UPT I was informed that he and his student had been killed while flying the traffic pattern at night at Laughlin AFB, in Del Rio. The flight controls had completely seized while lifting off from a touch and go. Both ejected and he was killed immediately as his chute never opened due to the high bank angle and low altitude. His student got a chute opening only to land in the fireball of the exploding jet and died a couple days later in San Antonio. I heard later that his wife attempted to sue the Air Force, as the flight control problem was well known at the time. I don't know if that ever went anywhere.

RANDY DAVIS Randy was a relatively new pilot in the 49th FIS in New York, flying F-106's. He was killed on a low level night intercept training sortie over upstate New York. I was scheduled to fly target on the mission, but for some reason I don't recall, I didn't. I got the call at home near midnight that he had been killed. Later I was tagged to serve on the accident investigation board, as the secretary - a very interesting experience! Randy was apparently so engrossed in “making the kill” with his head buried in the radar scope that he let up a bit in flying the plane letting it gradually descend – unknowingly. It crashed into the ground at an approximate 3 degree angle, shearing off tree tops as it came down at around 300kts. He probably never knew what was happening. The F-106 was a handful. I recall Sandi was one of the three Officers' wives that initially stayed with Randy's wife shortly after the tragedy,

as she had no family anywhere close by.

BOB RUMBERG Bob was killed about six months or so after I left the 49th in a very bizarre way. He was flying ACM in the '106 (dog-fighting) and disappeared from “the fight” and from radar. Nobody saw his plane or even heard a distress call. Apparently he pulled the handles to eject when something horrific happened in the cockpit. It is surmised that he had an electrical fire that would be force-fed by the 100% oxygen streaming through the oxygen mask to the pilot under pressure. He had no time for emergency procedures or even a radio transmission. A search went underway for two weeks without locating anything. It was the peak of winter in the Adirondack Mountains and snow was so deep it would bury large trees. When the Spring thaw came, a farmer, as the report went, saw what appeared to him to be someone sitting in a chair at a distance away in his pasture. It was Bob's remains still strapped in his ejection seat sitting upright. The ejection sequence had failed. If you don't physically separate from the seat, which is supposed to be automatic, the parachute will never open and the emergency distress beacon will never be activated. That's why he vanished without a trace. What a way to go.....

MA JOR GENERAL JAMES L. PRICE General Price was the Commander of the 21st NORAD Air Division, headquartered at Hancock Field in Syracuse, N.Y. Only thirty miles from Griffiss AFB and the 49th he would come over on a regular basis to fly the F-106 that had his personal paint scheme with his name on the canopy rail: “El Jefe”! He was seemingly quiet stern faced and commanded a lot of respect. If you saw him coming you saluted sharply and simply kept going. He was to fly a check ride with Lt. Col Jac Suzanne, a good friend, flying on his wing as the check pilot, in a two-ship formation. I was holding #2 for takeoff behind the formation, awaiting my departure to Andrews AFB in Washington D.C. There was considerable weather in the area with embedded thunderstorms. Nothing unusual however. The two-ship was cleared for takeoff, lit the afterburners and roared away from me down the runway, disappearing into the overcast shortly after liftoff. I awaited my clearance from Tower. Nothing. Waiting and now wondering, Tower eventually came up and told me to contact my command post. I did and was told to taxi back and not to take off. When I got back to Ops I was told the General's jet was hit by lightning, resulting in instrument

failure, then rolled a couple times in the weather and dove straight into the ground – in a school yard! Fortunately all of the students were indoors and nobody was physically affected by the crash. Jac later said he had followed the General's plane, in the weather and in formation on his wing, for a complete 270 degree roll before determining it was time to break off and make his own recovery. General Price had not been incapacitated – only his plane, as it was determined he had pulled 16 g's trying to pull out of the dive until the wings bent upward at about the time he hit the ground. He flew in the military for some 10,000 hours and died by getting hit by lightning. His number was up.

RICK KEPNER I flew with Rick in the 57th FIS in Iceland. He was an F-4 “backseater”, as they were called. Actually they served a very important role as the Weapons System Officer (Wizzo!) originally trained as a navigator. He arrived as a shiny new 2nd Lt. I knew him for around six months. After I left the Air Force I was told he was killed on a “range sortie” in the F-4 at Moody AFB in Georgia.

ED MANKIN Ed was a special character, coming into the 49th as a 2nd Lt and new T-33 pilot. Laid back and happy-go-lucky and seemingly non-assuming. I checked him out locally in the T-Bird and flew with him often. I actually thought he was a little TOO laid back a time or two while flying with him. I recall a massive squadron party at our small country house, where (at least I was told this) I passed out on our bed on top of another lifeless body that was his wife, Maureen. There were other lifeless forms on that bed, as well. We worked hard and partied harder! After I had left the Air Force I ran into a former 49th squadron mate who was an American Airlines right-seater while boarding a flight. I went into the cabin with him and his Captain while they accomplished their pre-flight and while we caught on the previous 20 years. It was then he told me that Ed had been killed in the crash of his F-4 Phantom.

Fallen Comrades by Chip Sparrow  
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