PEACETIME BRAVERY - THE AIR FORCE CROSS
Military personnel do not always need a battlefield to act with bravery.
I had an old flying recollection the other day that led to the writing of this blog segment.
Way back in the mid seventies, I was a shiny new CF-101 Voodoo pilot on 409 Squadron at CFB Comox BC. Those who flew in that era were part of The Cold War, a war in which, the Viet Nam disaster aside, there was much posturing and maneuvering but thankfully, not many shots fired.
I recall sitting in the Comox Officers' Mess dining room at one of 409 Squadron's infamous wine luncheons where all except the duty crews in the "Q" and Combat Alert Center gathered to do some serious male bonding over steak and wine after flying had shut down for the day. Sitting opposite was an older officer, (maybe 35!) a captain and AI navigator who may have been new to the Squadron or a visiting guest of the Squadron. I can't recall but either way, I hadn't met him. He was tall, slim with some white sprinkled in his close cropped hair, had a quiet voice and a gentle manner. He wore a striking ribbon on his uniform that I had not seen before--white with diagonal red bars. The only ribbon that was common (to me) in those peaceful times was the "Canadian Forces Decoration" or CD for short. It was also known as the EGO ribbon--Everybody Gets One(!) and signifies 12 years of faithful service or undetected crime--take your pick. I asked about his ribbon and he quietly replied;
"It's the Air Force Cross"' and that's all he said. I now know what that medal signifies.
More recently, after my way-back machine moment, I was exchanging emails with Captain (Retd) Bill "Charlie" Gladders and I asked if he (Bill ) new this officer's name. He did, and I had one of those forehead smacking moments. If you have read my book, "Flight Lines" you will have met Charlie, a memorable Air Force colleague, several times and who features prominently through my "Voodoo Days" chapter. Bill also let me know about another such award recipient who was flying in an older CF-100 "Canuck" aircraft. I allowed that the stories behind the awards may make an interesting blog post. He agreed and here it is.
The CF-100 officer's Canada Gazette story is posted immediately below and my friend from the mess is the second one. The incidents are remarkably similar and rather than steal the thunder from their amazing stories of bravery, I will let you read on.
ALEXANDER, Flying Officer Charles Maxwell, CD (133192) – Air Force Cross – No.433 Squadron, Station North Bay – awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 29 October 1960 and AFRO 222/60. Born May 1931, Denny, Scotland. Educated in Scotland; served two tours with RAF before joining RCAF in Toronto, 1956; posted to No.433 Squadron, December 1957. Uniform held by Canadian War Museum.
During an Air Defence Exercise on May 24, 1960, Flying Officer Alexander was the navigator in a CF-100 aircraft which was participating in an aircraft interception at 43,000 feet. Shortly thereafter, the pilot of the aircraft suffered extreme anoxia. He was receiving no oxygen whatsoever as the result of a fault in his oxygen system. Flying Officer Alexander instructed the pilot to descend. The pilot responded and commenced an immediate descent but could not actuate his emergency oxygen supply. Flying Officer Alexander elected to remain with the aircraft and continue to talk the pilot into bringing the aircraft under control from an extremely erratic descent. Flying Officer Alexander noted at one point that their speed was 650 knots and they then entered the cloud deck at 7,000 feet still in a dive. The pilot gradually responded to instructions and pulled the aircraft out of the dive but the aircraft ended up in an inverted position. Flying Officer Alexander then successfully managed to instruct the pilot to roll the aircraft into a strait and level flight at approximately 10,000 feet. A ground control landing approach was then commenced. The pilot did not respond to instructions given by the GCA Controller and it was necessary for Flying Officer Alexander to guide the pilot all the way down. The pilot was still under the effects of anoxia upon landing to the extent that he did not round out but flew onto the runway. It was also necessary for Flying Officer Alexander to instruct him on braking action and direction. After a successful landing, the pilot remembered practically nothing of what had taken place. Flying Officer Alexander, when faced with the decision of ejecting or remaining with the aircraft, chose to remain in an effort to save his pilot and aircraft. Through coolness and devotion to duty he managed to avert what would have been a fatal accident.
PARKER, Flying Officer Donald Franklin (56135) – Air Force Cross – No.416 Squadron – Awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 4 January 1964 and AFRO 2/64 dated 10 January 1964. This award is thoroughly documented in Secretary of State papers (RG.6 D.1 Volume 359, file 114-2-A1-3 “Awards – Specific – Air Force Cross (Granted)” Parker was first recommended by his Commanding Officer, W/C E.D. Kelly, on 7 May 1963. The station commander, G/C A.F. Banville, concurred the same day; A/V/M M.M. Hendrick concurred on 29 May 1963. This was duly considered by the Personnel Members Committee at AFHQ; on 18 July 1963 A/V/M W.A. Orr (acting Chairman of the Committee) forwarded recommendation to Chairman of Decorations Committee, Secretary of State. The Decorations Committee met on 1 October 1963 and approved.
On the morning of 10 April 1963, Flying Officer Parker was the navigator of a CF-101B aircraft of No.416 All-Weather Fighter Squadron participating in a tactical exercise. During the second mission in which he and his pilot participated, while making an attack on a target aircraft at 20,000 feet, Flying Officer Parker was surprised to observe his aircraft turning in the wrong direction for the intercept manoeuvre which was underway. Upon querying the pilot, Flying Officer Parker deduced from the replies that the pilot was in difficulty and suspected that a malfunction of oxygen equipment was the cause. He calmly, but emphatically, directed the pilot to descend and follow emergency oxygen procedures. When this action produced no tangible results, and from further remarks made by the pilot, Flying Officer Parker realized that the pilot was seriously ill. He then commenced to direct the pilot to return to base and prepare to land the aircraft. Although the situation was obviously hazardous, Flying Officer Parker did not even declare an emergency in his radio transmissions since he had reasoned that this would unnerve the pilot completely. Nevertheless he elected to remain with the aircraft and to attempt to save it and the pilot. Handling all radio transmissions himself, he soothed, persuaded and encouraged the pilot through the approach and landing in less than ideal weather conditions, in spite of the pilot’s uncertain and often incorrect reactions which caused the aircraft to repeatedly approach critical performance limits. Following the landing, the pilot collapsed almost completely and was helpless. Flying Officer Parker climbed forward to shut down the engines and assist groundcrew and medical personnel in removing the almost unconscious pilot from the cockpit. Throughout a dangerous situation, Flying Officer Parker demonstrated exceptional courage, devotion to duty and loyalty to his pilot, in hazarding his own life when he might have safely ejected from the aircraft. His cool and skilful direction, which made full use of the pilot’s severely limited ability, was instrumental in saving both their lives and a valuable aircraft.
If you are interested in reading about more AFC recipients, you can visit this link:
Next blog post: "The go-around"
Until next time, over 'n out.