Oct. 1, 2010


The sorry conclusion to the Lavelle story, presented to a limited audience in Air Force Magazine by General Casey in February 2007 [“Lavelle, Nixon, and the White House Tapes,” p. 86] has now achieved full-blown public confirmation by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the President [“Editorial: The Lavelle Syndrome,” September, p. 4].

We know, from the Nixon tapes, of the “profiles in courage” shown in this matter by Nixon, Kissinger, and Haig. Yet to be fully explained are the roles of the then-serving ambassador to South Vietnam, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the JCS, the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, COMUSMACV, the director of the Joint Staff, and the USAF IG. The evidence suggests that many were aware of the truth of Lavelle’s claim. The history of this affair will not be complete until the actions and motivations of these individuals are analyzed and reported.

We try to inculcate in service members a clear and strong sense of honorable conduct in the profession of arms. Is this an example that we want to use in our honor classes

Brig. Gen. William L. Shields,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

I was delighted to read that President Obama corrected the records and restored the rank for General Lavelle. I do not know if I agree that Secretary [Michael W.] Wynne and Gen. [T. Michael] Moseley are part of the “Lavelle Syndrome” at work. You can’t head up an organization that loses track of nuclear weapons without expecting to suffer consequences. Secretary Gates made a good call on those firings.

The worst case of injustice I saw in my 28-year Air Force career was the punishing of Brig. Gen. Terryl Schwalier for the Khobar Towers bombing. The person(s) who should have been fired were those who made the decision to build the dormitory in such a dangerous place. Who did we blame for the Oklahoma City bombing? We blamed the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh. Why did we blame Schwalier for the Khobar bombing? He had implemented numerous initiatives to secure the security and safety of his troops. The terrorists who blew up Khobar Towers are the only ones responsible. Schwalier deserved promotion. What is so disappointing about the Schwalier situation is that his superiors should have stood behind and backed their on-scene commander. Schwalier was an outstanding officer. He had deservedly earned higher rank. I recommend that President Obama reopen Schwalier’s case, correct the records, and restore his rank—while he still is alive.

Col. Gene Townsend,

USAF (Ret.)

San Antonio


The article “Building Better Cyberwarriors,” September [p. 50], is a fine article on how USAF is using modern technology to accomplish the mission.

However, in the second paragraph on p. 50, SrA. Desiree Lozano notes that in the old days, “if you were using checklists, [it meant] you didn’t know how to do your job.”

I served “in the old days,” and retired in 1978 after serving 25 years. Be assured that we knew how to do our job, and yes, we used checklists. All aircrews used them for preflight, take-off, landing, postflight, etc., and I am sure they continue to do so. I served as an electrical technician and maintained B-36s, B-47s, B-52s, KC-97s, KC-135s, along with a host of base support and other transient aircraft. I was also an electrical tech on the Atlas F missile. In all of these assignments, the use of checklists was mandatory. The bombers and the missiles on alert held nuclear weapons, and the use of checklists was absolutely essential. Woe to the maintenance technician who didn’t use the checklist during an ORI or other inspection. It meant an automatic failure for that tech, and it was a mark against his section. Please don’t impugn those of us who served “in the old days.” We used checklists and did our jobs well. I look back with pride, knowing the B-36 never dropped a weapon in anger. That is successful mission accomplishment. Yes, we knew how to do our job in the old days.

SMSgt. Maurice R. Garifo,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

US in Uzbekistan

The feature article “Kicked out of K2” in the September 2010 issue of Air Force Magazine highlights a systemic and chronic problem in the way the US relates to foreign governments: muddling military needs with a vague foreign policy goal of a better world [p. 88].

The US needed bases in Uzbekistan. Securing those bases should have been a simple quid pro quo arrangement: You (Uzbekistan) give us something we want (basing rights), and we give you something you want (money, hardware, etc.). Instead, we allowed the State Department to impose unrealistic democratization, human rights, and freedom of the press conditions on a society that was actively resistant to such measures. The outcome should have been a surprise to no one.

Such behavior by the US emboldens elements within a foreign country to agitate for change. Often, these elements expect some substantive help from the US, which never comes (remember the Kurds in Iraq?). The result, again, is predictable, with the ruling oligarchy cracking down forcefully on the agitators.

Most of the world’s countries are ruled by nondemocratic oligarchies maintained in place by force. Calling Islam Karimov a “president” makes him no less a dictator. It is long past time for the US to recognize that rulers have only one goal: to stay in power by whatever means they find necessary. Conditions internal to another country that do not affect US interests should be of no concern to the US.

If we had accepted Karimov for the man he is, dealt with him in concert with that acceptance, and recognized we were not going to change his world view, we would still have bases in Uzbekistan.

Lt. Col. Richard F. Colarco,

USAF (Ret.)

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ancient Nukes

“The Weird Nukes of Yesteryear” by Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris recalls an era when military doctrine had not yet been moderated to today’s standards [September, p. 94]. In the early 1960s, the Davy Crockett was an attempt to provide the Army with survivability in the absence of guaranteed air superiority and close air support. Should our airpower be diminished, such solutions may again have to be explored.

The coverage of the Davy Crockett nuclear recoilless rifle brought to mind my service in Korea (ROK) in 1964. I was platoon leader, 3rd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. Our platoon was tasked with providing security for a Davy Crockett field exercise south of the Imjin River. I was issued a film strip and glass styrette to measure radiation. I remember well setting up security and eating C rations next to the bulbous warhead.

The title “Weird Nukes” is appropriate. Years ago, at a VA facility, I was asked to recount any exposure to nuclear material. When I described the Davy Crockett, the interviewer rolled his eyes, and patronizingly ended the session. No one was ready to believe that the Army had a nuclear round with a range of one mile. Not to mention that officers were to hold up their thumb to measure the mushroom cloud, and report back the “thumb widths” so that yield could be ascertained.

An interesting fact about the tripod-mounted Davy Crockett: The tube slung under the nuclear warhead is a .50-caliber rifle barrel. Fifty-caliber tracer rounds were to be used as spotting rounds, having a similar trajectory and impact as the nuclear round. (This was exactly the same design and methodology as the 106 mm recoilless rifle, conventional jeep-mounted anti-tank weapon.) The .50-caliber round under the Davy Crockett cleared the major round by an inch or two.

The authors end their article by describing these “weird” nukes as impractical and absurd. In our time, a pair of conventionally armed F-15Es can do the job better than the Davy Crockett. The most weird, impractical, and absurd action is to abandon our dedication to tactical airpower. The smaller the Air Force becomes, the sooner the nuclear option has to be employed, regardless of how “absurd.”

I’ve been reading every issue of Air Force Magazine for over 20 years. I never thought I’d see the Davy Crockett and the old Army fatigues of 1964.

Frank Goldstein

Morristown, N.J.

The Decisiveness of Airpower

I enjoyed Phillip S. Meilinger’s article, “A Short History of ‘Decisiveness,’ ” in your September issue [p. 98]. I wish to quarrel, however, with his paragraphs covering the Battle of Britain (1940) and the Battle of Crete (1941), where he says, “If Germany had achieved air superiority over the English Channel, Britain could not have prevented an invasion. … This would have inevitably led to British defeat.” He cites Royal Navy losses in the Battle of Crete, by implication further buttressing his argument concerning the Battle of Britain.

This is, indeed, the conventional wisdom, but it has been effectively debunked by a number of studies including, among others, Derek Robinson’s Invasion, 1940, and my own “The Royal Navy in the Battle of Britain,” in The Historian, winter 1992. We have argued that:

(1) By September 1940, the earliest month in which the Germans could have launched their seaborne invasion (Operation Sea Lion), the British Army was no longer a pushover. It would have taken the Germans many weeks to land and build up their beachheads sufficiently to defeat the British Army.

(2) During those weeks, the Royal Navy, operating mostly at night, would easily have destroyed the Germans’ troop and supply convoys and their pitiful German naval escorts, and bombarded their ports of embarkation and the beachheads themselves. The Royal Navy had an awesome superiority in minelayers, minesweepers, gunboats, destroyers, and cruisers, very few of which would have gotten sunk by the Luftwaffe, since the latter lacked equipment and training in attacking fast-moving warships and boats in the dark. This is proven by the fact that, during the summer of 1940, the Royal Navy’s anti-invasion ships and boats carried out many operations in the nighttime channel with few casualties. Even in the daytime, the Luftwaffe failed to score heavily against Royal Navy minelayers, minesweepers, and other anti-invasion craft that summer; again, the Luftwaffe simply lacked the equipment, training, and experience to fight fast-moving ships and boats, even in daylight. (Remember that, at Dunkirk, the Royal Navy’s ships and boats had to come to complete stops at a predictable place—that is, off the beach, which explains their heavy losses there—but suffered only in the daylight.)

All of this is confirmed by the Battle of Crete, where the Royal Navy, operating at night, destroyed a German-Italian seaborne invasion force, thus forcing the Germans to stage a risky and costly airborne invasion. If the British Army on Crete had held out for weeks, the Germans could not have supported their airborne force by sea in the face of Royal Navy nighttime operations.

Of course, we celebrate the victory of Britain’s first line of defense (the RAF), but that is not to say that Britain lacked a viable second line (the Royal Navy) and even a third line (the Army), the latter giving the RN weeks in which to destroy Sea Lion. The Luftwaffe did achieve air superiority over the channel (though not over southern England), but its “victory” was really irrelevant to its (unachievable) military objective—the overwhelming of the Royal Navy—and irrelevant to its political objective, the intimidation of Britain’s Parliament and people, meant to bring about the fall of Churchill’s cabinet and his replacement by (the Germans hoped) an appeaser cabinet. Preventing the Luftwaffe from discrediting Churchill was the RAF’s major victory, not preventing Sea Lion.

Hitler understood all this. He would not likely have launched Sea Lion unless he were convinced it would be a “sure thing,” something he could never have counted on (unless Parliament and people panicked), no matter how much air superiority the Luftwaffe had achieved over the channel.

Karl G. Larew

New Park, Pa.


OK, I’m an airplane nut and always will be, and that’s probably why I went into the Air Force, and I like the guys and gals in the Air Force Association. I read just about anything I can get my hands on, legally, when it comes to aircraft, and one of the best of the best is our own Air Force Magazine. When it arrives, I have to stop whatever I’m doing and read it from cover to cover, and usually twice.

This issue has what I think is an inadvertent error. Check out “Airpower Classics,” which has a superb article about the A-4 Skyhawk [September, p. 128]. What’s my beef? Take a careful review of the entry for “Famous Fliers.” Who’s missing? Who is it that is among those heroes who were interned at the Hanoi Hilton? Paul Galanti, of course.

David A. Ellis

Fredericksburg, Va.

Wild Blue

I was interested in your article “Saved by the Wild Blue Yonder” [September, p. 102].

I was a “flying cadet,” enlisting in April 1941. I was sworn in at Fort Harrison on Saturday and a flying student on Monday. My primary was at Parks Air College, East St. Louis, Ill. My basic was at Randolph Field (“the West Point of the Air”). My advanced was at Foster Field, Victoria, Tex., where I received my wings Dec. 12, 1941, from fighter training.

I never heard the song “Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder” the entire time that I was a cadet. The song that we sang was “Into the air, Army Air Corps.”

Robert S. Sternberger


When it comes to the Air Force Song, we could easily have been singing the “Air Force Blue.” When I joined the Air Force in 1960, we heard it a lot and I thought it was probably going to be the new Air Force song, but it was not to be. For those who have never heard it, Mitch Miller did a great rendition of it.

So while our Air Force Song as we all know it is a great song, there was at least one other one out there that could have been our the Air Force Song, too. I have read that “Air Force Blue” is still popular and is performed regularly by the USAF band as part of their program.

MSgt. William A. Coup,

USAF (Ret.)

Hopkins, S.C.

I read with interest David A. Lande’s account of the origins of the Air Force Song. One interesting factoid not mentioned is that the song is copyrighted. Robert Crawford transferred the copyrights to Carl Fischer, Inc., owing to a lack of Air Corps funds to publicize the song. Crawford granted the Air Force a perpetual exemption from paying royalties, but the song will not be released into the public domain until 2044. I discovered this bump in the road while researching service song medleys for a large entertainment producer. I also learned at that time that the Coast Guard Song is similarly copyrighted. The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Songs are in the public domain.

Col. Robert W. Swaney,

USAF (Ret.)

Newport News, Va.