Time To Remember Time To Forget...
1967 - how could he ever forget it? Spike Momyer, commanding the 7th Air Force, had launched Operation Bolo. Two groups of twenty-eight F4s were to attack the airfields at Gia Lam and Phuc Yen. They were the main force - 8th Tactical Fighter Wing jockeys, hot-shots long on experience, and top heavy with confidence - full of bravado, bull shit and guts.
Bonney's unit - the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing - was to sweep in low and fast, pinning down the bases at Kep Ha and Cat Bi. They were to zap any escaping Migs, the ones running for their lives - smoking low and fast, north to the Chinese border.
The 8th had begun with a feint, flying ponderously, simulating heavily laden F-105 Thunderchiefs. It had looked like just another Rolling Thunder raid, another routine bombing mission - until the last moment when they had showed their real intent - rolling away from the bombers to scream earthward into a low level strike.
The surprise attack had caught the Russian-built jets on the ground, destroying them before they got airborne, but the surface to air missiles had still remained a problem.
'Lynt, break left - break break,' the urgent rising note of his wingman's warning had echoed in his earphones.
'Mig in your six. Break left Lynt - mother-fucker on your tail - get out, for Christ's sake.'
Banging the throttles into full afterburner, Bonney had tasted the copper juices of fear as he pulled into a gut wrenching climbing turn, blacking out his navigator in the process. Reversing the spiral - still near vertical - he'd watched the Mig overshoot, reluctant to match his wing-bending manoeuvre.
'Follow that, you bastard,' elation flushed heat into his blood.
From instinct more than conscious thought, he'd continued rolling right in a tight high-g barrel roll almost tearing his wings off. The violent manoeuvre slowed his jet, positioning it in a shallow dive four hundred yards behind the Mig.
'Now, see how you like it,' he'd spat the words viciously' - the red mist of aggression blurring his vision.
For twenty seconds the Communist pilot had used all his skill to out-fly Bonney - outrunning him when the pilot went balls to the wall and extracted maximum military thrust from his afterburner. Arming his missiles, Bonney finally positioned for a shot. His Sidewinder had taken the starboard wing off the Mig, but he was pleased to see its pilot eject safely.
Less than a minute later, Bonney's F4 had been hit by a surface to air missile. Both he and his navigator had successfully ejected, but the cost was a leg so smashed up it still gave him hell every time the weather changed.
Then followed years of disillusionment - moved from one stinking prison camp to another - waiting always waiting for his grateful country to negotiate his release. When he was finally returned to the USA - just another forgotten hero, wasted in body and drained of spirit - what did he find?
He was spat upon by the Flower People, those peace lovers, in his beloved California, and then vilified by anti-war liberal intellectuals. He'd returned to a country where his kind had become an embarrassment - just like the old-time gunfighters had been, after the Lincoln County cattle wars.
Ace jet pilot - five kills verified - four years of hell in stinking rat holes called prisoner of war camps. A once shiny medal tarnishing on his left tit. Recognition - some sort of reward? A sick joke - all the decent jobs were occupied by draft dodgers and apologists. A sanitised, ashamed America ignored him.
They might as well have erected a sign announcing; WOUNDED HEROES NOT WANTED HERE.
He never shook off the bitterness.
Peter Hunter 2012
This short story is extracted from peter Hunter's thriller Time Of The Eagle on Kindle