I just returned from four days on the road and just wanted to wish everyone a VERY Merry Christmas. Santa came to visit the girls early and Jake celebrated his first Christmas on Sunday. Figured they would call me out (being on reserve), so Tee and I enjoyed playing Santa Sat night. I think the best part is drinking the milk while you put all the presents out. That afternoon on Sunday, off I went to DC for the first night. It was a 737 international trip that I was covering so the next morning we took off for DFW with an overnight in Belize City, Belize.
When I walked out to the counter in DFW, decked out in my Santa hat and Grinch tie modeled after a Marine I know, I noticed a woman at the counter just flat out sobbing. I approached her and asked if she was ok? In between her sobs I found out that her daughter and fiancé were delayed coming in from Chicago with eight guests and if she didn't make this flight, she would miss her planned wedding the next day out on some island off the coast of Belize. I pulled up the flight number and saw that it was on the ground and parking on the other side of the airport from us in A terminal. "Mrs. Tucker, call your daughter on her cell phone and tell her to take the tram to D22 exit and we'll make sure she gets on the plane. We won't leave her on Christmas Eve, trust me, I'm the pilot." the tears stopped and a look of complete peace came over her followed by a thousand thank-you's. About this time a man walked up to me at the counter with a big smile on his face. "Taco?? Taco Bell???" I hate that, I know the guy, but can't place his name. "Where do I know you from?" He smiles and says "it's me Desi from TBS (the basic school for Lt's in the Marines) I can't believe you're my pilot. We sat down and caught up in a fast ten minutes. Flight school in Corpus and that was the last I had seen of him and that was back in 1989 or 1990. Where the hell does time go? He ended up going to work for Qualcomm out in San Diego and has been there since (ladies, he is single and a V.P., but before all the gals out there try to track him down, you would have to be as hot as his English girlfriend on the next island over). Turns out he owns a hotel on the island of Caye Caulker in Belize where he grew up. He invited me and my Captain to come visit his home island the next day and filled me in on how to get there.
Christmas Eve, Perry my Captain talked about going out for dinner and I agreed. Anything but the usual fare at the hotel, so we took off for a walk down the road and discovered a brand new place called Jambel. It’s a Jamaican style restaurant about a quarter mile walk from the hotel. It was a beautiful night so we sat out on the patio upstairs and enjoyed a nice cold beer while checking out the menu. We ended up meeting Rhonda Crichton the proud owner who told us how she went into business just a week before. She recommended a combo platter of chicken, beef, shrimp and a lobster tail. It was awesome and very spicy!! Just remember if you ask to make it EXTRA spicy, the old motto of Hot in, well Hot out the next morning. Rhonda is also a tour guide there and here is her email and site. email firstname.lastname@example.org and her website http://www.scenicroutebelize.com/
Christmas day, we caught a plane out to his island and what an awesome place it is. No cars, just golf carts, colorful hotels, coconut palm trees and a mixture of delicious smells wafting from the local restaurants there. We toured his small Caye and then were lucky enough for a boat trip with his brother Nano out to reefs. The water is crystal clear as we put on the masks and fins to go snorkeling along the reef. Schools of Stingrays would glide past you and disappear then circle around swarm you from behind. It was a lot of fun. Funny how time passes and we haven't seen each other since 1989 and yet it was like yesterday. If I had to be away from home for Christmas, then who better to be with but another Marine brother and his family.
Sorry I forgot to finish the story, as Paul Harvey would say "and now for the rest of the story" the lady at the counter who was worried about her daughter making the flight...well we left without them...no I'm just kidding. I told the Captain and he agreed that there was no way we'd leave them on the last flight of the day, especially on Christmas Eve. We took a twenty minute delay waiting for them but it was worth it. They ran down the jet bridge with the exuberance of newly weds. When they got off, they promised to name their first kid after me...Taco. I have that going for me at least.
Here is a Belize trip report for you to file away for a future vacation. First of all, book your flight down there on American Airlines, the best way to get there. Once you land in Belize and pass through customs, you will go to Maya Island Air, small airport and all right there. Best to book your flight via http://www.mayaislandair.com/ or call 011-501-225-2336. at Belie International. Tip, if you pay cash, they give you a 20% discount. If you are an airline employee, then it's another 20% off. With the exchange rate around 2 to 1 right now, It cost about $50 U.S. bucks for a roundtrip ticket to Caye Caulker.
Now my buddy's hotel, The Costa Maya Beach Cabanas, which is run by Julian Rosado. It's right across from the beach and downtown. Rates are 50 to 60 U.S. a night. There is an awesome room overlooking the ocean for about $100 a night that I would opt for size wise. They have a couple of really nice dive/snorkel boats and even a glass bottom boat for those who watched "Jaws" at a young age and afraid to get into the water. You can swim with sharks or Sting-rays out over these beautiful reefs. Don't worry, they are pretty tame and under the guidance of Nano, Desi's brother and reef guide, you won't have any problems. They have different water trips on the boat that vary from $45 dollars to swim around the local reefs to a trip to the Great Blue Hole over the lighthouse reef atoll to all day fishing trips for $175 dollars. Something that you'll never forget. To book a room, go to http://www.tsunamiadventures.com/ their phone number is 011-501-225-2336 or Julian's cell phone 011-501-610-3151 Bonnie found some of Desi's photos on the web that you can check out here http://www.pbase.com/drosado/belize_june_07/
Then if you get tired of the beach/ocean stuff, you can go cave tubing and then explore the Mayan ruins or take a jungle cruise. If it's up to me, I think after nursing my hangover and a sun burn, I'd like to swing under the shade of a large coconut tree with a cold drink in my hand and watch the surf pound the reef with a nice breeze blowing over me. The small streets are lined with family owned restaurants with a mixture of local Belize, Jamaican and Chinese foods and a couple of pubs. This use to be a British colony and a lot of Chinese immigrated from Hong Kong over the years, so you really get a mix of cultures in one place ie local native, Spanish, British and African influence. I could see going for three days to a week and taking the family along too since there were a lot of kids running around. It's easy to get to and really nice during Oct to March timeframe. Crazy how a chance encounter with an old friend can open up new adventures in life.
I've covered the basic logistics', now its just up to you to plan out a great vacation. I hope you have a great New Year and talk to you soon.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Posted by Taco Bell at 4:07 PM
Monday, December 17, 2007
The sign of a great pilot is that he won’t tell you how great he is. Back in Dec of 1992, the FDO (flight duty officer) called me up and asked if I wanted to fly to Hawaii to pick up a refueling job for a week. What a dream trip, one week in Waikiki and all we had to do was refuel two F-4 Phantoms on Tuesday and Thursday. Since the trip was leaving December 4th, it went to all of the single guys who didn’t care if the plane broke there and missed Christmas since it was a two week deal. The flight over was a blast as we talked about what we planned on doing while staying at the OutRigger hotel on the beach.
Well, I’m a firm believer in that the answer is no unless you ask, so I just had to ask. The F-4 was out of service for the military, especially the Marines, so the opportunity to get a backseat hop was just too great to pass up. On Tuesday, we took off with a full bag of gas and climbed up to twenty-five thousand feet. I was flying in the right seat, “Paulie” was in the left seat with “Hairy Larry” standing over my shoulder. The two jets joined up with us over Barking Sands missile range near the island of Kauai. Dick was in a blue F-4 and his partner was flying the white one. Both pilots were retired Air Force Col’s who had spent many hours in the front seat of this jet, bombing the crap out of the VC during Vietnam. They handled their jets with fingertip finesse, plugging into our baskets with ease. After Dick topped off on his gas, he flew under the right wing of our KC-130 and pulled up right next to our plane. We were all a bit freaked out by this show of airmanship but he was planted right there, not moving. Perfect formation flying. When “Paulie” asked him if he could move a bit closer (being factitious of course), Dick chuckled and said “You guys haven’t seen anything yet, man I wish I could show what we did to the Russian Bears we intercepted in Alaska.” Then he toggled the mike and said “Hey Taco is that you?” Of course, I replied to the man I could touch next to me. He then asked “I thought you wanted to go fly with us, what happened?” man I was all over him with questions about going up and he just told me to show up on Thursday two hours prior to the brief and bring another Marine along for a ride on the hop that day. I was ecstatic at the chance to go up with him. Since I flew on Tuesday, ole “Hairy Larry” had to go fly on Thursday and wouldn’t be able to go. Now it was down to a couple of the enlisted guys in the back as to who wanted to go.
As it turns out, I googled “Dick Lawyer pilot” and found out that Dick had passed away. What I read though was incredible. Here is his obit, what a man. As I drink a glass of red wine with my dinner tonight, I will toast Dick, a great American and so humble that you would never know it.
Former test pilot, astronaut-select and flight instructor Richard Lawyer, 73, died November 12, 2005, at his home in Palmdale, California, of a suspected blood clot.
Lawyer had assured her years ago he would walk away from airplanes at the very first indication that his flying was not up to his high standards, she said, a promise he thankfully never had to fulfill. Lawyer was in the cockpit three days before his death and was scheduled to fly for the test pilot school November 14, 2005.
He was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School and of the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base).
His Air Force career included two combat tours during the Vietnam War, as well as a time as chief of fighters at Edwards.
One little-known facet of Lawyer's career was his selection in 1965 as one of the first astronauts to the Air Force's classified Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. This program, later canceled without sending any astronauts into space, was to man a military space station with Air Force astronauts using a modified Gemini spacecraft.
Even after the program was canceled, Lawyer did not discuss it, still feeling the obligation to honor its secrecy.
"They made a vow; they never were released from that," Gayle said. "That was huge. He was a man of honor."
After his Air Force retirement in 1982, Lawyer served as flight test manager for Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin Corp.) at Edwards.
He then went on to join the National Test Pilot School and later another Mojave Airport business, Flight Systems Inc. There, he served as chief test pilot, piloting the first flight of the QF-4 drone.
Lawyer retired from Flight Systems in 1998 but continued at the test pilot school and as a self-employed consultant and test pilot. He most recently flew the F-100 for Flight Test Associates' tests of Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Guardian airliner defense system.
Lawyer was a fixture at the Mojave Airport, known for driving his truck around the airport to visit friends after work at the test pilot school.
"Dick Lawyer has known a lot of big names in aviation history," said friend and Mojave Airport tenant Cathy Hansen . "He was a big name himself, but he just didn't know it."
"He was very humble, quiet and soft-spoken," she said. "He had a dry sense of humor which I thought was just hilarious."
Hansen's husband, Al, credits his license to fly his F-86 jet to Lawyer's cockpit checkout.
"Dick was one of two people Al let fly" the F-86, she said.
In addition to flying, Lawyer had a passion for hunting and fishing, his other life-long love.
"When the day came flying was over, he was going to do even more hunting and fishing," Gayle said.
Lawyer had just returned from an elk-hunting trip to Colorado when he died. He had also already begun planning his annual Alaskan fishing trip.
His other great joy - one he found unexpectedly later in life - was his nine grandchildren, ages 18 months to 11 years old.
"He adored his grandchildren," Gayle said, introducing the older ones to fishing and flying. They were a "joy in his life he knew would be there when the day came that he might no longer be able to do the things that filled his life with joy."
In addition to Gayle and the nine grandchildren, Lawyer is survived by sons Tim Lawyer of San Luis Obispo and James Lawyer of College Station, Texas; daughter Lisa Burr of Austin, Texas; stepdaughters Casey Hinds of Lexington, Ky., and Halya Mugglebee of Sherman Oaks.
"He was very much a family guy," Cathy Hansen said.
Cathy sent Lawyer an e-mail, apparently one of the last he read, that talked about living life to the fullest.
"He had. He was living proof of that," she said.
Lawyer will be remembered by family and friends in a memorial service at the National Test Pilot School on Dec. 17. For aviators like Lawyer, the date holds special significance as the anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight.
He will also be paid tribute with full military honors in a burial at Arlington National Cemetery on January 5, 2006.
It was Lawyer's wish that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Scholarship Foundation or to the Air Warrior Courage Foundation of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association.
Colonel Richard E. Lawyer, United States Air Force, was born on 8 November 1932 in Los Angeles, California; he is married with three children. He received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of California in 1955 and was chosen for the MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) programm on 12 November 1965 (Group 1).
Following the cancellation of the MOL programme he remained with the Air Force and returned to active flight duty. He is currently Deputy Commander, Test Evaluation Directorate, Air Weapons Center, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
Richard E. Lawyer, 73, passed away on November 12, 2005, the day after Veteran's Day. The apparent cause of his death was a deep vein blood clot. His death was peaceful but completely unexpected; he was sitting at his desk at home. Dick Lawyer was born November 8, 1932 in Los Angeles and served his country as a test pilot, as a designated astronaut who never flew in space due to circumstances beyond his control, and as a senior officer in the Air Force.
The retired Air Force Colonel still taught at the National Test Pilot School at the Civilian Flight Test Center in Mojave, California, still conducted flight tests, and was scheduled to fly this week, according to the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Lawyer remained healthy and active, holding a Class 1 medical certificate till the day he died. Indeed, the F-100F pictures, taken earlier in 2005, show Col. Lawyer (below, front seat, blue helmet) and a flight test engineer conducting calibration test flights at Mojave earlier this year. The purpose was to get valid data up to Mach 0.90 in support of a Boeing 737 flight test program, so the intrepid duo passed by the Mojave tower at 70 feet AGL at speeds up to M0.90 which is 560 kts. Not many septuagenarians are doing that, but then, there was only one Dick Lawyer.
Colonel Lawyer first came to the attention of Aero-News in June, when we ran an article on the discovery of a spacesuit with his name on it at Cape Canaveral. His relatives sent him that article, which upset him, because it mentioned that we tracked him down to the NTPS and they didn't respond to our email (it turns out we used an old address that isn't monitored). That article is here. ("NASA Finds 1960s Spacesuits," 17 June 05). He was upset at the idea that people would think him unresponsive, which illustrates a little something of his character -- the humble, friendly test pilot -- not exactly a stereotype.
When he did get in touch with us, he was very complimentary about the article, and a little bit bemused that anyone even cared about the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, forty years later. "While it contains a few minor errors, is the most accurate and detailed article of all those that have appeared," he said. To us, that comment was worth more than a Pulitzer Prize.
The Manned Orbiting Laboratory, announced in 1963, had some of the features of a space station. A crew of two would launch in a modified Gemini capsule, the Gemini-B, and on reaching the desired orbit, would be able to go through a hatch in the back of the Gemini into the MOL's work and accommodation spaces.
After spending thirty days in space, the crew would climb back into the Gemini-B capsule and deorbit. At a relatively low altitude, under 100 miles, the orbit of the MOL would decay and it would soon be destroyed by re-entry.
Then-Captain Richard E. Lawyer was selected for the MOL in its first group of pilots -- they avoided the word, "Astronaut" -- selected. That group was announced on November 12, 1965 -- forty years to the day before Lawyer would pass away. The original MOL pilots were all USAF Test Pilot School or Naval Test Pilot School graduates. Lawyer mentioned to us with some pride that he graduated the USAF TPS, but he -- characteristically -- never got around to mentioning that he was distinguished graduate of his class, we had to learn that elsewhere. It probably helped him that he started his Air Force career with an Aero Engineering degree from USC -- but he never mentioned that to us, either.
When the program was cancelled, officers under 35 years old were permitted to sign on as NASA astronauts. All did, and all went on to fly in the Shuttle program -- one went on to be NASA Administrator. But then-Major Dick Lawyer was a few months too old. He, like the other "overage" pilots (except for one who took a non-astronaut position with NASA), returned to the USAF where he served in numerous assignments with distinction before retiring in the early 1980s as a Colonel. His last assignment was deputy commander of Eglin Air Force Base, at the time a significant test center.
Characteristically, Colonel Lawyer expressed no bitterness at the cancellation of the MOL, or the bureaucratic rule that would have let him go into NASA had he only been born in 1933, not '32. When we pressed him, he admitted being "disappointed." And after that disappointment he, again characteristically, bounced back.
Posted by Taco Bell at 4:06 PM
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Back in Okinawa in 1994, Jim Adams, my faithful side kick, got me involved in a group called Okinawa plus 50. It was going to be the reunion of Marines and Soldiers from WWII and their Japanese counterparts. A good will gesture as the fiftieth anniversary was coming up. Being part of this committee was very interesting since some of the old guys had no desire to bury the hatchet with the Japanese. That’s a different story.
In the course of attending a few of these meetings, a LtCol, with a real zest for history, invited Jim and me to attend a special dinner. The guest was Arocki Toboson or something like that, and he had been a Kamikaze pilot in the tail end of WWII. Well, he obviously wasn’t a successful Kamikaze pilot if we were having dinner with him, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to drive down for the visit. Mind you, this was in the All Hands Club at Camp Kinser, which, in traffic, would be about a forty-minute drive.
Jim and I dressed up in our green Alpha’s and off we went. There were many officers there when we arrived, and only being Captains, we were seated down the table from this older Japanese man who occupied the head seat with his twenty-five-year-old interpreter. LtCol History boy occupied most of the conversation during the night with his vast knowledge of what the Japanese were doing during those last days of the war. It went like this—you would ask a question to the young girl, and she would ask Arockison and he would answer in soft Japanese, after which she would then reply. We found out that his mother was an American who married his father in 1925, and moved back to Japan with him. Even though she had assimilated into the culture, during the war they had her under house arrest, and she didn’t leave her house for almost five years.
Arockison talked about his early flight training, or lack there of, and how the war ended before they could strap a plane on him. So what does an out of work Kamikaze pilot do after the war? He becomes a dentist, one of the most successful dentists in Southern Japan. I guess he would dive into those mouths screaming “BONZI!” Old Arockison took a liking to Jim and me, especially since I was a pilot, and he thought Jim was too with his gold parajump wings on his left chest. At the conclusion of the dinner Q and A, his interpreter asked if Jim and I could drop them off at their hotel in downtown Naha. I think the Colonel was rebuffed that he didn’t get asked, but volunteered us to do this task. That was about to add another hour of driving in the crappy gridlock traffic that Okinawa enjoys.
As we get settled into Jim’s van, Arockison exhaled loudly and said in slightly accented English, “Oh man, am I glad to get away from that suck butt Colonel.” I just about had a heart attack when I realized that he spoke English. Holy crap, what did we talk about back there that he could have heard? We both spin around with a total look of disbelief. He smiles and says, “Don’t look that way, I told you all that my mother was American so, of course she taught me to speak English.” I spewed out, “What gives with the interpreter and not speaking English tonight? We wanted to ask more questions, but it was tough to get in line for the Q and A.” He patted his “Interpreter” on the leg. “See, first of all, isn’t she beautiful? I just love looking at her. Second, if she wasn’t there, then guys like that Colonel who think they know it all about the war would never let me get a bite of dinner. She and I chatted, and I made her do all the hard work while I was able to eat. See, very smart no?”
I had to agree with his method and got a chuckle when he made us promise to never tell his secret or the LtCol would lose face. We promised and exchanged cards that night, a big deal in their society, and said goodnight. He told us that he may call us up some time on his next visit to the island.
A month later, my phone rang and it was Arockison. “Tacoson, I want you and Jimson to be my guest on a boat cruise next Saturday. Are you available?” I said, “yes” for both Jim and I and got directions on where to meet him. In closing he said, “Also, please wear your Dress Blues; it’s a bit formal.” My enthusiasm for the boat trip dropped, as it was August, and thick Dress Blues didn’t mesh well with the 100-degree heat and the 100% humidity on the Island. You could hard-boil an egg inside your uniform with that kind of heat.
That Saturday, we piled into Jim’s van and took off for the Japanese Naval base on the other side of the Island by the Sea of Japan. As we approached the dock where the Japanese Cruiser was located, the sentry on duty checked our names against his list and waved us through to the VIP parking close to the ship. Leaving the comfortable air conditioning of the van, we put on our Dress Blue blouse and donned our white covers. The sweat started to pour out of our tightly shaven heads as we walked up the gangway to the ship. A whistle started blowing as we reached the top; both of us smartly saluted the back of the ship where the Japanese Flag was hanging before saluting the Officer on duty. In front of us was a long line of Japanese Officers from the ships’ Captain to an Admiral and standing at the end of the Congo line was Arockison. After a million bows and card exchanges, Arockison takes us down to the Officer’s wardroom for refreshments.
“So, how do you like this ship?” We were now cooling off a bit from the heat as he handed us a shot of sake. The first shot was a bit rough, but as they kept coming, I didn’t notice the heat of the uniform as much. He explained that the Admiral was the son of one his best friends from Kamikaze school, and this little trip out in the Sea of Japan was to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Japanese Self defense force. Jim and I noticed that we were the only Americans on board and it made me wonder how we managed this coup. After two hours of steaming out to sea, they put on a show of the different weapon systems and their capabilities while we stood in the wind on the bridge of the ship. Leaning over me, Arockison shouts in my ear, “I like young girls” as he pats his chest with a big smile on his face. I reply that I like my girls to be young, but not under the age of 21. He shakes his head fiercely and a bit tipsy like me says, “NO! You don’t understand, I LIKE YOUNG GIRLS!” I understood him the first time and then it dawned on me; he must be some pervert who thought Jim and I could hook him up or something. “I’m sorry Arockison, I like young girls too, but I don’t know any young girls for you.” I’m convinced he wants some dependant daughter with blonde hair. Great, we were trapped on a Jap cruiser with a drunken 70-year-old Kamikaze pervert.
He sways a bit and comes back in close again, “No, you don’t understand, I want you and Jim to meet my young girlfriend when we get back. We will go to my club in Naha; there you will see my young girlfriend.” Folks, don’t ask me what this guy was up to, but he took a shine to two Marines and we were being invited to hang out and experience the culture. “Oh by the way, do you have a nice suit to wear?”
Later that night, we met Arockison at the Suntory Whiskey building in downtown Naha. True to his word, there was a young twenty-five-year-old girl in the full kimono dress standing next to him in his fresh suit. We entered the elevator and with his special key, went to the top floor of the swankiest Gishi girl establishment you’ve ever seen with the Momma son standing there waiting for us as the doors opened. Now, all sorts of things were going through my mind as to what a Gishi girl’s job was. Whorehouse, Cat-house? Wow, we were really dressed up for that. Well, fear not, turns out that the Japanese Ego is about as thin as OJ Simpson’s murder defense and requires lots of boosting. All they do is talk. Jim and I both had a girl on each arm that escorted us into the main room. There were little booths all around, filled with older gentlemen sipping their whiskey and talking to their girls. Our gals asked what we wanted to drink and then prepared our Vodka Tonic. I was feeling like a stud as this girl who spoke great English, pumped my ego up to where I might not get my head through the door. “Oh you must be berry berry smart to be a peelot” “Oh feel those big muscles in your arms, I like strong men.” Comments like that all night.
They had a gent playing the piano in a suit and tie not far from us. Turns out, you would go up there and pick a song and sing with him as he played the piano. Piano Karaoke, crazy Japs really know how to have fun. I got up and sang Elvis, Blue Suede shoes. Hard to keep time with a guy banging away on the piano and be in tune, but I guess I did a great job because all the old guys would come up afterwards and tell me, “You Sing Elvis, berry guot, next time pease sing All Hooked up.”
My young girl told me later that Arockison considered Jim and I his Gaijin pilot sons. “Wow, I’m really honored, how cool.” Thinking that having a rich old pervert Japanese dad wasn’t such a bad thing. She then told me that we must be special because in the three years she had worked there, this was the first time she had ever seen a military person in the house. I asked her why and she said, “Well, it’s very expensive here, each girl cost $200 dollars an hour plus the liquor. I about spit my drink out when she told me this. Arockison was paying $600.00 dollars an hour to have some young girl pump his ego up plus take care of his two Marine sons the same way…talk, talk, talk. For Six hundred dollars an hour, I should have more then my ego pumped up, but hey, that is their culture and I was just a guest. I didn’t even get a phone number from my gal.
We ended up going with him a couple more times before we transferred back to the states. I heard that he passed away a few years ago, and I’ll relish those interesting memories of a culture that will always fascinate me. Who says that you can’t dress a Marine up and take him out? Just learn to sing Elvis and the world is your Oyster.
Posted by Taco Bell at 7:25 PM