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Old 02-13-2015, 10:21 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Location: Auberry, CA
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The POW story...and it's gritty as I could get without being graphic.

Shootdown



1000 Hours Eastern War Time, 5 May 1986; 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Homestead AFB, Florida:



First Lieutenant Kelly Ann Ray taxied her F-4D onto the runway at Homestead. She had been in the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron for all of a month, and was one of the first two female pilots assigned to the squadron. Despite that, she was a combat veteran, with strikes into Cuba and air defense sorties over South Florida in her log book, along with three MiGs: a MiG-21R that she had nailed attempting an overflight of the Homestead-Turkey Point area, a MiG-23 that had been trying to chase down an HH-3 rescue helicopter, and a Soviet MiG-23 that had overshot her after pulling off a bomb run, and had run afoul of an AIM-9. Now, the mission of the day was a major strike into the Mariel area, with F-4s, F-16s, F-105Gs, and Navy F-14s, all going against two targets: a major Cuban supply facility, and a staging area for Soviet and Cuban troops leaving Cuba for the ports in occupied Texas.

The defenses, as the squadron's intelligence officer had said, were extensive. Not just the SAMs, mind you, with SA-2 and SA-3s around, but also whatever SAMs the Soviets had in the area that belonged to the divisions passing through. Then the guns: she'd seen pictures showing not just 14.5-mm machine guns, but medium- and heavy-caliber guns: from 23-mm all the way up to 100-mm, could be expected. Not to mention MiGs: there were Soviet MiG-23s and possible MiG-29s, and Cuban MiG-21s and -23s also expected in the area. But it was said that “If Mariel's bad, Havana's worse”, and several familiar faces in the ready room now missing due to strikes into Havana bore that out.

Before mounting her plane, Ray had gotten together with her flight, led by Lt. Col. Bob Cramer, the squadron commander and a veteran of the LINEBACKER campaign in 1972. Incidentally, she was his wingman. Her WSO was Capt. Pat Arwood, who had been in the squadron for two years, and had been without a pilot when she arrived: his former pilot had been injured in one of the few air strikes the Cubans had flown against the base, and and he was still on the shelf. Cramer's WSO was Capt. Jim Brunson, a former enlisted mechanic who'd gone to OTS and then navigator training, and was one of the most valued members of the squadron. The other element lead was Capt. Shaun Driscoll, with his backseater 1st Lt. Debra Clarkson, one of the first female F-4 WSOs; their wingman was Ray's best friend, 1st Lt. Erin Weaver, with her backseater Capt. Larry Cobb. They had gone over their procedures-including MiG and SAM evasion, rescue protocols, and so on, before gathering in a circle and putting their hands out and pumping in a preflight ritual. Now it was showtime.

As she pulled alongside the CO's bird, the control tower flashed a green light. All strike and CAP takeoffs were under radio silence. Cramer released his brakes and she followed suit, and they were soon in the air. The strike package formed up over Florida Bay, with sixteen F-4s from her squadron going after the troop staging area, while sixteen other F-4s from the 308th TFS were tasked with the supply depot. F-16s from the 307th TFS (the only squadron in the 31st TFW that had successfully transitioned to the F-16 prewar) would fly close escort and MiGCAP, while F-105Gs, flown by crews from the Georgia ANG who'd just sent their planes to AMARC prior to the war, handled SAM suppression. Backing up the F-16s were four Navy F-14s from VF-11 at NAS Boca Chica in Key West, and the Homestead-based 304th Rescue Squadron would pick up anyone who went down at sea. All of the crews were advised to try and stick with their aircraft as long as possible, because if someone went down in Cuba, it was just too dangerous-and the loss of an HH-3 from the 304th near Matanzas bore that out.


1015 Hours: Over the Straits of Florida


The strike package was coming in at low level, at about 450 feet above the water. Heads turned in cockpits, watching for threats, and making sure no one misjudged altitude. Ray watched her EW repeater.

“All clear so far.”

“Copy,” Arwood said. He looked up and saw the F-105s beginning to climb. “Weasels going in.”

The Thuds were going in on their SAM-suppression runs. Each carried two AGM-78 Standard-ARM antiradar missiles and two Shrike antiradar missiles. And as the Cuban and Soviet radars came up, the Weasels went to work to shut them down-or at least keep them occupied while the strike birds did their thing. And sure enough, “Magnum” calls came over the radio.

Then the CO came up. “Switches on. Stand by to pull.” It was time. In the back seats, the WSOs set up the armament switches, and it was read to pull up for the run to the target. Up ahead, the pilots could see the landscape: Cuba dead ahead.

“Ready, Ready, Pull!”

The lead flight pulled up to 5,000 feet and rolled right, and there it was: Mariel. The staging area was clearly visible, with troop tents, parked vehicles, and all the other paraphernalia of a division-sized force passing through. Then the threat receivers lit up, as did the flak batteries.

The CO's plane rolled in on the target, and he unloaded his bombs and shot straight north. Then Ray rolled in. “Cadillac One-two in hot, she called on the radio, then asked Pat , All set?”

“Switches set. We're hot.” Arwood said as she rolled in on the bomb run.

“Roger that. Flak coming up,” Ray called as she lined up on some parked vehicles. “And HACK!” She yelled as she pressed the pickle button and twelve five-hundred pound bombs came off the Phantom. She began to pull up when a shrill tone came over the headset, flak began to bracket the aircraft, then a both crewers felt a thud, and then another one, and the Phantom began to go out of control.

“Fire warning light! Hydraulic warning light! Right engine light!” Arwood shouted from the back seat.

“Eject! Eject! Eject!” Ray called as she grabbed the ejection handle and pulled. The canopy flew off, and she went out, followed by Arwood.

In Three and Four, Driscoll and Weaver, and their WSOs, watched as Ray's Phantom rolled right, trailing fire from the right wing and the right engine. Both canopies flew off, then the two crew members punched out. Horrified, Driscoll called it in. “Cadillac Lead, Cadillac One-three, One-two is down, just north of the target area. Two good chutes.”

“Roger that.” Cramer called. A pit in his stomach began to form. I've done it for people's sons, now I have to tell Kelly's parents their daughter's not coming back.

In her chute, Ray watched as the other planes rolled in on their targets and pulled out. To her horror, she saw another F-4 falling in flames, as well as her plane plunging into the ground, fireballing on impact. She looked around and to the north, about four miles away, was the ocean. If only....she thought. But when the fire and hydraulic warnings came, and she lost control, there was no choice. She looked above and saw Pat's chute coming down, and then she heard shouting. As she came closer to the ground, a crowd of soldiers and civilians was converging on her chute. And Ray knew right away that she would be captured. She took out her survival radio and zeroed the radio frequencies, broke the antenna, then just threw it away. Then she prepared to land as the ground came up at her.

“AAH!” she grunted as she landed and rolled away, just as she'd been taught in SERE school. As she stood up to get out of her chute, Ray saw a number of Cuban civilians and soldiers coming towards her, and then she felt a blow to her back, then tumbled back down. A Cuban had come up behind her and planted his rifle butt between her shoulder blades. Several civilians began kicking and punching her, shouting at her in Spanish, while she was still in her chute, then a shot rang out. A Cuban officer had fired a shot from his service pistol, and the civilians backed off. Two Cuban soldiers came and pulled Ray to her feet, and they got her out of the chute, took off her helmet, and relieved her of her survival gear, and watch-as well as her S&W .38 pistol (which she never really had a chance to use). When her helmet came off, and her hair tumbled out of its bun, there was silence. None of these Cubans had seen a female pilot before, and now one had tumbled out of the sky.

Recovering from their shock, the two soldiers tied her hands behind her back, and they dragged her to the officer. Several more soldiers came, and they marched Ray to a waiting truck. She was blindfolded, and thrown in the back of the truck. A few minutes passed, and some more shouting erupted. The rear flap opened, and another body was thrown into the truck, four soldiers got inside, and the truck drove off.

“Who's that?” a voice came.

“SILENCIO!” a guard shouted, kicking the other body, and then there was silence.

Kelly, under the blindfold, thought it was Pat, but she wasn't sure. The drive seemed like it went forever, but the truck stopped, and the two prisoners were dragged out of the truck. Blindfolds were taken off, and sure enough, it was Pat. The two Americans were taken inside what appeared to be a headquarters, and were sat down inside an office. A Cuban flag, and a 1970s-era portrait of Fidel hung from the wall. Just like SERE, she thought to herself. Then a Cuban officer came in, with two guards with what appeared to be long broom handles. This is not good, she thought.

“Which of you is the pilot?” asked the Cuban.

Pat looked at Kelly. She looked back, and said nothing.

“I will say it again. Who is the pilot?!” the Cuban shouted.

She nodded and looked at the Cuban, who seemed surprised. A female pilot might be a first for him.

The Cuban nodded to a guard, who then dragged Pat outside. “So. You are the pilot. You will tell me what kind of plane you were flying, your target was, what base you were from, squadron, and so forth. You will also tell me what kinds of bombs you were carrying.”

“Ray, Kelly Ann. First Lieutenant, United States Air Force, 599-01-3449, 14 May, 1962...”

SMACK! A flat palm hit her in the face. “That will not do. I will ask you again. What kind of plane were you flying? Your target? Base, squadron,?”

“Under the Geneva Convention...”

SMACK! “The Geneva Convention does not apply here. You will either tell me what I wish, or you can go somewhere else, where there are those whose task it is to make you learn to cooperate. I will say it again. What plane were you flying? Your target?”

Kelly said nothing. Then a blow came to her back, and she fell out of the chair. The guard pulled her up by her tied arms, and sat her back down.

“Obviously, you have a bad attitude,” the Cuban said. He motioned to the guards. They took her by her shoulders and dragged Kelly out of the office, and she shook her head at Pat as they dragged her past him. She was blindfolded again and thrown back into the truck.
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Treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect, but always have a plan to kill them.

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