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Old 12-26-2014, 08:33 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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The next one: and a former POW has memories of captivity....


Memories of Captivity


25 July 2009: Hill AFB
, Utah


Major Kelly Ann Ray had spent a sleepless night in the Visiting Officers' Quarters at Hill. Her unit, the 419th Tactical Fighter Wing, was based there, and she was a pilot in the only Air Force Reserve F-15E Wing. She and four other pilots-including the Wing Commander, along with three WSOs, were veterans of the Third World War, but she was the only ex-POW flying, though another former POW, his flying days over, was a maintenance officer. Major Ray and her WSO, Capt. Jody Tucker, had just returned from Key West, Florida, where a number of Tier I and Tier II suspects, apprehended after the U.S. intervention in Cuba that ended the regime of Fidel Castro, had been brought. She, along with a number of former POWs held in Cuba during the war, had been asked to identify suspects, and though there had been some very bad memories coming to the surface, interrogators, torture guards, and camp commandants had been pointed out to the war-crimes investigators. Afterwards, she and several other ex-POWs, along with some of the investigators, had gone into Key West to blow off steam, and had wound up in a Wet T-Shirt Contest. Now, having flown back to Utah, she was anxious to get back into the rhythm of things, not just in the unit, but in her civilian job as a Sheriff's Deputy in Pocatello, Idaho. But she had some things that she wanted to talk about, and with the only other ex-POW in the 419th not on base, she asked to see her CO. So, after a shower, and noticing that the scars were still there on her back, buttocks, and arms, she shrugged, put on her flight suit and went to breakfast, and then she'd see the CO.

She pulled up in her Olds 442 convertible and parked in front of the 419's Wing HQ. Major Ray noticed her CO's green 1969 Mercury Cougar convertible in his space, so she knew he'd be there. Today wasn't a Reserve day, but she knew the CO hadn't gotten in his required flight time for the month, and he'd come down from Mountain Home AFB, where his wife was the CO of the 366th TFW, to get some flying in. Other than a few others who were also catching up on their flight time, the only ones in the office were the regular AF personnel who kept the wing running when the reservists were off at their civilian jobs. Major Ray went to the CO's office and knocked on the door. “Come on in and show yourself,” was the response.

Colonel Matt Wiser was at his desk, wrapping up his own battle-this one with the Air Force bureaucracy. He looked up as Major Ray came in. Colonel Wiser was a triple ace in F-4s during the war, even though his squadron had spent most of its time on air-to-ground tasking. He had just finished a morning low-level navigation flight, and that had taken care of the flight time for him and his WSO, so he had no more duties for the day. “Major.” he said. “How was Key West? You were a little...guarded when you got in last night.”

She sketched a salute and sat down. “It was, well, okay, Colonel.”

“I can tell when something is bothering you, Major. Want to talk about it?” He asked.

“Yeah. I'd like to talk about it. A lot of old memories came back those two days, Colonel,” Ray said. “I saw some friends I haven't seen in a while, but we all saw some people that, to be honest, we all wish were going to die-slowly.”

Colonel Wiser nodded. “Okay. And this isn't going to be CO to subordinate. Think of it as two fighter pilots having a talk. And if you don't want to talk about a particular event, say so. It's your talk, not mine.”

“Thanks, Colonel.” Major Ray replied.

Colonel Wiser got up and opened the office door. He noticed Capt. Troy McCord, who was one of the active-duty officers who kept the wing going. McCord saw his CO and came over. “What's up, Sir?”

“Unless the Wing's getting activated, or it's the base commander on the phone, Major Ray and I are not to be disturbed, Captain. Understood?”

McCord had signed out Major Ray two days previously. It was unusual for her to fly her F-15E on something like this, but her orders said “Fastest Available Transportation,” and Colonel Wiser had authorized taking her Strike Eagle-and her WSO. “Key West, Colonel?”

“Right you are. She needs to get something or a lot of somethings-off her chest. And fast, because those Hollywood types will be here starting tomorrow for their orientation rides. And I want her to do some of that,” Wiser said. “But for now, we're not to be disturbed.”

“Yes, sir.”

Colonel Wiser went back into the office. He looked at his bookshelf: tucked in amongst the various histories of the war, was Major Ray's POW: Four Years in Cuba. She had written the book a few years previously, before joining the 419th, and it had become a best-seller on the Los Angeles Times' nonfiction list. Now, a movie company was going to make a movie based on the book, and Major Ray was going to be on Temporary Active Duty to act as the Air Force Technical Advisor. He pulled the book off the shelf. “Something not in the book, Kelly? Did you leave something out, or is everything there?”

“It's almost all there, Colonel. I guess you can say the first somebody I saw at Key West was the Chief Interrogator at Havana's Ministry of Defense. That's where they had their main interrogation center.” Seeing her CO nod, she went on. “He was the same guy a number of POWs in Hanoi called 'Fidel.'”

“That sumbitch? Kelly, if you want to kill him yourself, you're going to have to get in line.” Colonel Wiser pointed out. “A lot of folks want him dead.”

“Colonel, I know.” She replied. “But he...it's in the book, but..I'm sitting in a chair, my hands and feet tied to the chair, and he comes in and brags about what he did in Hanoi, and that he's....enjoyed, several female POWs from Gitmo. Spent a week....in the ropes, hanging by my heels or tied arms, riding the horse, or being beaten. And that bastard....” Her voice trailed off, recalling the “special torture” that Fidel-and his counterparts at the POW prisons-enjoyed.

“I know. You say it in the book. He raped you.” Colonel Wiser said. “But that's not all. Your backseater was in another room. And he never made it out of there.”

“Yeah, Colonel. But damn it! I was the pilot, and responsible for my crewman!” Major Ray said, her voice filled with anger.

“Never had that happen, I'm afraid. Tony Carpenter and I both made it out when we went skydiving, and we both made it on the E&E. But you're not the first pilot to lose a crewmate, and you won't be the last.”

“Colonel, I know. But that doesn't change the way I feel.” She told her CO.

“Anyone else from there?” He asked.

“One other-they told us she was dead; Marines went to her home outside Havana, and she went down fighting. Some '60s activist who escaped to Cuba in the late '70s to flee a murder rap for killing a cop,” Replied the Major.

“Why her? She take part when things got.....physical, for want of a better word?” Asked Colonel Wiser.

“More than that, Colonel. I didn't put it in the book-that's the only thing I left out. Do the words 'lesbian rape' come to mind?”

Her CO's jaw dropped. This was something she hadn't told him, though a few times, she'd talked about her experience in Cuba to members of the Wing. “My God, Kelly..” his voice trailed off. “That alone is enough to put the rope around that bitch's neck. She's dead, you say?”

“Yeah. Some Marines went to her villa to pick her up, and she opened up on them with an AK-47. They returned fire, and two Marines shot her full of holes. So she paid, though not the way I'd prefer. I wanted to see her on the gallows, but I'm not complaining,” Major Ray told her CO, who was still surprised. He'd heard similar stories about members of the ALA's Political Security Department doing the same thing, but that was all second-hand. Hearing it from someone who he knew and worked with routinely, that was different.

He shrugged. “Well, those Marines saved the Feds a ton of work. And saved you having to testify.”

“There is that, Colonel,” Major Ray said. “Then it was several of the guards from Camp 5 at Mariel.”

“The one the two Open Water escapees made it out from?”

“The same. They didn't say in the book about that escape, but I was supposed to go with them.”

“How come? Weren't you still relatively OK, physically?” He asked.

“Yeah, but I sprained my ankle on a work detail-cutting sugarcane, and I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up once we got over the wall. So I covered for them,” Major Ray said.

“So they either picked you because you knew them, or what, and got another going-over. Not good, Major.” He said as he went over to his office fridge. “Something to drink? You might need it.”

“No thanks, I'm good, Colonel. But yeah, I went through the wringer. Again. Then they sent me to the Isle of Pines-a maximum-security lockup, where the hardcases were sent. Two years in solitary, hardly any news of the war, plenty of abuse, you name it, they did it.” She recalled with a shudder, remembering the days and nights spent in the interrogation rooms, as her tormentors pressured her for information on the escape, whether they had outside help, who else was involved, and so on. Only when she felt the information was out of date did she give anything.....and when her pain threshold had been reached.

Colonel Wiser nodded. He'd read the book. It was now required reading at the Air Force Academy, as well as seniors taking AFROTC. “Anyone from there you had to ID?” He asked.

“Four.” She replied. “And yes, Colonel, all four of them were animals. They enjoyed their jobs, and went out of their way to beat up on a prisoner if they were in the mood.” She replied. “And after what they did to me, taking turns, I want them all to die-slowly.”

Her CO nodded again. From the book, he knew what those four had done when she'd been caught communicating with another cell block. The thought of his wife, who knew a great deal-as did he-as a Wing Commander, going through such an ordeal made him shudder-as well as angry. But if his wife didn't want to kill those responsible, he would want to do so himself.

“And Holguin?” He asked. Major Ray had been sent there after her time on the Isle of Pines.

“Just a couple that I had....time with, that's all.” She responded. “The ones who 'punished' me for flashing hand signals from our room-I was in a cell with three others-a Navy officer from Gitmo, a female Marine-supply officer I remember-also from Gitmo-and a female Marine A-6 pilot, who was shot down a year after I was.”

“They hammered all four of you, right?” Colonel Wiser asked.

“You could say that, sir.” Major Ray said. “The hole...”

“Not like it is in someplace like Folsom or San Quentin, right?”

“Yeah. They dug a hole in the yard, lined it with concrete, put a metal roof on top, and after they tortured you, throw you in for a few days-or longer.” Said the Major, shuddering at the hot days and sticky nights-several of them-spent in that tiny hellhole, before being taken back to her cell-and finding out her cell mates had gone through the same experience.

“Sad to say, Major, I've seen something like that. D/FW Airport, after it was retaken. The KGB used the airport security office as an Interrogation and Execution Center, and they had a hole just like that.” Colonel Wiser recalled. “The only difference is, you survived. Anyone at that location didn't.”

“Colonel, those bastards aren't the ones I really want. It's Fidel and his brother Raoul. They gave the orders. Those two either ordered this, or they didn't, but condoned it anyway. The responsibility's theirs.” Major Ray reminded her CO.

“You get no argument from me on that, Major.” Said Colonel Wiser. “Fidel's probably at the bottom of the Caribbean, but we've got Raoul.”

“Yes, sir. That we do. They've already told me I'll be a witness at Raoul's trial-which is about a year away.”

Colonel Wiser shook his head. He'd heard about a captured document on CNN. It had Raoul's signature, and it stated that “Reprisals cannot be harsh enough.” That was enough right there to put a rope around Raoul's neck, the legal talking heads were saying. “And homecoming?”

Major Ray smiled. “That was anticlimactic, Colonel. We didn't know it was over, and thought there was some kind of bombing halt. What'd they do? Just loaded us on buses with the windows covered, took us to Holguin Air Base, and there was an unmarked Airbus. The Cubans still had the AKs, and they told us to get aboard.”

“You all thought you were being sent to Russia, right?”

“Oh yeah, that's what we thought. But when we got aboard, there's these Costa Rican diplomats, and some tough-looking guys in Colombian uniforms, with MP-5s. They told us the war was over, and we were going home.” Major Ray remembered.

“And you guys thought it was a setup, and you were on your way to Moscow.”

“Um-hmm. Only when we landed after two hours, and it's San Jose, Costa Rica, with a pair of C-141s sitting there, with the American flag on the tail. And guys in our uniforms waiting for us.” Major Ray recalled, with the emotion coming to her voice. “That's when we really knew it was over.”

“Did they tell you about your WSO?” Colonel Wiser asked.

“Yeah. But all they said was 'Died in captivity of illness.' My ass, 'illness.” She said, the anger coming back. “He was tortured to death.”

Colonel Wiser nodded. “His body was found in some warehouse after Havana was secured, right? At least that's what the news said about finding POW remains.”

“Yeah. The Air Force still hasn't made all the arrangements, and even though there's a tag on the coffin, they have to ID him to make it official. In a month, they said, that's when the funeral is in Butte.”

“If you want, Major, We'll provide the Missing Man. Not those Albino Eagles in the Montana Guard.” Colonel Wiser told her. “And Colonel Eichhorn will handle things on the ground. I'll make those arrangements, and I have some folks who owe me favors. I'll cash in on a couple.”

“Thanks, Colonel.” Major Ray said. “You know the rest: getting out of the Air Force after a few years because of the bad memories, moving to Idaho, then finding out I missed flying, so I came to the 419th.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. What now?” She asked her CO.

“The best revenge is to live well. Kill those demons by being the best fighter pilot you can. And you've got a score to settle with that East Coast F-22 jockey-along with Kara. Both of you have something to prove to that guy, even if he is a one-star.”

Major Ray smiled. “Oh, you bet I want another crack at him. Those Raptor jocks think they're gods when it comes to flying. And they need to be cut down to size.”

“That's the Kelly Ann I know.” Colonel Wiser said, his voice showing his pride. “There's something else.”

“And that is?” Major Ray wanted to know.

“Those Hollywood types are coming, starting tomorrow, for their orientation rides. Meg Ryan's coming, as she's up for the role of you in the Showtime movie. They asked for you to fly her in your backseat.”

“I'll give her an A-Ticket ride, Colonel.” Major Ray said.

“Good, and there's going to be some more in a few days. I'm taking Mark Wahlberg up in a couple of days, and Kara-whose squadron didn't go to the exercise, is taking Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron out of Mountain Home. There's a few others, but not until next week.” Colonel Wiser said.

Major Ray nodded. “Guess I'll have that drink now, Colonel. What was it?”

“Iced tea.”

She laughed. But after all, they were on duty. Then there was a knock at the door. Colonel Wiser scowled. “I thought I gave orders not to be disturbed. This had better be good.” Then he yelled “Come in! And this had better be good!”

The door opened and in came Captain McCord with his laptop. “Sir, I know you didn't want to be bothered, but there's something you and the Major need to see.”

Both looked at each other. “What is it, Captain?” The Colonel asked.

“Sir, you know things in Key West can get wild on most nights...”

“Out with it, Captain!” Colonel Wiser said.

Captain McCord put his laptop on the Colonel's desk and showed him. It was Youtube. A video of a Wet T-Shirt contest at a Key West watering hole was playing. Colonel Wiser recognized some of those involved. The two Open Water escapees, a few other ex-POWs, and then he saw it. Major Ray. He turned to her. “What the hell? Major! Want to explain this?”

She got up and had a look for herself. “Sir, after ID'ing those bastards, a couple of the investigators gave us a Hummer and a piece of advice: 'Blow off some steam.' How'd I know there was somebody there with a camcorder?”

Colonel Wiser looked at the screen again. Major Ray and one of the other former POWs had an investigator sandwiched right between them. And all three were smiling. “Oh, boy.” Then the phone rang. It was one of the NCOs. “Wiser.”

“Sir, OSI's on the line.”

He looked at Major Ray and sighed. “Okay, put'em through.”

“This is Colonel Wiser.”

“Sir, this is Special Agent Paul Hutchinson with OSI at Key West. I take it you've seen the Youtube video that's going around like wildfire?”

He looked at Major Ray, who did not seem pleased in the slightest. “Yes, Agent Hutchinson, I have.”

“Colonel, OSI is not, repeat, not, opening an investigation into this matter. The war-crimes people have told us not to get involved. They said the ex-POWs needed to blow off steam, and they did so. Unless you insist on a probe, we consider the matter closed.” Agent Hutchinson said.

“Thank you, Agent Hutchinson. I'll handle the issue internally.” Colonel Wiser told the OSI agent.

“You do have that prerogative, Sir. If there's nothing else?”

“That's all. Have a good day.” With that, Colonel Wiser hung up the phone. “Well, Major?”

“Sir, like I said, I have no idea who had the camcorder.”

“Probably the bar owner or one of the bartenders.” Colonel Wiser said. “Did you uphold the honor of the Air Force?”

“Yes, sir. I did. I won the first two rounds I was in, but lost to another POW. But she, too, was Air Force.” Major Ray told her CO.

“At least it was an Air Force woman who won,” Capt. McCord said, and he drew two scowls from both of his superior officers. “What'd I say, Colonel?”

Colonel Wiser looked at Major Ray. “I believe Major Ray should have the final word.”

“Thank you, Colonel. Captain, I don't like to lose. Not in flying, nor in anything else.”
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