The Last Checklist Item

By Red Face' Broussard

This is not exactly a flying story, but it is about F-86 pilots. It is about an incident which some might consider distasteful. For their sake, the author has endeavored to relate it in language appropriate to this august publication. If by chance the reader finds the story inappropriate, and would like to lodge a complaint, please be advised that the author's name, Red Face Broussard, is a "nom de plume", but a fitting one for a Cajun boy from a little town in South Louisiana whose ancestors were really named Broussard.

K-13 Air Base, Suwon, Korea, Spring 1951: It does not take an experienced fighter pilot to understand the importance of not suffering gastrointestinal pains or full bladder agony while piloting a single seat fighter on a combat mission. In case the latter occurs, there is always a recourse to the "relief tube", but using this instrument while in a fight is, for all practical purposes, impossible. But for the former, which is always exacerbated by the lowered air pressure of high altitude flying, there is no clean cut option.

In the Air Force of 1999, aircrews are provided high protein, "low residue" meals prior to a mission. But in Korea of 1951, the standard menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of Spam, reconstituted powdered potatoes, powdered eggs, powdered milk, and possibly a canned entree from a K-ration. Gastrointestinal distress was predictable following such a repast. For this reason, one of the last items on a fighter pilot's personal checklist before a mission was a visit to a "facility" (a.k.a., latrine, head, outhouse, chicksales, privy, etc.).

Being a child of the depression, and having spent several years living in a house with no modern plumbing, I was no stranger to such a facility. My memories of cold winters and hot summers in south Louisiana always included trips to the facility. By 1951, the state of the art in facility design and construction had not advanced one iota as far as I could tell when I viewed the facility near our squadron tent area at K-13. It was a three hole design within a small wooden structure. (Since the term "hole" may upset some readers, I shall henceforth use the term "position" as a synonym.) The facility was always smelly (to the extreme), dark, hot in summer, cold in winter, and inhabited by hundreds of flies. Yet there was no alternative when one sought relief.

I should add at this time that whoever designed the flying suit never conducted field tests in a facility. To this day, the fundamental problem is that there is no "trap door" such as is found in many styles of "long john" underwear. The result is that in order to use the facility, the wearer must virtually disrobe, and secure the flying suit somewhere around his knees to prevent it from contacting the filthy floor. Not an easy task at any time, but made significantly more difficult just before a mission, when the pockets of the flying suit are loaded with a wide variety of emergency items, such as spare ammunition, matches, knife, flashlight, rations, survival radio, etc.. (This was before the invention of the survival vest.)

So it was that I found myself, a second lieutenant with a handful of missions and a greasy breakfast under my belt, and with a few minutes between the end of the briefing and "start engines" time for an F-86 mission to the Yalu River. Time for the last item on my personal checklist. An onerous job, but essential to my comfort on the mission I was about to fly.

As I approached the facility, I could detect the unmistakable odor, and dreaded the gymnastics I was about to perform. Opening the door, I peered into the darkness, and the light from the open door revealed two pilots with their flying suits secured around their knees, also accomplishing the last checklist item. One of them occupied position number 1, and the other had position number 3. I recognized them immediately. Number 1 was the group commander, a full colonel with 24 kills in World War II (he would get 2 more in Korea), and number 3 was the deputy group commander, a lieutenant colonel with 18.5 kills in WWII, 2 in Korea. I was in awe of these two gentlemen, who I now observed under rather indelicate circumstances, and I considered whether or not I should salute them. Thinking it would be presumptuous of me to occupy position number 2 while they were on either side of me, I began to close the door and back away, saying, "Oh, excuse me!" They shouted, "Come on in here, you don't have much time before start engines." So I did. And I suddenly found myself with no feeling of urgency (if you catch my drift), but I took my place in position 2. In short order, the two aces completed their checklist and departed. My urgency returned, and I, too finished my checklist.

It was about as close to these two famous men as I ever got, and years later when the colonel was wearing four stars and had become the USAF Vice Chief of Staff, I sometimes recalled the accommodations we had once shared. It was a rite of passage, I guess, and I never again had a problem with the last checklist item.

(Editor's note: In reality, Red Face Broussard is our associate editor, Lon Walter - a genuine Cajun. Sorry, no photos available.)

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

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