Yesterday, 29 October 2010, when I was scanning film, I answered my phone. I heard an unfamilar voice tell me that she was an ex-wife for USAF fighter pilot Major Jimmy Boyd who she had recently learned died and she wanted to buy a picture of her ex-husband for her son by Major Boyd, as a Christmas present, and the picture she wanted to buy was Cloud 9 Product No. ACM 00009, which shows Jimmy standing by his Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet fighter.
Well, I had a most pleasant, fairly long conversation with this lady, and this stimulus from her started my mind to race and to dwell on this gallery, which is one of my absolute favorites on my Cloud 9 Internet site. Last night, I did not sleep very well. My mind was active. Instead of sleeping, I rested, thinking about U.S. military air crew I have known and how much I appreciate and admire them from afar, and, how, instead of going to Pt. Reyes to photograph Thule Elk I would finally do what I have long planned to do, namely, post some captions to some of my pictures of air crew I have known over the years, to try to help make them more relevant to the general public, to share insights about them, and to try to sensitize folks as to how important and valuable these people are.
THOUGHTS ABOUT LT COL JOHN PETERSON [Now a retired U.S.A.F. and Air National Guard interceptor and fighter pilot.]
1. It is no accident that this picture of this pilot, Lt Col John Peterson, is ACM 00001 in this gallery. This is because this picture is one of my all time favorites and because I non-romantically and non-sexually truly adore, "love", admire, respect, value, and treasure this man, who I am proud to call "friend".
2. It is impossible for me to be objective about this picture because it depicts John, who I have referred to for years as "Col Pete", which is a term of endearment for me.
3. I took this picture at George AFB, in Southern California, one evening, when John was the Alert Detachment Commander for the California ANG based at Fresno, California. As the Alert Detachment Commander for the CA ANG at George AFB, Col Pete was the senior officer, on scene, ultimately responsible for making certain that the CA ANG maintained at least two loaded, armed, jet fighters that could respond on a moment's notice, 24/7, to provide anti-bomber defense for all of Southern California and "air sovereignty" patrols and interdictions, e.g., to check on suspicious aircraft that would pop up on radar and take appropriate action. As such, while it was unlikely during John's tenure as this Alert Detachment Commander that an enemy bomber would try to drop a nuclear bomb, or any kind of a bomb, on Los Angeles, Long Beach, or San Diego, John was one of a relatively small group of airmen tasked with primary responsibility to defend those cities, cities with millions of Americans dependent on them for their very lives. If and when a determined enemy is trying to destroy an American city with a nuclear weapon, that is literally the time for "NO SLACK", no screw ups, no on the job training. At that time, and long before, one needs well trained, highly competent, dedicated, duty conscious, well coordinated, people who can get the job done, 24/7, regardless of the weather and regardless of the lighting or the absence of light, including foul weather at night on a moonless night.
4. One reason I love this picture is that it shows John sitting in the cockpit of his F-16, wearing his flight jacket, with his jet inside an alert hangar, with its nose pointing out, facing the darkness, showing cockpit instruments, and one very small red light out in that wide expanse of solid black, but for that one lone red light out on the field. To put it another way, Lt Col John Peterson knew how to take off in that black night, how to navigate to find a target at night, how to destroy it, and how to return to base, all at night, without killing himself or breaking his plane in the process. And he could do that after being awaken from a dead sleep and manning up his jet and be gone in about 10-15 minutes. I just have to value that skill set. For me, competency has a beauty all its own.
5. Another reason I love this picture is that the original is pin prick sharp, and that is no bull. The original just vibrates and resonantes with lush, rich detail, screaming, "Hey, make me into a big, big, big print. I can blow up big without falling apart and still look great. In fact, I will look better the bigger you make me. Make me so big you can see the pores in John's skin!"
6. I forget when I first met this wonderful "Col Pete". I think it was sometime in the late 1980s. I do remember well, however, the exact circumstances. I was inside an operations room lobby at the California Air National Guard in Fresno, California, photographing their McDonnell Douglas F-4 II Phantom jet fighters. For some reason, I ended up in that lobby. Perhaps my escort had to use the restroom. I just don't remember precisely why I was there. I would prefer to be on the flight line taking pictures. Regardless, when I first saw Col Pete he was wearing a flight suit, holding his helmet, and he asked this question, "What's going on?" He and I were strangers at that time. When I heard that question I turned to look at him. I noticed his rank, Lt Col, which is fairly impressive, and he had deep helmet and oxygen face mask indentations in his skin, indicating that he was one of the air crew that had just taxied in that I had just photographed. I have always liked John's face. In fact, to me, he is handsome. But, with those deep indentations in his skin, even though he asked that question in a nice manner, for some reason, he some what spooked me. Since I did not know him, I feared he might be difficult and he might create a fuss that would terminate the picture taking. To my relief, once I gave him an honest, non-evasive answer to his question, everything turned out great. Little did I know at that time but that chance meeting would turn into an enduring, growing, friendship that I value highly. After that meeting, John was often instrumental in helping me get excellent pictures of the California ANG at Fresno. In fact, he personally provided me with photo escort services and he made night time and day time picture taking of the alert F-16s a reality, which is a fairly rare event for a civilian like me.
7. John's U.S. military flying career, after initial training, went like this: First, he was a U.S. Air Force Convair F-102 fighter-interceptor pilot in Western Europe during the height of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union; second, he was then a California ANG F-102 pilot at Fresno, California; third, he was then a Convair F-106 pilot with the Guard at Fresno; fourth, he was then a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II pilot with the Guard at Fresno; and, finally, he ended his military flying career as a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter pilot with the Guard at Fresno.
8. For his entire career, he flew fighter-interceptors or fighters, and three of the four types [F-102, F-106, and F-16] were single engine jet fighters. Every time he stepped out to his jet, climbed up the ladder, and strapped himself into the plane, he was strapping onto his back a powerful, potentially, deadly instrument of war . . . and of defense, and he gambled his life on the maintenance provided by his ground support personnel and how well the manufactueres designed and built the engine(s) and the airframe he flew. And he did this, at night, in foul weather, and long distances over the ocean, including at night and in foul weather. And he lived long enough to earn and to enjoy his retirement. To put it another way, he proved he was competent, to his credit.
9. Some of the reasons I treasure this man are:
A) he is not toxic. By that, I means this: he is very mature and very reasonable and kind and considerate and thoughtful and supportive and friendly. As far as I know, he is not addictive to anything bad. He is a true pleasure to be around;
B) he is a genuinely loving, responsible, husband and father. He and his wife raised two adult sons to be proud of--one an engineer and the other a CPA;
C) he is a very good photographer. When he was a F-102 pilot in Europe he won a photography contest;
D) he is a devout Christian who is 100% devoid of any of the characteristics that some Christians manifest that tend to alienate some people. By that I mean this: when you get to know him well, you know this: his belief that Jesus was and is the son of God is 100% sincere and he just quietly lives his live in conformity with the teachings of the Bible without flaunting his beliefs and without trying to convert anyone to his beliefs and, when he is engaged in conversation as to why he beleives what he believes, he supports his beliefs intelligently. I love discussing those kinds of subjects with him;
E) I also love asking him "pilot type questions" because he gives thoughtful, insightful answers that just have the ring of truth, that telegraphs this quiet man knows what he is talking about. For example, I once asked him about chaff, which is a huge amount of thin, light weight, strips of aluminum foil that the pilot of one plane will dump into the air to create a lot of false radar returns to confuse the pilot of another plane, to help the first pilot escape. If my memory is correct, John told me this: Chaff is a problem but, with training, a skilled pilot can cope with it and figure out which radar return is the real plane and which radar returns are only chaff. When I asked him how, his answer made me feel somewhat stupid, even though I know that was not his intent. For example, he said for one thing, the chaff does not move and when you see one return scooting along at about 500 MPH or faster, that one is probably the plane that dumped the chaff! Duh! Well, of course John is right, but I never had the smarts to think that far ahead and figure out that that had to be the case. I was absolutely delighted when John added this big bonus insight. He said something like this: It was safe to fly into ordinary chaff, meaning, Western Free World chaff, which would be only then small strips of aluminum foil. He said a jet engine could fly through that and still operate with no problems. However, he said the Soviets had a really nasty kind of chaff, namely, the regular kind with a snarly twist, namely, a then piece of copper rod down the middle of each piece of chaff and, if a jet flew into Soviet chaff, the heat from the jet's engine would melt that copper and that copper would very quickly foul up a jet engine and cause it to malfunction of flame out.
F) I once asked John about night flying. He said that in many ways night flying is much easier than daylight flying, which surprised me. In fact, I was stunned or shocked by his answer. When I asked why that was the case he told me that at night there is a lot less to see; thus, there is a lot less distractions, and, once one learns to trust his instruments and flys with fidelity to what his instruments display, night flying is relatively easy. He also told me that when he was in the California ANG, since he had a full time job as a school teacher, he often, for years, flew night missions, after working as an elementary school teacher, and, as such, he got to be very, very good at night flying. [Diggression: I once asked his wife to what extent she worried about him when he flew, especially at night, and his wife told me that even though she beleived her husband was a very competent pilot, she always worried and never relaxed about it until he showed up at home, which is understandable.]
G) I once asked John about the desireability of having a very tight turning fighter. In my ignorance, I presumed he would agree that, as a generalization, it is highly desireable to have a very tight turning fighter because the ability to turn tight, tighter than the enemy, is a major advantage. He agreed--readily--with that broad statement, but, he then added, as a bonus, something insightful that I did not know that I, lacking a true first rate intellect, would never have figured out in 10,000 years if left to my own devices. To this day, I find what follows, what he told me, to be fascinating. He told me it is true that some U.S. fighters cannot turn as well as some enemy fighters, but, the inability to out turn an enemy is, in some situations, not that bad, if you know how to cope well with that limitation. John then went on to say this: If you are behind an enemy that can out turn you, you are a fool if you persist with trying to do the impossible, namely, continue to turn with him because it will not be long before he will out turn you and end up in a "kill position", namely, within parameters, behind you, to kill you. So, in that situation, an excellent workable solution is to do this [and I think this is either brilliant or flirts with being brilliant]: abort the turning drill; pull up; keep your eye on the tight turning enemy ahead of you and pull up; gain altitude, while keeping your eye on the enemy; let him think you are still behind him and he is gaining an advantage over you because he can out turn you . . . but don't remain back there, behind him; instead, pull up and then, with your eye on the enemy, pitch over your nose, from above and behind him, and, if you did it right, you should be in the advantageous kill position, if only briefly, but brief, if done right, is long enough. Brilliant. Just brilliant, in my humble, little ole, lay person opinion.
H) When I asked John what does a fighter pilot do when he is IN FRONT OF an enemy pilot who can out turn him? Does that same technique for coping with an enemy pilot who can out turn you when you are BEHIND the pilot work? John said [paraphrase], "No. If you are in front of a pilot who can out turn you it might be suicidal to pull up in front of him and then pitch over to try to go after him. John explained his reasoning this way: First, if you are in front and if you pull up it is hard to maintain eye contact with an enemy behind you and second, as a generalization, a plane that can out turn another plane is often slower than the plane it can out turn, and, if you are in front of a plane that you can not out turn it is prudent to use your speed advantage, if any, to simply escape, to put maximumm distance between you and the enemy ASAP, and forget about trying to out turn the guy; just get away and return when you can set up the enagement to your advantage.
I) I once asked John if he ever had to eject and what it was like to do so. He told me he never did eject but once, when he was flying a F-102 in Europe, after taking off, and climbing to altitude, he had an engine flame out. He said he radioed back to his base to tell them he had a flame out and he was instructed or ordered to eject. However, John said he did not eject because he thought he could use his altitude, energy, and skill level to save the plane, save taxpayer's millions of dollars and eliminate the risk of harm to himself by ejecting if he made a dead stick [no power] landing, which, to his credit, he did. He then told me that, given that demonstration of his skill, he was nominated for a fairly signficant medal, but he never got the medal because a U.S. Air Force superior told him that since his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force was soon up and he elected to not re-enlist, this superior said the decision was made to deny him the medal . . . for that reason! John and his wife made it clear to me that at some level that decision--to deny him the medal, apparently, still somewhat gnaws at John, even though John defintely does not come across to me as a glory hound or a medal hunting type pilot.
10. I once asked John if he ever wanted to be an airline pilot. His answer: No! Boring. Not his kind of flying. Too many hours away from his home and family.
11. I once asked John if he ever wanted to be a military cargo plane pilot or a bomber pilot or an attack [air to mud] pilot. His answer: Cargo pilot--absolutely not. Bomber pilot--no. Air to mud pilot-No!
12. When I asked him why he liked the air-to-air, anti-bomber, jet fighter against jet fighter, type mission, his answer: It was a form of hunting, a challenge, and he loved being in the hunt, and he loved being his own man, flying his own jet, going up against another pilot.
13. When I asked John that, since he is a devout Christian, and one of the ten commandants commands "Thou shall not kill.," does he have any qualms about being a fighter pilot or any problems reconciling that command with being what amounts to a professional aerial assassin. His answer, briefly, "No!"
14. When I asked him if he had this choice, which choice would he make: Option No. 1: He goes through his entire military flying career, survives with all of his body parts, 100% injury free, lives to enjoy his retirement, but he was never committed to combat and never had a chance to test his skills against an enemy, but also never had to risk being killed or injured in combat or being captured, tortured, and imprisoned by the enemy, or, Option No. 2: Before he retired, he was forward deployed and was committed to combat and he had to put his butt and his mortal life on the line against a skilled enemy and risk everything--death in combat, serious injury(ies), shot down, capture, torture, imprisionment, and possibly death at the hands of the enemy. His answer: When he was on flyig status, if he was given the chance to re-enlist for a few more years with the risk of being sent into combat, he would have re-enlisted. I believe him.
15. Speaking of believing John Peterson, I tend to find it hard to trust most people because far too many people have proven to me that they are not trustworthy. John Peterson, however, is one of the few people I know who I would trust with my car keys, with the keys to my house, with my car out of my sight for long periods, with a loaded gun, with my camera gear, with the passbook to my savings account, with a huge amount of cash outside of my sight. I would even be comfortable nonimanting him to be the Guardian of my Person and/or the Guardian of my Estate.
16. One of John's crew chiefs told me that John, as a commanding officer, is "firm but fair" and he is not the kind of man to cross or to disobey, because there will be consequences.
17. I love to spend free time with this man, especially sharing a strong common interest with him, such as taking pictures together. Even though John is a retired fighter pilot, he has virtually no desire to photograph airplanes of any kind. He does, however, love to photograph wildlife. Apparently, this is because he loves and respects the animals and their beauty and their uniqueness and he loves "the hunt" to go looking for and finding them. Once, he and I joined up to photograph California Brown Pelicans. I enjoyed listening to him smiling and alerting me to "incoming" and "departing" birds, modified pilot lingo.
18. Something else that I find to be very interesting about American anti-bomber pilots follows. Early in his career, John was part of ADC, Air Defense Command, which was a major command in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War. As an ADC pilot, John's major job was to keep enemy bombers out of the sky over North America. John confirmed that ADC instructed its pilots as follows: If, after you fire all of your weapons at an enemy bomber, if you did not blow him out of the sky, it is your duty to, guess what?, RAM THE SUCKER! In this limited sense, ADC pilots were committed to function, if necessary, as a form of "American kamikaze" pilots, only against enemy airplanes, not enemy ships. I think one has to admire a U.S. military pilot who would sacrifice his life to save millions living in an American city.
19. It has been my excellent good fortune to be an over night guest in the Peterson home. Once, during a visit, when his family was there, I told John, in front of his family, I just wanted to tell him something important because I wanted to tell it to him when he was alive, so he could hear it, and, if I out lived him, saying what I wanted to say at his grave site after he died would be too late. Thus, I simply but sincerely told him how much I like, admire, respect, value, cherish, treasure, adore, and "love" him and appreciate him for all of the kindeness and help he has been over the years vis-a-vis me. His response was somewhat, "Aw schucks, Peter. Thank you. I never thought of it that way but you have a point: perhaps we should be candid with each other and expres deep feelings like that while our friends are still alive and not put it off until they die." I agree, 100%, which is why I complimented him, gushing with well deserved praise, before his family.
20. Some more insight into this man: During my overnight visits at his home, I saw and heard the following: A) as a school teacher and as the principal of a private Christian school, he genuinely worried about and cared about his students and their welfare and character development, etc., which I admire and respect; B) there has never been any tension among family members in his home, not the slightest trace of tension. His home is probably a rarity in the U.S.: it is warm, full of love and compassion and kindess and reasonableness. He "walks the talk" as a Christian. He is exceedingly reasonably well constituted. His home is one of the extreme few in my life's experiences that captures in reality the atmosphere displayed on TV family shows such as "Leave It To Beaver" or "The Donna Reed Show" or "Ozzie and Harriet," and, by that, I mean, genuinely loving families; and C) John, about 18 months ago, told me that his former Guard unit sent him a letter telling him that the U.S. Air Force is looking for retired pilots with his background who are willing to come back into the service and be re-trained as UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] drone pilots, to fly those things from the U.S. over Iraq and Afghanistan, and the USAF would even wave age requirements for a pilot with his background. When John told me that a relative told him, "Jooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnyyyyyy, . . . . I would looooovvvveee for you to be making Lt Col pay again!" John, however, said, no, he had absolutely no desire to become a UAV pilot.
21. So, to summarize, what can one gleem from this? Say about this man, Lt Col John Peterson? Perhaps one of the highest compliments I can pay him is this: When he dies, and when his soul or spirt reports to God or God's agent for a key decision--Heaven or Hell, if Lt Col John Peterson dared to ask God to make his decision based on Justice instead of Mercy, I bet the odds are extremely high that per that test God would still let this man into Heaven . . . and darn few of us would be prudent if we asked God for Justice instead of Mercy, when the choice is Heaven or Hell. Also, this man has been, as far as I can tell, successful in every major role he has assumed: husband, father, fighter pilot, military officer, commanding officer, leader, teacher, school principal, and friend.
22. I hope John's former students read my tribute to him. I hope my candid remarks about John help them to appreciate him as a former teacher and as a role model. I bet if the entire truth were known, John, behind the scenes, functioned in their lives as an unsung hero.
23. In closing, I just thought of one more thing of importance, at least to me. Question: Is there anything bad about this man? Answer: Lt Col John Peterson is one of the few people I have known for decades who I can truthfully say this about: There is absolutely nothing bad about this man that is true that I know about--NOTHING!
24. Also, as to integrity, honesty, and personal character, even with my bull fecal matter detectors set to high, I have never come close to detecting anything uttered by him that suggested anything he said is, or might not be, true. He has never said anything that made the needle on that detector flinch.