Bermuda – 800 miles off the coast of the United States.

It was the mid-80s, the height of the Cold War. I was on a two-week active duty flying ASW (antisubmarine warfare for my non-military friends) missions out of Bermuda with VP-94. Our missions were generally ten to twelve hours not including a three-hour preflight and a two-hour post-flight/debrief. A typical mission left everlasting memories of the events of that night.

Our crew had great success in finding enemy submarines, localizing them, tracking them, and making simulated attacks against them. The bomb bay was always loaded for the maximum number of torpedoes with all the racks cocked as if real torpedoes had been loaded. Train as you would for real life!

The briefings were at the ASWOC – ASW Operations Center. We were briefed on what was going on in our operations area (Bermuda and the Atlantic Ocean defined as their area of responsibility) and, specifically what they wanted us to do on the mission we would be flying in a couple of hours.

We could be scheduled to take off at 2 o’clock in the morning as easily as 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We did not know until we checked the daily flight schedule. Sometimes, we would return to Bermuda. Other times, we would land at another base. It all depended on the needs of the Navy at that time.

Over the course of the first week, we got to know the briefers and debriefers. A suggestion was made to a couple of the debriefers to fly with us on a mission to see how our data was obtained and processed. Maybe this suggestion was made by me, but my memory is not as good as it used to be, but I think I did.

Lo and behold, our next mission had four young female ensigns show up at our brief to take us up on the invitation to fly and observe an ASW mission. All had managed to get permission from their Command to fly with us. Since they debriefed our flights, it was not a problem with security clearances.

I had double-checked the day before with our Skipper to ensure we were OK taking other military personnel on classified missions. My point of contact told me that she and possibly three others might be joining us on our next flight. I had also arranged with our squadron to provide the necessary flight safety gear for the flight.

A crew member was assigned to provide pre-flight briefs, assign seats, and to check them out of the safety for flight procedures and emergency drills. We typically had two in-flight drills (fire, ditching, or bailout) on every flight. One was done en route and the other on the return.

Our final briefing was given with all questions answered. The airplane was 100% ready for our mission. We took off and had similar success as the other missions we had flown the previous week. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. It was an eventful flight for the crew (lots of data to process and records to finish and clean up), but a snooze-fest for the passengers.

We landed and debriefed. All the officers (three pilots and two Naval Flight Officers) were invited to join the young ensigns for dinner (their treat!) out in town.

We cleaned up and headed off base. Each of us had a moped rental. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant we ate at, but the food was good, and the drinks were reasonable. Two of the ensigns had cars. Two ensigns left early to go to work – late shift.

We continued to have fun and enjoy life for another hour. The three pilots decided it was time to head back to the base. It was now down to my navigator and me, plus the two ensigns. As we were getting ready to head back to base, a storm captured us in the bar.

We waited for nearly two hours. The rains did not abate, at the time it appears to be getting worse. We had an offer to be driven to the base so we would not get drenched, but our mopeds were outside, and we did not want to take a chance them not being there when we returned.

At some point in time, a decision was made to drive our mopeds back to the base in the driving rain. The ensigns followed us to make sure we made it to the main gate.

There were occasional thunder and lightning, but nothing close to us. The winds were steady at 15-20 knots with gusts probably exceeding 25-30 every minute or two. We were fully deluged by the time we got to our mopeds and got them started.

It was one hand on the handlebars and my other hand over the crest of my eyebrows to prevent the rain from blinding me. As we neared the gate, I took out my sunglasses with the glass portion removed. I do not wear glasses, but the base had a requirement for safety glasses when driving on base on mopeds or bicycles. My navigator is within three or four feet of my moped as we stop at the gate. I reached into my pocket and held out my ID card. My navigator was doing the same thing.

There was not much of an overhang for the sentry on duty to be protected from the rain. He had to step out of his shelter to read the ID cards. He was soaking wet also. He looked at my ID card, then looked at me. He stared at me – eye to eye.

I did not realize it was obvious there was no actual glass in my glasses. With all the rain and wind, I would have had raindrops all over my glasses. I did not. I did not meet the requirements of driving with safety glasses.

He raised his hand and extended it towards my face. Two fingers stopped as they penetrated the portion of my glasses that did not have the glass. His fingers stopped before they touched my eyes.
The rain is whipping up the water dripping off the top of the sentry’s shack along with the rain falling from the sky. It was pitch-black twenty feet from us. I waited to see what the sentry would do. He had returned to the safety of his guard shack and gave me a stern look and told me, “Don’t let that happen again!” I knew exactly what he meant. He saluted. We returned the salute and enter the base.

During the daytime, it was easy to fool the gate guards because you were not up close and personal. There were no tell-tale hints of no actual glass in the glasses. At night, it was a different story.

We got back to our quarters, cleaned up, and went to bed. I thought I might have to explain the ‘gate incident’ to our Skipper in the morning, but no report was filed. I never saw any of the four ensigns during our remaining time in Bermuda. It was one of those memories that stick with you over the years.

If it had been a sunny afternoon return to the base, there would be no story or memory other than taking some extra military people on a flight and the real stories of the classified missions themselves.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin –

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