Chapter 3 Egglesby Confronts Destiny
Major Egglesby finally broke. Jack Daniels was insufficient solace. He could no longer bear to fly endlessly in circles above the rice while every infantry outfit for miles around hid from him. For a while he had managed to find an occasional rifle company that hadn’t heard of him. Once a company had been supported by Egglesby, however, it went into hiding. Now the infantry maintained radio silence so that he couldn’t even be sure they were down there.
For weeks he tried every trick he could think of. Sometimes he got on the radio in what he hoped was a Mexican accent.
“Thees ees Bravo-4-9 weeth a fool load of 20 mike-mike. Eenybody needs help?”
Silence. The ground-pounders knew his F-4 had taken off.
“Eet ees a sad day, amigos. The major that fly thees plane before, he ees dead. A tank, eet run over heem, so now I am flying for heem.”
“Aw, come on.”
Someone below keyed a radio below and a loud raspberry erupted in major Egglesby’s earphones. There was no other reply. Even the Viet Cong were frightened of Major Egglesby. They knew the tactics of the other pilots and could usually tell where the bombs would fall. They simply made sure they were somewhere else. With Major Egglesby, nothing worked but prayer.
Major Egglesby had appealed to everybody who had the authority to help, but without success. Colonel Dravidian, longing for his trout streams and no longer seeing any particular point to the war, didn’t want to send Major Egglesby up north to die bombing a tool shed. Nor did he want the infantry to be killed by Major Egglesby’s essentially random bombing. General Drinelly wasn’t interested as long as Egglesby flew and kept Drinelly’s sortie rate up. The ordinance depot didn’t care as long as Egglesby took the correct number of bombs and didn’t bring them back. The maintenance people were happy because the F-4 never got shot up, so they didn’t have to repair it. The system was working smoothly as things were, and no one wanted Major Egglesby to bollix the works by demanding to bomb things. Besides, the infantry insisted passionately that there were no targets.
Finally Major Egglesby hit on the answer. One afternoon he took off and immediately dumped his bombs at sea. He had gotten in the habit of doing this early because it made the plane more pleasant to fly. Then he came back over land and climbed to 30,000 feet a few miles west of Monkey Mountain.
Major Egglesby turned off the radio entirely. It was against regulations, but he was beyond caring about regulations. Major Egglesby was a desperate man.
Then he armed the cannon and checked his gauges. Next he carefully scanned the sky.
To the north, ominous specks came over the horizon.
“One-five Bravo, this is Three-seven Alpha. MiGs!” he called into the microphone in controlled but urgent tones. “Bandits at heading 334, closing fast! They mean business. Am engaging! Am engaging!”
He yanked the stick and turned hard toward the lead nonexistent MiG, shoving the throttle to full afterburner. The Phantom lurched forward and began to pick up speed. The MiG responded by diving earthward and evading to the right. The other MiGs stayed on course: So, thought Major Egglesby, it was single combat? He was willing to play that game. He reversed his turn, pulling 5 G’s, and panted explosively to relieve the terrible weight on his chest.
Dropping like an eagle onto the tail of the leader, Major Egglesby felt his thumb closing on the trigger as a resolute smile played across his lips, tinged by doom. He snapped off a long burst of 20 mike-mike, the skies shuddering with its heavy thump. Missed! The MiG was a worthy opponent. He cut hard and fired again, closer this time….
For half an hour the one-plane dogfight raged in the puzzled skies of Asia. Soon not a single non-existent MiG remained. Then, gun empty, Major Egglesby banked toward base. He felt strangely happy. Maybe it wasn’t the real thing, he thought, but it wasn’t bad. In this war, he was beginning to realize, you took what you could get.