Tonto", came the cry. Looking up from the
paper I was reading while sipping a beer in a popular
outdoor cafe on a busy sidewalk in an affluent suburb of
Lima Peru, Miraflores.
The first time I met jack was in the Blackhawk "O Club", Tay Ninh,Vietnam. This short redheaded guy looking almost like a very jolly leprechaun came bouncing in to the club with a huge shit eating grin and an irrepressible character. I knew right away I was going to like this guy. We flew together only once prior to Jack being infused. I had just made aircraft Commander. The company was sent to An Lock or Lock Ninh, where the NVA were attacking in Human waves. The company was scrambled in the wee early hours in an emergency call out only to spend the remainder of the night lying under our Hueys trying to sleep as sortie after sortie of C-130s came in carrying reinforcements, ammo and all the supplies a fire support base under major attack needed.
The morning found us crawling out from under the
helicopters greeted by an Eire silence that was
uninterrupted by even birds or insects. Gazing out
at the perimeter we could see hundreds of meters into the
surrounding jungle where the huge volume of out going
fire had swept away every living piece of foliage from
the ground up to about six feet. On the wire
stacked like cord wood was hundreds of dead enemy
soldiers that would have to be bulldozed and burnt so
great were the numbers. We had little time to
contemplate there fate or ours as we were soon off making
one and three ship hover insertions in an attempt to put
in blocking forces and mop up the remaining NVA.
It was a few short weeks later that Jack was
infused. We lost track of each other and it
wasnt until that day in Peru that our paths in life
would cross once again. Flying helicopters became
the thread that ran through our lives. After Peru
it was off to Saudi Arabia where
we off loaded cement ships in the port of Jedda using 12
S58TS (the twin engine version of the army H34).
Working in three groups of 4 helicopters utilizing
three four hour shifts of Pilots we worked 7 days a week
12 hours a day and over the course of 14 months unloaded
675,000 long tons of cement. Jack had arrived on
the job several months ahead of me. I had stayed on
in Peru to fly a Twin Otter on floats. When I got
there Jack made damn sure he would check me out.
The big deal was to make your circuit so fast that you
would catch up the guy ahead of you the most dreaded
words on the job from your fellow pilot was the phrase,
"waiting on your six." This meant had it
been a race track you would have been lapped. Jack
was the king of this game. I knew I had finally gotten in
the groove on the day I was able to catch my pard up and
tell him, "waiting on your six."
We were all settling down to some degree,getting married buying homes and having kids. Something however was going wrong on the jobs. The men that had been virtually invincible in the Nam were starting to die off like flies in winter. Bob Curnaw was the first to die in Peru. So many more would follow. Civilian flying was proving to be more dangerous than our experience in Nam.
Jack and I had always seemed to have a touch of the rouge in us. In the early years right after Vietnam Jack got busted for "importing a controlled substance" and did a little time as a life guard at a government facility called Lompock. In the mid 80s while an owner of a portable seismic company I got busted for "exporting a defense article without a license." I remember calling up my Amigo to ask him for advice and him saying "I dont know who is having more fun in life me or you." At that point it was a toss up. Jack was married to his beautiful wife Deb living by then up in Ketchum Idaho working for Paramount Helicopters logging. I was just starting to have the wheels come off of my life.
A very close friend of Jack and I
Kevin Doll died in a logging accident involving a Bell
214, several weeks later I had a 42 degree gearbox
failure on a Bell 205. The aft pylon severed off
and the Helicopter spun in upside down. One guy
killed one severely injured and I escaped with amnesia
and couldn'tt remember anything about the accident.
On it went escalating
from job to job. We were good. The best long
line pilots in the
I was at my desk when my secretary informed me I had a call from the owner of Paramount Helicopters. I knew immediately what was coming. Jack Ruby was dead! The man that had taught me so much about flying and enjoying life had run into a mountain in Oregon while repossessing a helicopter. I was stunned and shattered. The phone slipped out of my hand and I just sat there thinking about this man who had been so much a part of my life. We had faced so much, done so many things, had so many common friends and shared experiences it was almost to hard to grasp.
Helicopter flying was never the same for me nor was my life. After jack died my business failed and so did my marriage. Depression and failure made me a miserable man. I eventually returned to Hawaii and turned my life around. I now fly 737s for Aloha Airlines. My children are grown and on there own. When I hear that sound of a 205 whoop whopping on the horizon I still think of that red headed irrepressible guy who had been so alive in life, Jack Ruby.
There is now four of us left from those halcyon days in Peru. One is now a doctor, another sells life insurance and two of us are airline pilots. What I do know is that when the last of us have departed this "AO" the rest will be waiting to greet the trail chock in that big LZ in the sky.
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