Oh, I got shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 but ultimately this ain’t about me. My name is Daniel H. Pipes. The ‘H’ is silent but originally stood for Hawthorne, a name stuck on me by my father’s fancy of the Nathaniel version’s dark stories and the point of my mother’s name being Sophia. One wouldn’t expect us simple type in the Tennessee sticks to be so inclined to literature, but hek, we do tend to surprise.
As for the name sticking? Mom’d have none of it, the whole thing being “too Yankee,” she said and thusly compromised to the letter “H”.
It makes no difference.
Same-same is the appealing, easy going attitude of the Thai. The tacit acceptance of a situation with which one can change nothing for the time being—a perspective applicable to all things from the pleasant to—
Same-same was every day of my days in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh died in 69 signaling an end to the V torturing the ever loving shit out of us which, for the most part, was a positive change but I was still in the Hanoi Hilton.
Medical care improved, meaning you got photos taken with a doctor looking in your ear, mouth, nose or ass. Sulfa, penicillin on occasion, made it to our mouths and a few Red Cross packages got through with vitamins intact, but for the most part, we still lanced boils and swallowing charcoal to slow the shits.
Crops of aviators kept arriving. Guys that that should’ve arrived in pairs didn’t, more than many of them having witnessed their pilot or GIB in the chute but never saw them again.
If you made it out of the jet alive, the trick was to get in the hands of the military—quickly. The worst you’d get was a rifle butt, an outcome preferable to the pitchfork of a pissed off peasant.
After ’69 our bargaining table value in Paris increased dramatically ensuring better treatment at the hands of our captors, less torture, more food. But—
If the jet spits you out fucked up enough to look like shit in photographs, the V wouldn’t do much for you and might just help your injuries along a little.
Too much trouble.
Life and death.
Hit the ground in the peaceful village you bombed minutes before, you know, the one with large Anti-Aircraft guns and communist weapons cache, the pissed villagers’ll get first crack at your stunned body.
Shoot you with your own pistol.
Stab you in the but with a pitchfork.
Club you, you name it and if you survive to make it into the V military’s hands, you’d be introduced to their idea of humane and lenient treatment.
And if you are going to land in a rice paddy? Hope you don’t have open wounds and for Christ sake, shut your mouth — don’t want you swallowing paddy water from rice fields fertilized with gook-poop.
I was luckier than John McCain.
Good fortune saved his ass.
John was fortunate enough to be John McCain, an Admiral’s son.
He dropped into a silt covered pond in West Hanoi.
Aside almost drowning and all the broken bones, the V that swam to gather their prize stabbed him a few times for good measure.
When a bad hit denies your jet’s desire to fly and demands you say goodbye, most guys’ll wait till the bitter end, pointing that stubborn nose to sea, Thailand or in any direction other than the point they just clobbered and pray—many wait too late.
Heard a story about Air Force F-4 holed so bad it pissed out all its fuel and before it flamed out, before it could drop like an iron stone a’throwd at the ground—
His wingman had him drop the tail hook which he nuzzled into crook of canopy and nose then pushed him out to sea.
Once over water, pilot and GIB punched and got rescued.
I nearly stayed too long.
Thrown ass-over-teakettle I remember yanking on the stick like a Frisco sissy expecting salvation as my prize, the fact I flew no more a simple dream along which I’d just proceed myself the fuck out of Dodge.
Between your speed when hit, the violence of tumbling and a hundred other factors, when you punch—it’s gonna hurt.
You’re gonna break shit.
You’re gonna dislocate shit.
Sometimes your airplane takes a part of you as a keepsake—a set of toes under the instrument panel, a hand or an arm under a canopy bow, you name it.
—But you’d never see those guys around the Hanoi Hilton.
Let that sink in a moment.
Anyhow, my callsign was Singer.
My mom named me Daniel from the Bible, which she read—allot.
Mom also liked to shop—a lot.
Her sister Evelyn lived in Millington, Tennessee over near Memphis. We visited holidays from Morristown so mom could shop the city despite bigger towns being closer.
Kin’s thicker than mileage.
Millington Naval Air Station, I figure, was partly to blame for my captivity, seducing me with its droning blue Hellcats and straight-wing Panther jets,
If I’d joined the Navy, my chances of flying were slimmer than the Air Force, either of which could have resulted in the same fate in Hanoi.
Regarding callsigns, mine, “Singer” sprouted from the “Ole Dan Pipes” some called me growing up because of its “folksy Tennessee way.”
But I’d never sung choir.
I kept my lips shut in church and now, korokke’s allure to demonstrate one’s inability to sing in public still doesn’t draw my mouth open — I’m an aging man, but I ain’t an aging fool.
“Singer” don’t come from a good set of “pipes”.
The truth is more complex. The truth is —
We lived self-sufficient on a farm twenty curving miles uphill both ways north of town.
Had horses and two barns big enough to keep’m through winter.
Mother mended clothes by hand until ’45 when dad brought home a foot-pedal sewing machine from Woolco.
She taught my sisters how to sew and taught me too, reasoning was, she was pressed enough to keep up mending my siblings, “you’re ole enough to mend yourself,” she told me, and that, “you’ll be able to use this when you grow up.”
Seeing myself as a man, I poo-poo’d it, but went on with mending, reaffixing buttons, letting out hems as I grew taller and sewing patches onto knees and such.
My sheltered country upbringing called on me to get as far north and west as possible so I wound up at the University of Washington where I joined Air Force ROTC.
At mom’s demand, I lugged an electric sewing machine with me — wise, she was, I saved doing my own clothes and made folding money off of other cadets hemming jackets and trousers and whatnot.
When word got out, business expanded to Army and Navy ROTC as well.
The military culture don’t keep such secrets as those about a guy who lugs a sewing machine with him from base to base. Rampant rumors and whispers trailed me to the cockpit when I was called out at an All Officers Meeting once and forced to confess.
A senior Captain tagged me “Singer” in big black letters on the grease-board and it stuck.
Guess I was lucky. There’s worse.
One guy wound up known as GIMP--Guy-Inebriated-Missing-Pants.
Plenty more colorful ones exist, but most aren’t fit to print.
Except for my involuntary sabbatical in North Vietnam, I’ve flown most of my adult life.
After the air force medically retired me in ’74, I returned to Washington to fly for Kenmore Air, a floatplane outfit out of Seattle.
Flew for them until I retired.
Little compares in beauty to flying in the Pacific Northwest.
The Seattle area was as strange place for a Southerner like me to settle, but the outdoors had me hooked. My family questioned my sanity, being so far removed from my kind.
It is different here.
I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting Subaru Outback covered in triangle rainbows, rainbow flags, blue squares with equal signs—driving I-5 looks makes a person think they woke up in a box of Lucky Charms.
Despite them, despite that so many up here hate everything I stood for, I still love the place.
It’s God’s country and I’m not worn out enough to get on a trail and regard it. Little compares to the views breaking out of a tree line into an alpine meadow after a leg burner of a hundred switchbacks.
Thank the Lord I still have my health.
It’s funny I share the same love with those Subaru fools.
They’d spit on me if they knew what I’ve done.
Loving the outdoors is about as close to common ground as the two of us shall ever meet. To them, the outdoors just is, to me it is and was once something lost; a something worth fighting for which, inferred by the stickers on the backs of their cars, are truth’s they’d prefer to ignore, leaving the tough for those going, when reality bites their tails ass up from a head they’ve stuck in the ground.
Some things are worth fighting for.
But, we’ll just keep our mouths shut about all that when crossing paths on a trail.
They’ll regard me as a harmless old man outdoors. I’ll regard them as young editions of fools wot once celebrated my misfortune in Vietnam from swanky comforts of a college campus during my worst of times.