(Moonbeam crew from Udorn, Wally is 2nd from left, top row)
Perhaps I can recount what and how I remember the day the F-4 crashed (on us, I hesitate to suppose, rather than just on them). I’ve never talked much about it, didn’t know how , I guess.
I was enjoying one of my rare days off, sitting in the barracks near the door, writing a letter I never finished. I was startled by the sound of what I first thought was two mortar rounds being fired. I found out later it was two Martin-Baker ejection seats. Like an idiot, I rushed outside to see an F-4 flying upside down just over the roofs. Then smoke and debris flying from the buildings two rows over from me and then came a grinding roar that seemed to go on a very long time. Then heat and smoke and people yelling and running past me away from the crash. I just stood there. Something horrible and final struck me. How could this be happening? One of the rescue guys I knew ran past and then stopped wide eyed, staring back at the smoke and flames.
I walked over to ask if he knew what had happened, and to my surprise he asked me first. He couldn't remember anything that had just happened. He said he was over by the pool, the last he remembered, and then he was here.. didn't even remember running. I guess I never saw anyone so scared. “You were over there?” Then I asked if he was OK, and he looked himself over and said “Yeah, sure.”
We went back closer to the fire and asked anybody we could find if we could help. One of the officers told us there's nothing anybody can do, just stay out of the way. We found out about the men inside about an hour or so later, but nobody knew how many for days. “How could something like that happen? An F-4 right through the double doors of the studio? What was God thinking?” I asked.
For all these years, I’ve been remembering that there were twelve casualties. It’s some relief to know there were nine. I remember a couple of our junior officers were missing for a while, but they turned up downtown. One of our house-girls never came back, she was so upset. Our commander and several others just lost their gear and quarters. Honestly, in the face of the horror we were all grateful that no one else was killed in the other buildings.. no small miracle! Anyway, time and again, I’ve thought about those guys who brought us radio and TV and made all our lives easier. Before I finally gave it up, I used to drink a New Year’s toast every year to them and to all the other friends we lost – I didn’t know what else I could do beyond a prayer of thanks.
I had heard it described as an accident.. no, in my book, it was all combat. There’s no “accidents” when young men go in harm’s way for their country. They gave their all, and I salute them with love and respect and heartfelt gratitude. Thank you, thank you, for what you have done to honor these men. I’m so glad someone could do something so special.
Wally Snell, former MAJOR, USAFR