Asp One contains fiction and non-fiction offerings by author, John Trotti.
Why Asp One? It was my flight call sign , chosen because it was short, easily recognizable, and reflected a certain amount of savagery suitable to its purpose.
Not only will you find a variety of stories and blogs by me, but a selection of other offerings by friends, associates, and visitors such as yourself.
Every month I'll be presenting new and interesting stories and discussions. If you'd like to see your work here on Asp One, please let me know.
What the heck...you don't need to sign up to get access to everything on the site, but actually it will be helpful to me since I'm trying to find a publisher and/or agent for my novel, Phantoms from Vietnam, and having a subscriber list will help Also this gives us the chance to dialog, swap ideas, and in the fine tradition of fighter pilots, tell tall tales..
153 Apricot Street, Oak View, California 93022, United States
WINGS OF WAR
Capturing the grit as well as the glory of air combat, Phantom over Vietnam is the most genuine picture of life in a Marine fighter squadron yet written. In relating the details of his two tours in a McDonnell F-4 Phantom, John Trotti paints a vivid picture of the stress of delivering ordnance in a hard—and ultimately pointless—war against elusive North Vietnamese forces. As he does so, he reveals how his own personality was transformed as he matured and came eventually to have a deeper understanding of the war and of his generation.
A stylish writer, Trotti portrays both the art and technique of flying, carrying the reader with him into the cockpit. He is a master of both the engineering and the aesthetics of flying, and he brings life to the routine procedures of a combat mission, so that the reader understands why each switch is thrown, why each knot of airspeed is gained, and how each maneuver is executed. Whether the mission is scrambling to assist 'troops in contact," dive bombing at night in a dark Laotian valley, or easing the probe into a refueling basket while the instrument panel gauges flicker on zero, Trotti coolly combines all the operational factors in a swift, flowing narrative. In doing so, he represents the best technical description of war flying to come out of Vietnam.
In many ways, Trotti's admiration for his airplane is a metaphor for his feelings about the military society in which he lives. He admires the Phantom's capabilities. It is fast, powerful, and able to carry a vast amount of ordnance. But he also is candid about its limitations, for it gulped fuel, left dark trails of smoke, and needed lots of maintenance. Similarly, he portrays his admiration for his fellow pilots, all of whom risked their lives as he did, and for the efforts of the United States to bolster a weak and sometimes difficult ally. At the same time, he doesn't hesitate to point out the shortcomings of our government in establishing ridiculous rules of engagement that made combat more costly and less effective than it could have been.
TIME-LIFE BOOKS INC.. ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA 22314
Trotti returned to the United States after his first combat tour and served as an instructor. When he went back to Vietnam, he found that he had changed, and so had the environment. He was shocked to find that "dope had become a major, perhaps the major, factor in unit performance in Vietnam, and provided the backdrop for the polarization at home." During his second tour he became more deeply aware of the problems of the Vietnamese people, just as he became disillusioned with the trend of the Marines to meet the Department of Defense demands for a paperwork measurement of hooches blown up, trenches strafed, or bodies counted.
John Trotti served for twelve years as a Marine fighter pilot. He left the military to take up his current career as a writer and editor.
He is also the author of Marine Air: First to Fight.
Published in 1986, Marine Air was John's second book for Presidio Press. While it is several decades out of date, it is still a nice (and accurate) picture of a time of transition for the Corps. Better still John did the book in conjunction with the late George Hall, the world's foremost aviation photographer.
Phantoms from Vietnam, Adult Fiction, 90,000 words.
Shot down on a night mission against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Marine F-4 pilot, Gordon Talbott returns home after three years in captivity a pariah, no longer fit for continued military service, estranged from his family, and at odds with radically changed societal norms.
Overwhelmed by the seeming hopelessness of his situation and obsessed by the MIA status of his F-4 back-seater for whom he feels responsible, Gordon descends into a maelstrom of drunken despair.
Fiends help him reclaim his pride and purpose, t
Prolog: Outward Bound
At first Gordon thought the fault lay with the clock above the world map with the pins stuck in it representing all the places they had read about during the year. There were far too few such markers as far as Gordon was concerned, the bulk in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, with just a sprinkling throughout the rest of the United States. Other parts of the world had felt not so much as a prick of interest and enthusiasm.
At fourteen years of age and in the eighth grade, Gordon had travelled further in his mind's eye than most of his classmates ever would and feeling the waste of time in pursuits that did not include journeys to distant lands, already he had begun to realize there just wasn't any way to slow the passage of time.
But on this particular Friday, Gordon was having difficulty coming to grips with the other side of time’s two-edged sword, being more immediately concerned with the barrier time threw between him and 4:35 that afternoon when he was to board an aircraft at the Bakersfield Airport for a flight to San Francisco.
Uncle Joe and Pastor Jacobs were representing their small congregation at the great Southern Baptist Convention that had somehow found its way out of the southeastern United States and, since it was on this side of the country for once, the vestry had come up with the funds to send the pastor and one of the deacons to the City by the Bay. Uncle Joe was selected because his name was picked from the hat and Gordon got to go along because Aunt Claire was sick enough of his carrying's on to intercede on his behalf.
Unfortunately, none of them; Joe; Claire, Pastor Jacobs, Gideon the mule…not the Good Lord Himself…could do a thing to hurry the clock, any more than they could halt the advance of storm clouds that gathered to the north and stalked resolutely down the perennially fertile valley, spreading gloom and finally badly needed rain across the thirsty land.
It didn't help a bit that the dripping of the down spout which began far slower than the clock's methodical "tick... tock... tick... tock" soon caught and then surpassed the mechanical cadence, reinforcing Gordon's suspicion that time was indeed coming to a standstill. Worse yet was Mrs. Jennings’s fear of lightning, which meant that studies and recess were dropped from the regular curriculum, giving way instead to “games.”
Those games, Gordon had long since decided, were punishments inflicted on those with imagination by those who lacked it, when there were puddles to be kicked and mud to be explored. Mrs. Jennings particularly liked "Charades" which made no sense at all to Gordon. If you played the game and guessed the answer, all that happened was that Mrs. Jennings started a new game. The longer the game went on, the slower the clock hands moved, until when Sandra Stryker got her turn, they stopped completely. By the time Mr. Ferris rewound the spring and used his clock-setting stick to reposition the hands, school was over, and they had to dash to catch the district bus monopolized by the noisy high-schoolers.
The airplane was a Douglas DC-3, 17-passenger low-wing monoplane, with retractable landing-gear and sheet-metal covering. It was operated by Valley Airways, a struggling company providing commuter service with its two airplanes among several Central Valley cities from Bakersfield to Sacramento and from there to San Francisco.
The three-engine contraption had followed Highway 99 down from Visalia, and as it passed the Camel Cigarettes billboard at the Cotati Ranch Road, the pilot banked sharply left, carving a seventy-degree arc to line up with a windrow of eucalyptus. After flying for three minutes on the new heading, it was here that he came to his decision point, either finding the airport and landing or abandoning the effort and heading back to the highway to consider his options.
Despite the rain the visibility was good and the pilot was able to touch down on his first pass, splashing gaily through the ruts and potholes toward the hangar. Valley pilots became very good at scud-running and tiptoeing through tule fog or they didn't last long with the airline.
Gordon and the others trooped outside and lined up quietly in the rain awaiting instructions from the pilot whose immediate concern was to help the southbound passenger de-plane. Then, one at a time, Pastor Jacobs in the lead, the sodden band embarked and set about stowing their possessions and settling themselves in the wicker chairs. The pilot, Captain James, apologized for being late but went on to explain that the worst was past and that they would make up the time by Fresno. With that, he disappeared into the cockpit, started the engines, and added power for takeoff.
It was the beginning of an adventure that would blossom at odd instants to the end of Gordon’s days.
After a short roll made more memorable by the thuddings and thunkings transmitted from the wheels to the metal structure, Captain James pulled on the yoke and the airplane hopped into the air. At first, the dramatic change in the noise level was disconcerting, but soon the song of the engines and propellers became the sturdy background presence which would stay with them until their next destination.
Satisfied he wasn't going to be sick or frightened, Gordon turned his focus to the wonderful tapestry unfolding beneath him. Features that appeared haphazard from the ground began to make sense. Contours, patterns, stratifications, variegations; the richness and vibrancy of nature contrasted so sharply with the dull repetition of man's creations that he was astonished by the mismatch.
At first, with the visibility reduced by the tail-end of the storm, his vista was limited to features straight down below the airplane. It was strange viewing houses and barns and fields from above. He giggled at the sight of a dog racing along a farm road going for all he was worth trying to stay up with the plane and being left quickly behind for all his efforts.
It was different with a trio of horses flashing through a pasture and out onto open range allowing them to weave back and forth with breathtaking abandon in their headlong dash. By then the sun was dancing through thin spots in the clouds projecting the trace of the plane's shadow on the ground, and for a moment the apparition seemed to spur them on, but one after another they fell astern. They were still running when Gordon lost sight of them, but by then they had shied off toward the river bottom in search of new adventure.
By the third leg between Fresno and Stockton, the sun was a brilliant fiery yellow presence hopping between puffball cumulus that were in turns grey-black, pink-grey, silver-rimmed slate, and cotton white with gentle gradations of luminescence to accent their plumpness. In a moment of divine revelation, Gordon glimpsed the march of epochs across the face of the land and sensed his place among the descendants of the primordial stuff of dark and light.
Uncle Joe and Pastor Jacobs talked for a while and then dozed. Visalia, Fresno, and Stockton came and went, inviting a clamor that became, if not comforting, at least routine, and it was fully dark when they landed at Sacramento. By then, all that remained of the storm were a few patches of cumulus, billowed by sudden rushes of the dry northwest wind and lit by the radiance of the near-full moon marching triumphantly above the snow-capped Sierra Range.
The Sacramento River spread out languorously through the Suisun lowlands, nipped tightly down through the Carquinez Strait, before giving way completely to the San Pablo brine and the jewel-like setting of the San Francisco Bay. To Gordon, each of a million beckoning lights became a kernel of mystery and longing; each a spark of desires still hidden behind the cloak dividing him from manhood; each a symbol of untarnished hope and lifelong hunger.
With the power cut back, the thrum of the propellers drew soft, giving way to the songs of wind whistling and playing with the undercarriage; scrubbing and plucking at the sculptured skin; caressing the fabric and rubber and glass of this intruder of the magic realm. Down the aircraft came, gathering the lights into patterns that inched, then slid, then sped and finally whirled past through the darkness, producing in Gordon such a wonderful sense of cascading from the heavens that he felt himself one with the universe. There, poised in the not quite world of dream and intuition, Gordon soared to sleep 400 miles from home and light years beyond when he'd left.
Now, 20 years later with more than 3,000 hours of flight time under his belt, Gordon still experienced the same wonder and reverence for the banquet flight sets before him.
Though he could never fully comprehend it, flying fighters--indeed the very act of engaging in combat--served to heighten rather than diminish these feelings. Part of it lay in the intensity of the activity so that as the level of danger rose, so too his awareness of the world around him. Colors deepened in saturation; seemingly isolated features evolved into sets and from sets to meaningful wholes.
Caught in the thrall, Gordon’s heightened awareness grew from a sense of serenity and detachment that allowed him to observe from a remote vantage point that the number of events between ticks of his internal clock increased as a function of and in proportion to the level of danger he perceived.
In the midst of an attack on an antiaircraft site south of Vinh one morning, Gordon caught sight of a rabbit scampering across the complex heading for a hole. His airplane was inverted at the time, ripping along at 600 knots 2,000 feet above the ground, and Gordon was in the process of pulling the nose down through the horizon to pick up the gun emplacements when the rabbit broke cover. For just an instant the rest of the area was a blur--a kaleidoscope of green and umber streaks--yet this trifling creature stood out in bold relief, hind feet even with his ears in mid-stride. As he uncoiled and stretched for his next grip of earth, Gordon saw the burrow and realized that the Jack would make his goal between the revetments several bounds before the bombs would erase his footprints. Conventional wisdom says that given the circumstances--height, speed, hostile ground fire, and distance of nearly a mile--Gordon couldn't have visually acquired that running rabbit, much less assessed the situation... but he did. It was just a minute flash of recognition but satisfying in an odd sort of way.
Gordon was one of the lucky few who understood that it was nice to change vantage points from time to time and allow his perspectives the chance to shake out a little. Flying encourages this, partially because of the spatial aspect, but also because of a unique involvement that contains an undercurrent of risk and challenge. Gordon accepted its hold on him as an addiction; one made positive if for nothing more than as an antidote to complacency.
All that was about to change.
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