A Highly Stressful Time
John Laneri

In the late sixties, the Air Force assigned me to a small base near Reykjavik. Our primary mission had been to provide air defense support for the Republic of Iceland as well as to intercept Russian bombers that frequently flew through their airspace toward North America.

At the time, I was flying the F-106, Delta Dart, a high flying interceptor loaded with the most sophisticated hardware available.

My wing mate was Charlie Hopkins, a true cynic. I'm not sure a word came out of his mouth that was not suspicious of somebody or something, his most recent focus -- Icelandic women.

Despite, his personal hang-up, we had known each other since our days as aviation cadets and had remained friends throughout the years.

Following a long mission keeping tabs on a Russian bomber over the Norwegian Sea, I encountered a flame-out. Unable to restart my engine, I ejected over a desolate part of Northern Iceland.

During my descent, winds were gusting to forty knots, making control of my chute difficult. As I neared the ground, a sudden gust blew me toward a wicked, mustard-colored rock formation close to where I landed hard and immediately experienced pain in my left shoulder.

Charlie proved his friendship by continuing to circle overhead and direct rescue choppers to my location. By then, he was undoubtedly low on fuel and close to empty on his return to base.

That night, he pointed me toward the officer's club determined to fill me with enough vodka to dampen the adrenalin still flooding my system.

He downed his first one then said, “You scared the hell out of me. I thought you were dead meat when I saw those rocks.”

“I almost kissed an ugly one.”

“You're lucky to get out with a sprained shoulder. This God forsaken country is nothing but a frigging volcanic rock. And the women... if I ever meet another girl with pimples on her face that secretly wants to get pregnant, blame a fighter pilot, and move to the states, I'll probably puke my head off.”

Later that night, a new girl did walk into the club.

Charlie sprang to his feet and then sat back down.

“What's wrong?”

He shrugged. “She probably has pimples on her ass too.”

Three months later, he was on his way to Nam where he died, his aircraft taken out by a surface to air missile over the North.

And yes, he was a cynic, but I still remember him as true friend, one who had risked his life and his aircraft to watch over me during a highly stressful time.

First published: May, 2014
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