A typhoon is heading to Guam. Men, to the B-52s! We need to fly our bombers to safety! Our women and children will be just fine facing the typhoon without us!
My first operational duty assignment was as a B-52D Electronic Warfare Officer stationed at Anderson Air Force base in Guam. We submitted our Dream Sheets during EWO School. I requested an F-4 back seat assignment to Germany. I got a B-52 to Guam. I later learned that 82% of the EWO students that year got our first choice of assignments—and I was happily part of that 82%. This statistic comes to mind whenever I hear someone spouting off statistics that just don’t sound right. First choice of assignment was defined as first choice by either airframe or location. Apparently even the statisticians acknowledge the difference in the airframe between and F-4 and a B-52. But in requesting Germany, I had volunteered for an overseas assignment—and that’s what I got—exactly what I asked for.
The assignment was actually pretty great. Guam can be a wonderful place, so long as you learn to love the water. The mission was amazing—we were flying Strategic Air Command nuclear alert. The B-52 was called the Big Ugly Flying Fellow (BUFF), but I thought it was a pretty amazing flying machine.
The Navy had nuclear subs assigned to Guam. We used to say that Guam should declare its independence—it would have immediately become the number 3 largest nuclear power in the world, after the USA and a country that no longer exists that was called the United Soviet Socialist Republic.
The weather at Guam was usually wonderful. One day local radio station KUAM—“Broadcasting Coast to Coast from the Island of Guam” —reported “The weather today has temperatures in the mid-80s, scattered clouds, with trade winds from the Southwest blowing at 10 mph. The weather tomorrow is expected to improve.” But the beautiful weather was periodically rudely interrupted by a typhoon.
We had 8 of the big BUFFs on the island. They lived outside all the time. There was not a single hanger large enough to fit a single BUFF. So when the typhoons came through, we needed to fly our aircrafts to safety. The commanders would work closely with the weather folks to determine if a Pacific typhoon was headed our way or not. This was a very inexact science. There was a squadron of the C-130 Typhoon chasers stationed at Guam. Those C-130s would actually fly into the typhoons, dropping weather buoys and taking readings to determine the location and intensity of the storm, in an effort to predict what the typhoon may decide what to do. My two roommates, living with me off-base in Perez Acres, were Navs in those C-130s. They said one of the most incredible experiences was when they would pass from the violent storm into the calm eye of the typhoon, then fly again into the violence.
For one of the typhoons, we were sitting on typhoon alert, receiving updates about what the typhoon was doing. The decision was made to launch, and we headed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. While at Kadena, one of the crewmembers was talking to his wife via Autovon. His wife said the wind was brutal, but she and their children were fine. Then she screamed, said the wall to their house had blown in, and the phone line went dead.
A typhoon evaluation was actually a fun experience. Most of our missions were very long, but we always landed where we took off. One of our missions was to fly toward Korea, refuel, fly 500 feet AGL just South of the DMZ, then head back to Guam, again refuel, and land where we had taken off 12 hours earlier. The flight to Kadena was shorter, and we actually got to land and stay there. China Petes would always open when we landed so we could get our SAC treasures. But many of the locals didn’t like our B-52s. Japan had some unpleasant memories of nuclear bombers.
Another time we were on typhoon alert, and again receiving updates about the weather. It appeared the storm was headed toward us, but then it appeared the storm was not. It appeared the storm was weakening, then it looked to be strengthening instead. Then the klaxon sounded—the decision had been made for us to evacuate. We took off right into the edge of the typhoon. Then the typhoon turned away. It turned out that we took off during the most intense part of when that typhoon passed over Guam.
So then we were sitting on typhoon alert again. When we got to Kadena, the first crews got the on-base quarters, and the remaining crews were then sent off base after the on-base quarters filled up. At some locations, the on-base quarters are nicer, and at some the off-base billeting is preferred. One crewmember decided he would rather stay on-base if we typhoon-evac’ed. The decision was made to evac, so this forward-thinking crewmember immediately called billeting at Kadena, identified who he was and why he was making the reservation, and made a reservation for on-base quarters for his crew. We then typhoon-evac’ed for Kadena.
The Wing Commander at Kadena Air Force Base had just learned that the Guam B-52s were headed his way when the protesters showed up at his base.