Pentecost comes to Bahamas, via Lowe

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By W.B. Evans

Just like any other military branch, the U.S. Air Force has always had more than its share of spit-and-polish rules and regulations.

Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with that.

But sometimes, those rules didn’t always get obeyed, especially by Capt. Lowe when we were stationed at the Air Force Missile Center in Florida.

Now the good captain, thanks to his occasional copilot and courageous confidant, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel, was known for bending those regulations almost to the breaking point.

Capt. Lowe was old school, having flown supplies into the China-Burma theater during World War II.

At the time, I was an administrative sergeant major in the base adjutant’s office. I was under the supervision of Lowe, who, well, sorta took me under his wing. He even told some I was the son he never had.

Every now and then, Lowe (with the help of Daniel, I think), assigned me to flight duties not covered in my military specialty code.

Part of my responsibilities included being a routine flying courier of classified materials to station commanders on the various downrange missile tracking stations from our base.

I also served as an auxiliary radio operator on flights whenever Sgt. English was in sick bay.

For some strange reason, it seemed that most of Lowe’s special flights happened whenever English was on sick call.

I don’t know how in the world I got ringed into the auxiliary radio operator’s job. My knowledge of Morse Code (a requirement) was non-existent.

However, I could follow orders and the instructions Sgt. English pasted by the in-flight radio.

“Don’t worry, my boy,” Lowe said. “Stick with me and you’ll be OK.”

Yea, right, I thought.

The boys in the hangar who overheard this conversation were snickering about Lowe’s assessment of my dots-and-dashes skills.

It was embarrassing to be known as the idiot son of the crazy old captain. I’d send out an SOS right now, if I just knew how.

Luck had been with me. I hadn’t been called up for any flight duties for several downrange missions.

But the horseshoe disappeared.

One very stormy Florida morning, the phone rang. It was Base Ops (operations). The voice on the other end was quite emphatic.

“Evans, report to Capt. Lowe at the hangar immediately for a special flight.”

The disconnecting click happened so fast I didn’t even have time to say, “yes, sir.”

When I arrived at the hangar, it looked more like the town barber shop where preachers get free haircuts. 

Bless Pete, there must’ve been 30 or more military chaplains standing around.

Capt. Lowe was walking our way, but before he got there, I headed in his direction.

I got close enough to get a whiff of his after-shave. Given the passenger list, I figured it was a good idea to make sure that a certain Tennessee squire wouldn’t be making this flight.

Thankfully, Lowe was as sober as a judge and went over the mission.

“Son, we gotta shuttle this bunch of holy rollers down to the Promised Land,” he said.

Translated, this meant we were about to fly this group of clergy to a Bahamas retreat at San Salvador Island.

To my surprise, Lowe knew most of these fellas by name. And it was a varied group; there were priests, everyday Baptist “fire and brimstone” preachers and even a rabbi or two.   

They were well-mannered, but inquisitive.

One even asked me if there were parachutes on board. It made me recall that “Ye of little faith” Sunday school lesson about Peter walking on the water during a storm. Given the rain pelting on the hanger roof, it certainly fit.

Things got down to business and I took my station in the hard metal radio operator’s seat inside the Douglas C-47 and strapped myself in for the pre-flight.

Within minutes, Capt. Lowe had the Skytrain lunging down the runway into the swirling rain and airborne.

Things were pretty quiet until the good captain told me to come up front.

“Son, you gotta be a stewardess for these holy rollers,” he said.

I shook my head, went into the small galley and started pouring little Dixie  cups full of orange juice.

I walked the aisle, passing out refreshments. Oh well, orders are orders.

Their response was always, “Thank you, my son,” or something close to that.

You know, for officers, these chaplains sure are a polite bunch.

They were nothing like the aviation engineers we hauled several months ago. Daniel knew most of those fellas intimately.

Suddenly, I heard the motor change pitch. I looked out the peep hole and spotted the San Salvador runway.

There was also a bunch of the locals standing on the tarmac to greet these men of the cloth.

As soon as I felt the plane dropping like a lead balloon, I knew this was not going to be good.

As a “joke,” Capt. Lowe had us heading directly toward the ground at a fairly good clip. When I looked back behind me, it reminded me of the Sunday school lesson about Pentecost.

All those preacher boys had turned pale. They had their hands in the air and were shouting and praying. I quickly looked toward the cockpit. Just for a second, Lowe turned his head, grinned and winked at me before pulling out of the dive.

That’s when I realized I shared a common bond with the chaplains. I always had a stack of prayers going when I flew with Lowe, too.

But, orders are orders, I thought again as Lowe set the plane down on the runway and taxied onto the tarmac.

As they say, I had survived another one of Lowe’s special flights. I guess the horseshoe was with me after all. So was the good Lord.

You know, flying one of those pretend homemade airplanes on the back steps behind our house sure was a lot safer.