Baby, it’s / was Cold Outside!
It was the winter of nineteen ought 62 at Minot AFB, ND (Why not Minot?) in the great frozen North. I was a brilliant young Lt..., or “Spot Capt.”, I forget which, serving as a Navigator Electronic Warfare Officer (EW) on B-52H Crew S-02, Maj. Richard J. DeSomer, Commanding (AC) and “Baby, it was cold outside”. We were sitting Nuclear Alert and tensions were high between the USA and Russia. Combat Crew members had been restricted to the base and we were either flying 24 hour “airborne nuclear alert” flights over the northern part of the world and along the coast of, or into, depending upon the skill of our Navs, Russia, or sitting nuclear alert on the alert pad. At times we sat alert in the cockpit with the aircraft “cocked”, ready for immediate takeoff. And truth is, during that time of the Cuban missile crisis, even we steely eyed Strategic Air Command (SAC) crewmembers, thought we might really go to war. It was sobering. And it was really cold outside with only a few shivering Canadians between us and the arctic ice. We had been sitting alert in the nice, warm, cozy alert building when we were suddenly moved to cockpit alert. We drove out to our cold, cold aircraft, parked on those “Christmas tree” taxiways, and five of us jumped out of the truck and headed for the aircraft leaving our Gunner to park the sharp looking, AF Blue, crew cab pickup and join us. As we moved to the “BUFF” I failed to notice a small patch of ice, super compressed by the weight of a combat loaded B-52 taxiing over a bit of snow, which created a patch so hard it would likely remain there until summer (July & August!). And that patch was super slick. At that time I had not yet gone to pilot training and had not therefore been anointed with a pilot’s superior grace and balance. I stepped on the ice and even with my Muk-Lucs (Canvas and rubber winter boots) on, my feet immediately headed for the sky. I did a full twisting turn and a half, feet still climbing, “nose wipers” (Those hairy backed mittens secured with a cord through my parka) twirling around me, head still dropping and as I raised my head which was snuggled in the wolverine fur rimmed hood of my parka, my chin became exposed and with a “crack” it hit the ramp. I saw stars and likely departed the conscious world for a moment, but as I passed I noticed the other four crew members, two holding up 8 fingers and two holding up nine fingers. When I questioned them later they told me that I received two 8s and two 9s for the dive but all had deducted points for “style” on landing. Two of the crew helped me up and had the Aircraft Commander (AC) look me over. “He’s bleeding pretty good. It’s not too bad but I can see bone and it’s gonna need a couple of stitches. Let’s go ahead and get him on the aircraft. Somebody find a towel or something and stop that bleeding.”
Once on board the Gunner joined us and we “buttoned up”. The AC called the Command Post (CP) and told them what had happened. “Our EW took a tumble and busted his chin. He’s going to need to be seen.” In true CP fashion they replied, “Stand by.” Then, “How bad is it? Is he going to need to come off and be treated?” “Well, I can see bone and he keeps bleeding.” “Stand by.” Then, “He can’t come off. He’s a primary crew member, if he comes off we have to downgrade the crew and that takes your cocked nuclear alert sortie off line and effects the entire War Order and CINCSAC will blow a gasket.” “What do we do?” “Stand by.” Then, “We’re going to send a Flight Surgeon (FS) out. He’ll be accompanied by a Guard and will approach the front of the aircraft. Have your EW lean out the pilot’s window and the FS will take a look.” They showed up. I leaned out the window and bled a little down the side of the aircraft. The FS looked up, even used binoculars and declared, “He’s gonna need a few stitches. I can see a little bone”. “Well”, our AC asked, “What are we going to do?” “Standby”.
After a long “Standby”, the CP called back. “We’ve talked to SAC at length and think we have a solution. Open the entryway hatch, have your EW sit on the steps near the bottom, but it’s super important that he not touch the ground. We’ll send the FS over with his sewing kit, accompanied by a guard. He’ll stand on the ground in the hatch opening and we think he can do his work that way. It’s super important that he keeps both feet on the ground. He can’t step up on even the first step of the entryway. The Flight Surgeon cannot leave the ground! The EW cannot touch the ground! If either happens the crew is downgraded, the aircraft pulled off the sortie list and CINCSAC will have all our asses. Got that?” “Yes Sir!”
We opened the hatch and I eased down until my feet were on the bottom step and sat as low as I could. The Flight Surgeon slithered in and faced me. We were face to face, it would work. But it was really cold outside and that Minot artic air was blowing up the hatch. We were both shivering and the crew was complaining. The FS cleaned up my chin, looked it over and called the CP. “It’s not too bad. It is to the bone but a small cut in length. A couple of stitches inside and about four outside should fix him up. But I’m going to need to deaden the area around the cut before I sew it up.” “Standby.” “You can’t use any deadening stuff on a crewmember on alert. Can you do it without deadening it?” “Well, I can. The question is, can he?” He asked me and being a young, warrior, SAC crewmember I replied, “Of course Doc, sew me up.” And he did! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I think the combination of a mangled chin and being super cooled by the Minot artic air had already partially anesthetized me. The FS surveyed his work, declared me repaired and fit for duty, put a humongous bandage over the whole thing and departed, his work done. I crawled back up into the belly of the BUFF and we settled in.
Once off cockpit alert I was seen by the FS who was then complimented by our Commander for his superior work under most difficult conditions. I waited for my own accolades. Maybe I’d get a “Purple Heart”. Surely some kind of medal for being wounded on duty and having my injuries sewn up without any pain relief, surely something for saving that war order alert sortie under extreme conditions. Nothing. No parade, no pat on the back, no good job, no nothing. Except from my crew who had to tell and retell the story while graphically describing my dive and landing in detail. Well, that was SAC Crew Duty in the 1960s at Minot AFB, in the great frozen North. And “Baby was it ever cold outside.”