"Aces of The Eighth" by Jack Fellows

LTM Jonathan Hayes’ 2016 Memorial Day Speech To Oregon State ROTC

LTM Jon Hayes gave a speech to the Oregon State University ROTC cadets on Veteran’s Day 2016 and he’s shared it with us. Well done, Sir!

LTM Jonathan Hayes’ 2016 Memorial Day Speech To Oregon State ROTC

Captain Nisbett, Lt Col Brainerd, Lt Col Miller, distinguished guests, cadets and midshipmen,

Fifty years ago last summer God’s gift to fighter aviation reported into my first operational squadron (a modest unassuming demeanor is, of course, natural to all fighter pilots). It was the 4th Tac Ftr Sq at Eglin airpatch Florida. Yeah, I know, 50 years ago, some of your parents hadn’t been born but the squadron commander’s name was NOT Orville Wright. We flew the F-4 Phantom – at the time the hottest piece of machinery on the planet. Still a righteous airframe.

The squadron operations officer was Maj Ken Simonet, who later had the very unenviable distinction of being a Prisoner Of War – a distinction unfortunately shared by others in the squadron. My flight commander, Maj Larry Armstrong, was later awarded the Air Force Cross – the second highest award for heroism. It was a pretty tough bunch.

When I reported in, Maj Armstrong told me something I have never forgotten: You are only as good as your next mission. You may have been first in your class at pilot training. You may have been top gun at Fighter Weapons School. Ivan doesn’t know any of that. He only knows what you are doing today. And if that isn’t the best you are capable of, you won’t be going home.

When you get to your first operational assignment, your commander will know what you did in training and what you did here at OSU. But still what he or she will really care about is what you are doing today. And it will be expected that that is the best you are capable of. So as they said in Star Trek: “Make it so.”

The only time you will fly single ship in fighters is your annual instrument check and an occasional weekend cross-country. Every other flight will be in formation. Which, if you love flying formation as I most certainly did, ain’t a bad deal. Formation flying is as basic to military aviation as takeoffs and landings; maybe there are missions which don’t require formation flying skills, but I can’t think of any.

Beyond the basic stick and rudder flying skills, formation flying boils down to two things: teamwork and discipline. And surprise, surprise, these two things are not restricted to flying. They are basic to all military operations. As you have no doubt already found out.

Teamwork is the meshing and coordinating of individual efforts to achieve a group result. It is simultaneously one of the most simple and most complex things imaginable. Consider: the load crews need to have the proper ordnance delivered to the aircraft in time to get everything ready in time for scheduled takeoff. But those load crews also have to be fed and given the requirements of operational scheduling, that means the mess hall also has to know to be serving meals at highly unorthodox times. That’s all teamwork too. And getting that done is why as officers you’ll be getting paid the big bucks.

An advantage of teamwork which your instructors might not have mentioned is it gives the bad guys someone else to shoot at besides just you.

Teamwork and discipline aren’t separate things. They are part of the thing called mission accomplishment. Your job is an integral part of getting the unit mission done. But you are not on your own. You have to put it together with the others in your unit to make it all work. That’s teamwork.

Discipline means, of course, obeying orders. It isn’t normally phrased that way, of course. If your superior ever says to you “I order you to (whatever)”, you’re in trouble. It’s usually something like this:
When I was stationed in England, our forward base was Aviano, Italy. It’s one of the oldest air bases in the world, originally built in 1910. The aircrew quarters were built for the Luftwaffe in WWII. An hour and a half drive north on a weekend and you’re at one of the top Alpine ski resorts. An hour south and you’re in Venice. Not bad duty. Occasionally aircraft would have to be swapped out back to England for routine maintenance and I was in Aviano on a routine aircraft swap out. Just filling out my flight plan for the trip back to England when I got a phone call from Col. Mirehouse, the Wing D.O.
“How’s the bird, Jon?” “Looking great, sir. Weather’s fine and I should be back at Bentwaters by noon.” (Note the distinction – I’m “Jon”, he’s “sir”. Remember that). “Need you to change your flight plan.” “Yes, sir.” “They’re hanging a centerline baggage pod on your airplane. I’d like you to go to Torrejeon, Spain. When you get there, there’ll be 500 pounds of charcoal on the ramp. Load it up and bring it back here. The Wing Commander is having a barbeque tonight and there’s no charcoal in England.” “Yes, sir. As soon as the aircraft is reconfigured, we’ll be heading for Torrejeon.”

That’s discipline. It was also teamwork. Consider for a moment everything which went into that. The D.O. shop had to find out where there was enough charcoal, arrange for payment and delivery to the flightline at Torrejeon. They also had to find out whether there was a spare centerline baggage pod available at Aviano (they already knew I was there and scheduled to come back). If there hadn’t been a centerline baggage pod at Aviano, it would have meant sending an aircraft out from Bentwaters – which would probably have disrupted the flying schedule there. So there was a lot of teamwork involved there as well. The charcoal was right at the hardstand ready to be loaded when I taxied in at Torrejeon. We loaded it up and got it back to Bentwaters in plenty of time for the Wing Commander’s barbeque.

There is another kind of discipline.

That is knowing what has to be done and doing it without having to be told. Let me give you an example. A strike force going up North; four flights of four fighters each. We’re going to prestrike refuel, of course. You burn the most fuel in takeoff and climb to altitude. There are four tankers in the track – one for each flight of fighters. They are coming down track and the mission commander’s navigator is tracking them on his radar. When they hit 30 miles away he calls for them to turn back up track. That is the last radio call which will occur until the mission commander calls for a radio change to strike frequency.

When the tankers roll out back up track, the lead of each flight will be in position on their assigned tanker to start taking fuel. Right on the boom. Number three will be on lead’s wing and two and four have moved up on the tanker’s wings. When lead has his fuel he will move up onto two’s wing and three will immediately start taking fuel. As soon as lead has joined on two’s wing, two will drop down onto three’s wing ready to hook up as soon as three has his gas. Three will then join on four’s wing and four will drop down to two’s wing ready to take on fuel when two has his. Lead will then drop down to four’s wing to cycle through to top off. After four has topped off, the mission commander will call for radio change to strike frequency and every one will move into ingress position. And we will be dropped off at the top of the track, closest point in the track to our target.

Note that throughout this intricate aerial ballet there was not a single radio call and the mission commander did not have to confirm that everyone had topped off. That is discipline. Everyone knew precisely what they had to do and in what sequence and did it. Parenthetically you might note you will see the exact same sort of thing with the Silver Talons drill team. What the Silver Talons do is not irrelevant to real life operations at all. It is essential military.

When you get back from a flight, you go into Life Support Section and hang up your parachute harness, helmet and G-suit. And, most important, your ego. You are going into a debriefing where everything which happened during the flight will be critically scrutinized with one sole objective – improvement. It is not the person which is being criticized; it’s the performance. You’ll hear this again – don’t take this stuff personally. It would be exactly the wrong attitude. It’s not you personally; it’s what was done.

You’ve heard the words “leadership” and “management” a lot. Some of you may be a bit unsure what the distinction is. It’s really fairly simple. When Noah was lining up the animals two by two to go into the Ark, that was leadership. When he told his wife “Don’t let the elephants see what the rabbits are doing”, that was management.

Probably most of you will never see combat, but since it was a significant chunk of my military career, I probably should say something about it. The World War I Allied ace of aces, René Fonck, says in his memoirs “chiefs of state and combat pilots alone have the privilege of being welcomed on arrival by cannon salutes.” I might add the observation that, in most cases, the cannon salutes for chiefs of state aren’t aimed directly at them.

But the point is, of course, that you’re supposed to get shot at. If we weren’t being shot at while we were flying over Vietnam and Laos, it was because there was nothing below us worth defending and we were wasting our time.

The Good Book says it is more blessed to give than to receive and while I always tried to be on the more blessed side of that equation and give more than I got, I usually wasn’t very successful. My Air Force nickname reflected my unwelcome ability to attract much more than my share of the missile aimers’ and flak gunners’ attention. You don’t always want to be the center of attention, but sometimes it happens.

After one mission I got a very pointed comment from the crew chief. “Those mice were pretty fierce up there over Hanoi, weren’t they, Lieutenant? Look at all the holes they chewed in my airplane.” Another thing to remember – it was the crew chief’s airplane. Not mine.

Another thing to remember is never, never ask luck to do skill’s job.
The French writer Stendahl was a soldier during the Napoleonic wars and in one of his books the protagonist, about to be skewered by an enemy lancer, says “He wants to kill me. Me whom my mother loves so much.”
That is exactly the wrong attitude. You cannot take this stuff personally. I can guarantee no missile aimer or flak gunner over beautiful downtown Hanoi knew it was Lt. Jonathan Hayes he was shooting at. I was just another Yankee Air Pirate as far as they were concerned. Getting shot at is just an occupational hazard. Treat it as such. I know, I know: facile dictu, difficile factu. That’s Latin for “easy to say, tough to do.” But seriously make the effort. If you take these things personally you are asking for some serious mental trouble. I’ve seen it happen.

Flying fighters is not a safe job. During the two years I was stationed in Japan – “peacetime” flying – I had two room-mates killed in aircraft accidents. We also had two crew chiefs killed and two aircrew severely injured when an aircraft blew up on engine start. In any operation you have to expect losses.

I’m certain this never happened but it’s too good a story not to repeat. A flight of four over the southern panhandle of North Vietnam. Lead two and three are experienced pilots. It’s Four’s first mission and he’s a tad nervous so when a couple of desultory rounds come up – just to let others on the ground the Yankee Air Pirates are around – he hits the mike: “Lead, they’re shooting at us!”. A moment of silence and Lead’s bored reply: “Roger. They’re allowed to.”

Fear. You’ll be scared before you go into battle and scared after you come out, but when you are actually in a combat situation, fear is a luxury you will not have time to indulge in. 350 years ago during the English Civil War, Col. Jacob Astley prayed before a battle: “Lord Thou knowest how busy I must be today so if I should forget Thee do not Thou forget me.” He had it right; an old campaigner.

Nuclear weapons. Almost certainly some of you will be involved with nuclear weapons at some point in your career. I can remember the first time I sat Victor alert. The crew we were replacing vouched my navigator and me into the secure area. We checked the cockpit switches and positioned our helmets and parachute harness. Then we checked the weapons settings. It was a B61 – still the standard. Physically quite attractive; twelve feet of brushed steel. But it was 23 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. When I signed the bomb acceptance form, I “owned” the bomb – a piece of weaponry of unprecedented power in warfare. If that thought doesn’t scare the living hell out of you, nothing will. I was 26 years old. You won’t get that level of responsibility in civilian life.

Now I’ll repeat that. You’ve all seen pictures of the Hiroshima devastation. Now imagine 23 times that. It would destroy far more than just the military target – civilian men, women, children in the tens of thousands; maybe hundreds of thousands – and I am not exaggerating those numbers. 23 times the Hiroshima devastation
Now comes the $64 question – the same one I was asked in my initial certification briefing: “If properly ordered, would you be willing to deliver this weapon on your assigned target?” That’s about the most serious question you will ever be asked. Think about it long and hard.

I hate to end on a serious note, but when you are commissioned you will take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies domestic and foreign and that you will take that oath freely and without any mental reservations or attempts at evasion. That’s pretty comprehensive; no wiggle room there. And it does not come with any expiration date.

When I was at Arlington National Cemetery last spring, I commented to the docent at the Lee mansion that Robert E. Lee had violated his oath by going with the Confederacy. He told me – and this I hadn’t known – Lee had a sister who stayed North and had also said her brother violated his oath. Don’t you ever do so.

Whether you stay in to retirement or get out after your commitment you will always look on your time in the military as the best years of your life. I really envy you and would love to be in your shoes. You may hear a lot about benefits in the military and for veterans. I consider I’ve had the greatest benefit I could ever possibly hope for: the privilege and honor of serving the United States of America – the greatest nation on God’s green earth and don’t let anyone ever try to tell you different – in America’s armed forces and in combat. No one could ever ask for more and I will always feel truly humble and grateful that I was able to do so.

So may the Good Lord go with you and may your takeoffs and landings always be equal in number and GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Thank you.

Captain Jonathan Hayes, USAF
F-4D Pilot and Viet Nam Veteran

Entered active duty Jan. 1965, separated Jun. 1976. Served at: Ubon RTAFB, Thailand, Jul. 1967 – Sep 1968; 80th TFS, Yokota AB, Japan, Sep. 1968 – Feb. 1970; 35 TFS, Yokota, Feb. 1970-Dec. 1970; 433 TFS, Phu Cat AB, RVN, Jan. 1971 – Dec. 1971; 480 TFS, Udorn RTAFB, Thailand; 434 TFS Jun 1972 – Nov. 1972,.
Equal number of takeoffs and landings.

Note two things:
1. The magnificent mustache. Viet Nam vets will remember the accepted truth that a mustache was almost a guarantee of a successful tour and/or 100 missions over Pack VI;
2. The beautiful tie, resplendent in 80th FS historic colors which is available in the store:


  1. Yokohama AB, Japan? Yokota AB, Japan is correct. No big deal – just a nit. I remember Jon in the 80th back then. I remember the accident where the crew chiefs died and Billy Gough and Bob Emerson survived.

    • HAH! This was a test to see if anyone would catch such an obvious error.
      Joe you are the winner!
      Your prize is free whiskey at the Reunion.

      Thanks for the good catch.

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