Join our senior library member,
Bruce Haase and write your story. Bruce said “ he has read thousands of books”.Bruce is a passionate fiction writer who draws stories from his personal experience. He will be the facilitator of the group. This is an informal meeting to support each other and organize your thoughts for writing. Sharing is optional.
Meetings will be on Tuesdays: June 18, July 16 & 30, and August 6 & 20.
1 — 3 p.m.
Big Al’s Binder
by Bruce Haase aka Nick E. Cue
Memoir / Creative Non-Fiction
Binder: A hard covered device used to protect, connect, save, add, remove or
rearrange two or more items together, temporarily.
Three-Ring Binders are used world wide for a million different tasks. For this
little tale I refer to a binder with a capacity of 200 or so pages.
If a person is fortunate to exist for a long time, they will become aware of their
binder. We each get only permanent one, you know. Page one
is our birth certificate, that page is fixed and can not be shifted around or deleted.
The rest of our pages are quite fluid for us. At age 55 or so, a person may have
about 6 binders full, and then realize, in reality only one binder is allowed and a
person needs to add, subtract and reorganize what we will be left with, in that
Big Al was 16 when he joined the Navy in 1937, by ’38 he was an
aircraft mechanic in Hawaii. He was a smart, personable, go-getter type of
kid and very well liked by the pilots who were glad to take Al up and instruct
him in the science and art of piloting. By the Pearl Harbor attack Al had
hundreds of hours of stick-time, in fact he had more experience then quite
a few of the actual Naval Aviators.
The Services needed thousands of quality airmen as fast as they
could get them, strings were pulled, and by the end of December Al was on
his way to Pensacola, Florida to The US Navy Flight School. As he
progressed thru the training, his skills and personality welded Al into his job
for the duration. Enlisted pilots were a minority in WWII, enlisted Flight
Instructors were very rare indeed.
No time off, except for weather, until after the “Bombs of August 1945”.
No more enlisted Instructors in Pensacola. The Navy did reward Al though,
26 months at the U of Wisconsin and Al was back as a Lieutenant, Junior
Grade and in the cockpit as a Navy test pilot. Then came Korea where he
made sure he got in his combat flying, off of those old straight-deck flat
By 1963 Lt. Cdr. Big Al was the Maintenance Officer of a Photo
Reconnaissance squadron on Guam. I was an 18 year old enlisted aircraft
mechanic in that Squadron, so Big Al was my bosses, bosses, boss. We
were friends as both of our names, along with one other squadron mate’s
appeared on the checkout cards in the front of dozens of books at the base
library. Now it’s the time to return to binders…
While on petty-officer-of-the-watch duty one night around 0300 I noticed
a light come on in a 2nd floor hanger office window, my duty was to wander
around and check on the 6 sailors that were on watch protecting our
airplanes and the hanger from fire or god-less commies or what ever other
harm that could befall us out there in the Pacific. Our intrepid watches
weren’t always too good as one night some Aussie sailors snuck into the
area and spray stenciled kangaroos all over our planes and buildings. We
got ’em back though in the Philippines. Oops, I digress.
At 0400 the light in the office window was still on and beckoned, it
turned out to be the squadron aircraft maintenance office and Big Al at his
desk with a thick, white Navy mug and a three-ring binder. The door was
open and I stuck my head in to give him a bad time about his wife kicking
out or something like that. I didn’t though… The aura wasn’t right for
He invited me in and showed me his binder and told me stories for the
next couple of hours. The Binder held maybe 60 or more photos with notes,
b&w, 8×10 glossies of very young Naval Aviators getting their wings pinned
on upon graduation, at The Naval Air Training Station, Pensacola, Florida. I
asked him if these were all the guys that he had trained? After a couple of
minutes, without looking up he said, “No, maybe 30% of my students are
here, these are the ones that never got to hear that the war was over.”
Big Al told me about maybe 20 of them. He told about their flying skills,
how fast or slow they picked it up, funny or frightening things that transpired
during training. How things went, on their first Carrier Landing, jokes that
they played or that were played on them. I noticed he never read any of the
notes, his eyes never left the faces, young, proud, smiling faces. He never
mentioned the hundreds of letters that were in that binder of his.
Later I found out that he made these pilgrimages to his binder a couple
of times a month, always on very quiet nights when no one was around. He
had some photos from Korea too.
I left that squadron in March ’63 and left the Navy in Nov ’64. I never
saw Big Al again, but I wonder about the Photos that were added from
Vietnam. That Photo Recon. Squadron lost like 4 or 5 birds in ‘Nam, w/
three sailors per plane.
Al would be about 92 today if he’s still around, if he’s gone his binder
should go somewhere where it would be respected. Of course, that was a
“physical binder”, The Real “Big Al Binder” would be with him, in his mind. If
he’s gone the last page would be his Death Certificate. We will all get one
of those, someday, not soon I hope, and yes, a binder too.
I’m just about 70 now, my binder is pretty full, right now it’s 4:18 am and
I pulled this story out and have typed it up for you to consider the 100 plus
pages in Big Al’s Binder. This story is only about a page and a half in my binder. You could probably store it as a sentence or two in your binder, then maybe call it up and spread it around a bit on Memorial Day.
When I think about those real old, dementia people who don’t know their
kid’s names, I like to think they have a binder of pleasant memories to sort of ease them along and through…
* the above picture:My old “Bird” in the Pacific in the early ’60’s
On the night of 25 August 1967, RA-3B, 144835, from VAP-61, on a night Infrared Photo Reconnaissance mission took off from DaNang Air Base in South Vietnam. Near the coast of North Vietnam, 144835 disappeared, nothing was ever found. The three Naval Aircrewmen were eventually declared “Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered”. They were from VAP-62, NAS Jacksonville, Florida, temporarily assigned to VAP-61 to augment aircrew. They were: Cdr. Edward James Jacobs, Jr., Pilot, age 39, born 13 July 1928, Mount Vernon, WA, 20 yrs. US Navy, LTjg James J. Zavocky, Photo/Nav, age 25, born 6 Jan 1942, Parma, OH, 5 yrs. US Navy, Ronald Alan Bois-Clair, ADJ2, Photographer/3rd crew, age 28, born 7 Dec 1938, Tucson, AZ, 10 yrs. US Navy. Their names are still together on Panel 25E on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C..
(Silk painting from outside the gate at Nas Atsugi, Japan)
(submitted by: Bruce Haase, AMH3, Plane Captain 144835, VAP-61, 1962-1963)