How Much Trouble can a Kid Get Into?

We lived in Germany for a few years. That sounds so cool, but if you’re in the Air Force it’s really no biggie. We were stationed at Hahn Airbase in the Hunsruck. That’s a province in Germany that literally means “Dog’s Back”. Mainly farmland framed with really steep hills. Acres of barley, hops and wheat that goes into making that yummy German Beer.

So one day I was cheerfully playing with my F-16 when the Expeditor drives up. An Expeditor expedites stuff. Okay, he really drives back and forth making sure things get done. Jets get fixed, launched, recovered. Keeps track of who is working where. So anyway, John (the Expeditor) drives up to me and yells “GO HOME!!”

Me driving home.

I start packing up my tools and he shouts again (John never yells), “WE’LL GET THAT. GO HOME NOW!!!” Okay, okay. I get into the truck. He drives me directly to my car. I drive home.

We lived in off base housing in the village Rhaunen, about 20 klicks away. (that’s the cool way to say kilometers, no it’s not misspelled).   This gave me time to wonder what the big deal is. I’m betting that the wife has another migraine and needs to go to the E.R. As I neared Rhaunen, I saw a pall of black smoke coming out of our little valley.

This is what I saw when I topped the hill.

“Oh Shit”, I thought, “our apartment caught fire.”

When I got to the housing area I counted three German Fire Companies and the Air Force one. A quick glance to see our apartment building was unscathed, WTH? White smoke and steam filled the air and before I could park, my wife walked up to the car.

“Brian won’t talk to any one until he talks to you. That’s what he said. Don’t be mad at him”.

Okay, seriously, what the fuck is going on?

Brian in front of our apartment in Rhaunen.

There was Brian (eight years old, or so) standing, arms crossed with a half a dozen firemen standing with him. There were also the Air Force Security Police and German Polizei (police). He starts talking but the Security Policeman suggests we take the conversation somewhere else.

In my living room, the Security Police read me MY rights. I’m thinking “Okay, but what the hell is going on?” At this point the wife thinks that I’m in trouble. Well, I am. I’m responsible for the action of my “Dependents” (Militaryspeak for “family”). That out of the way I turn to Brian. “Okay. What happened?”

He says that he was playing with some boys. They had matches and were taking turns seeing how long they could hold a burning match. He dropped his and the wheat field caught fire. Oh yeah the four acres of smoking wreckage right outside. Gotcha. The Security Police thanks me for my “statement” and advised me to get a German Lawyer.

I get a German lawyer, Herr Rhaunen. I have always thought that was cool. Herr Rhaunen who lives in Rhaunen. Yeah, his family had lived in the valley since the Middle Ages and got to name the village.  Rechtsanwahlter is German for lawyer. A direct translation is “He who sees the Truth, or Right.”  I pay him a hundred Marks to have him suggest we talk to the farmer.  I don’t get to talk to him, Lawyer Rhaunen goes and talks to him. It turns out that the field  had already been harvested and the farmer was going to burn it anyway. Nothing was damaged, so the farmer thanked me for helping out.

Huh?

That was Brian’s story and he stuck to it. Until 1998, when Brian came to see me in Las Vegas.  Apparently it wasn’t the Truth, the Whole Truth and nothing but The Truth. It seems that Brian took the Rap for his Little Brother. Dear….Sweet…Little…..Timmy was the criminal. Yeah there were matches. Yeah there were boys from the neighborhood. Yeah, Brian was there too.  Yeah they were playing “hold the match until it burns the shit out your finger”. But it was Timmy. Dear….Sweet…Little …Timmy who wielded the can of OFF insect repellant like a flame thrower. Which got out hand…literally and was dropped in that wonderfully harvested field of wheat.

Dear…Sweet…Little…Timmy on his Second-First Day of Kindergarten.

Captain Michael A. Crandall- USAF


I vividly remember the day of the crash. The weather was very bad that day. The first sortie was recalled and we were able to refuel only two aircraft before fueling went on weather hold as well.

Capt. Mike Crandall was off station that day , but he and his wingman “snuck in ” under the weather. I was expediting that day and picked him up at the airplane. He asked about our jet (84-1292). I told him that it was in the garage (phase inspection). As I dropped him off at ops he said “Remind me about nose art when I get back.” Those were the last words I heard Mike say.

Back in ops, LtCol. Rick Huss told Mike that Capt. Bob McCormack still needed to be upgraded to flight lead and Mike volunteered to take him up. Bob was to fly 1395 and Mike 1401 the only two aircraft refueled.

On start up Bob had hydraulic indication problems and we fixed them. Mike was in the other flight so I didn’t know he was flying.

The aircraft were configured without external fuel tanks so their flight time was less than a hour. After an hour passed, we figured they “weathered in” at some other bases as it was common. After 90 minutes I was radioed to meet with my supervisor. He asked for me to quietly get the maintenance forms for 395. Fearing the worst I asked him if the aircraft was lost. he said “Just get the forms and don’t discuss anything with anyone.”

The aircraft had collided. Bob was thrown (not ejected) out of the jet. He landed in a farmer’s field with a broken back. A farmer’s daughter (yes this is true) picked him up in the family car as he was walking toward the farm house. He phoned in the base to report the collision.

The squadron was monitoring the SAR net, listening to the search effort. There were two beepers going off. In the other room, Capt. Karl Gruner was listening to German radio hoping for a news report. When Bob phoned, they then began looking for Mike. It was then that German news reported that two F-16’s had in fact collided, resulting one pilot dead and one severely injured. That is how we found out that Mike was dead. The Polizei had found his body, he had had a good chute but he died in the collision.

I went home not knowing that. Knowing two jets were down, I prayed the crew chief prayer that all pilots were safe. The next morning I read in the Stars and Stripes, that Captain Michael A. Crandall had died the night before.

I sat in my stairwell and cried .

Mike was my pilot and my friend. He is buried at the Academy. Every now and then I see cadets serving at Nellis AFB. If I get a chance to talk I tell them that when they are struggling and don’t think they can hack it, to visit Mike. We lost many, many friends during the Cold War. Let no one forget that there was and still is great valor on “routine training missions”.

Mikey is at the Air Force Academy,

Colorado Springs, Colorado.

OTHER HEROES