One of the best quotes I’ve heard in a long time was made by a former Navy Captain concerning the close flyby of a Russian Jet Fighter back in 2014. The Captain was asked why the U.S. Destroyer did not fire on the plane when it approached in such a menacing method. The Captain replied that at no time was there an indication that the plane was prepared to fire and then he added a personal response.
“You don’t get to kill someone just because they’re annoying. You shoot a plane down from that range and the pilot is almost surely going to die”!
I think what is lost so often in this world of video games and virtual reality is the fact that all life is precious. There is no do over, no restart button, when a life is snuffed out its gone, forever.
I don’t know and none of us will ever know what kind of a man this pilot was. Does he have a wife, children, how many people are dependent on him? Maybe the guy is a real jerk or maybe, maybe he was just following orders. No matter what the nature of his personality, no matter what brought on these actions, what seems perfectly clear is that it did not warrant the death penalty.
Actually, if you really stop and think about it, are the Russians that much different than we Americans? No, they’re not, but they talk different, they dress different, they even eat different. If you feel this way there is probably a good chance you have never visited many parts of the United States much less another country.
I had three close encounters with Russians, however when I had these encounters they weren’t Russians they were Soviets. Now that’s scary, Soviets!
1980 in the Arabian Sea. My ship was on alert due to the Iranian hostage crisis. We steamed the deep blue for over 2 months waiting for something to happen. About every other week we would get buzzed by a Soviet Intelligence gathering plane referred to as a “Russian Bear”. They would come in low and pass what seemed like barely a few feet over the top of the mast. One or Two of our F-14’s would be sealed up tight to their wing tips. The announcement would be made over the ships intercom system that the Bear was inbound. We were instructed not to do anything that might provoke an international incident! About the only thing we ever thought about doing was mooning the pilot!
In February of 1980 a historical sporting event took place with the US Hockey team beating the Soviets. None of us saw the game, this was way before satellite TV, but we did get the news flash. Some of the more creative minds on board the John Paul Jones devised a nice welcome sign for our friend on his next visit. Sure enough a few days later it was announced that the “Bear” was inbound. About half dozen guys took station on the upper deck. When the plane was almost to our position the guys unfurled the banner they had created to reveal!
USA 4 – USSR 3
This was so “in your face” but also sort of good nature ribbing at the same time. The Bear made a pass overhead then turned to make a second one. By this time a good number of the crew was topside yelling and jumping up and down in the vicinity of the banner. To our amazement the plane’s pilot rocked the wings of the bear as he flew past the second time as a salute to us and then flew off! I always had a vision of the crew smiling to themselves and saying.
“We’ll get you in 4 years”!
Sometime in 1987 NASA was firing a rocket from Cape Canaveral with Military connections. My ship the USS Talbot was stationed out of Mayport Florida. We received word that a Soviet Intelligence ship was being deployed off the East Coast of Florida to film and gather as much information as possible. We were ordered to intercept them, although it was international waters so not a whole lot we could do. Basically we were just there to harass them and simply get on their nerves.
After a couple of days of sailing we found them. Strange looking vessel, shorter than us and obviously built for tracking, eve dropping and just plain old spy work! There had to be about 30 antennas extended out from all over her exterior. For the first few days we just shadowed the ship from just over the horizon. Mostly listening and tracking and reporting movements.
Come the third day it was time to get downright aggravating. We set a course and speed that had us catching up with the ship at a pretty fast pace. We took station just off her port stern (left side rear) and set a speed that would have us creeping up on her slowly but surely. Within minutes there was only a few hundred yards of salt water between us. Now you could easily see the crew above decks. We crept up where our bow (front) was even with her stern (back).
Suddenly to our astonishment the Soviet hoisted a flag signal that indicated the speed the ship was making in knots. I seem to remember that the speed was about 12 knots or so (approx. 13mph). I looked down at the Captain and he nodded for me to answer so we raised a hoist indicating that we were at 13 knots. It didn’t take long to be even with them, bow to bow. We dropped our hoist and raised one showing that we had decreased our speed to match theirs.
We were probably about 300 yards apart when the Captain instructed me to signal them that we would be coming to starboard (right) 3 degrees. I did as I was instructed with a flag hoist knowing what that meant. It meant that if the Soviet ship did not also make a move to starboard then we would be closing the distance significantly. We began to turn slowly and gradually it became apparent right away that the Soviets had no desire to be pushed around. In a few minutes I signaled them again that we were steady on a course that would keep us less than a hundred yards apart.
They seemed to be amused and interested in us as we were equally in them. I had such a good view because my work station was on the very top of the ship. The first thing I noticed was their uniforms. The uniforms looked to be a little flamboyant but comfortable. Some of the sailors wore hats that were a slightly Robin Hood style. I could see some men come up on deck to take a look at us and I’m pretty sure they were cooks or worked in the galley somewhere. They were a little heavy in the stomach area and wore aprons around their waist. One really strange thing I remember seeing was a guy with a cat in his arms! Yes, a Cat!
I was doing all my viewing through the lens of the big binoculars, aka, the “big eyes”. As I scanned across the decks I spotted a sailor on their ship who was doing the same thing. We locked on each other and both of us at almost the exact time stood tall and looked at each other over the top of the frame. We just stared across the short distance for a few minutes and then I decided to try something. With my right hand I gave a slight wave. It seemed to startle him because he rose up from his eyepiece and looked around. He then put his eyes back to the binoculars and this time I decided to really reach out so I presented the peace sign to him. He once again looked around to see if anyone was looking then very passively returned the sign. Me and a commie were communicating with each other by flashing the peace sign across the water! As my generation would say, “Far Out”!
We sailed along with them for maybe a half an hour and then split. The one topic that everyone was talking about was.
“They looked just like us”!
Alexandria Egypt 1988 port visit by the USS McInerny. Very few cities in the world with as much history as Alexandria. Center of learning in the ancient world. frequent playground of, Cleopatra! We were tied up at the docs not far from the Achille Laura, some may remember when that ship was hijacked in 1985. There was also a Cruise ship from the Soviet Union in port. Now in those days you never saw many Soviet cruise ships at sea. We were told that this particular ship was occupied by people who were high ranking in the communist party, people who carried very little risk of defecting during a port visit.
Instructions were that if we ran into any of these folks in town or anywhere we should keep our distance. We were also informed that they had been instructed not to interact with us either. Sometime during the second day some of us took a trip to the market place. This was a little like a giant flea market. You could find just about anything you needed or wanted in an Egyptian market place!
I was standing at a booth where an Egyptian guy was selling children’s toys and I was looking for something for my little girl. A couple walked up to the counter a few feet away. I had a feeling they were from the cruise ship. They said a few words and then I knew they were. I certainly didn’t speak Russian but was pretty sure that’s what they were speaking.
The vendor spoke very good English so I told him I was looking for a present for my teenage daughter. He handed me a box and told me to open it. I removed the lid and there was this beautiful Egyptian doll all dressed in traditional wear with a veil and everything. I noticed the Russian lady looking at the doll also so I turned it so she could see.
She smiled at the doll and then I extended the box toward her. With my natural flirtatious nature I winked at her. She blushed a little and reached for the box. I think at that time she suddenly realized who I was and withdrew her hands. She then quickly looked at her male companion. He looked at her with a scowl on his face, shook his head and then the two turned and left quickly!
I wonder what my friends would think back home if I had started an international incident with a wink. They probably wouldn’t be that surprised!
My point with all this is obvious and as old as history itself. Everyone is just trying to get by. There are those who set out to cause pain and death and these should be dealt with appropriately and harshly if need be. I think for the most part we’re just all passengers in a great big boat floating aimlessly on an ocean of space.