Saturday, November 9, 2019

Corpsman Chronicles XV: Whack-a-Mole

Hey Sarge!


Another unexpected memory flashback. This would have been in the early 1980's but I don't remember which year. The Airwing was on a Strike U Det to Fallon, and those were always a great deal of fun.

I'm pretty sure this Det would have been before the Romeo Foxtrot airstrike against Syrian forces east of Beirut in December, 1983. As I've mentioned before, the first couple of years following Operation Eagle Claw (which was Operation Evening Light for us naval airdales) was a very interesting and exciting time in naval aviation. From my perspective, it looked like the entirety of US carrier aviation was expending all effort in relearning and trying to perfect the strike mission, and everyone was training very hard. At the time of this Det, Strike U hadn't actually been invented yet, but it was coming together.

On such detachments each squadron in the airwing sent jets, crews, and support personnel to NAS Fallon to practice strike missions against quite realistic and quite good air and ground defenses. It was a lot of work for everyone, but there was also an opportunity for a lot of fun.

As far as work-fun went, I flew with the Helo Bubbas in some extremely cool and challenging Combat Search and Rescue (C-SAR) missions. From the C-SAR side, I was one of the lucky fellows in on the ground floor of reinventing the mission for modern (post-Vietnam) times. This gave me a lot of street cred in the Airwing which I was able to leverage into some great rides in the S-3A, the OV-2, and the OV-10. But this is not about that. Mostly.

Then there was post-work fun. One good memory is this. At the time, the E-Club at Fallon was basically a shack. It was a tiny building, one of those assembled with sections of pre-stressed concrete and featuring a flat concrete roof. It was fairly nice inside with a carpeted floor, dim lighting, and a good bit of naval aviation art on the walls. My imperfect memory tells me that the large main room featured a bar along one wall and perhaps a dozen tables with, as I recall, quite comfortable chairs. There was also a game room off to one side, featuring pinball, pong, and some early versions of video arcade games. The head was off the game room.

Drinking beer in the club one evening with the Helo Bubba AW's, we were joined by several S-3 AW's. Conversation commenced and we had a good time. By the end of the evening I'd managed to secure a couple of S-3 hops; one a tanker and one an Iron Hand. Remind me to write about those at some point, because again, this is not about that.

Anyway, at some point I made a head call and as I returned I felt the pressure of quarters in my pocket desiring to be plunked into game devices, so I looked around at the games and one in particular caught my eye. It was a video poker game which paid out not in shiny coins, but in the chance to cause a pretty young lady (video of an actual human female, not some computer graphic) to take off her clothes. String together enough winning Blackjack hands and she might possibly take it all off. I was enthralled. I was what, 22 years old? Go figure.

So I plunked in some coins and did my best to make the pretty girl disrobe. Being completely new and inexperienced at poker, about all she would do for me was slip a couple of buttons. But the combination of beer, raging hormones, and possibility had me feeding a great many quarters into the machine. Somewhere in there one of the S-3 fellows, an AW1, passed by on the way to the head, and upon his return watched me struggle with the lovely lass's buttons.

"Let me show you something," he said. He pulled out a Swiss Army Knife, reached behind the machine, and did something. The game reset itself into some kind of maintenance mode, which caused every poker hand to be judged a winner by the game's computer chip. I madly slapped buttons at random and the lovely girl smiled at me and took it all off. Which caused me to smile. Go figure.

Just a silly interlude in the early days of my naval service, but today it's a good memory.

After-work fun wasn't limited to the confines of NAS Fallon. Reno was nearby, and for a country rube only a few dozen months removed from the sticks, it was a very interesting place to explore. I've no idea what it's like today, but back then Reno was essentially a small town with some glittering casinos. It was bright at night and the casinos on the main drag offered a new and potentially interesting experience.

I'd never gambled before, and the prospect of turning a dollar into a fortune was intriguing. I was a bit analytically minded (at times) even then, so intellectually I knew there was zero chance of such a thing happening, but I wanted to try my hand. So I put myself on a strict budget of $50 for gambling and set out with a bunch of fellow Airwing corpsmen.

The first casino we visited turned out to be a little mom and pop place, almost like a store in a strip mall. There was a bar and a lot of slot machines, and there may or may not have been a few gaming tables. I bought a few dollar tokens and gave a dollar slot machine a whirl. After only a few yanks on the handle, I hit a jackpot. Lights flashed, bells rang, tokens gushed out of the machine, the whole nine yards.

It was an exciting experience. I felt part of my mind exerting a strong tug to jump onto the gambling bandwagon. But a much stronger part of my mind vetoed the notion. It's hard to explain what happened in those moments, but I remember realizing that the odds in gambling are stupid and that playing slots is fundamentally boring as hell. Just like that I was done with gambling. Stupid waste of time.

I cashed out and was both surprised and pleased to find I'd won $500, which was at the time a hell of a tidy little fortune. It was a month's navy pay for me, and stacks up to more than $1,400 bucks in 2019 wampum. Nevertheless, I was done.

My fellow corpsmen were excited for me and designated me as the fellow who was going to pay for meals and drinks, which was mostly okay with me.

Bored with the mom and pop casino, we crossed the street to Circus-Circus. It was a fascinating place for me, because although it was mostly about gambling, there was an actual circus set up upstairs.

Well, it was actually a pretty poor circus. Not an elephant or a clown car in sight. But it featured a cool trapeze act and what I would call a carnival midway, with dozens of booths featuring games of skill and chance. Ring toss, bottle knock-down, the pop a balloon with a squirt gun thing, and all like that. The kid in me took over and I had a fantastic time.

For some reason the brightest memory is playing Whack-a-Mole. I didn't spend much, and all I won was a bunch of cheap stuffed animals which I handed out at random to the herds of children who were enjoying the place as much as I was. It was a good night, and makes for another good memory.

I tried to find some images of the Reno Circus-Circus I remember, but I couldn't. So in the spirit of the lovely strip poker girl and Whack-a-Mole, there's this. It's corny island and some inflated SI swimsuit model, but it kind of captures a bit of the sense of a long ago moment.


Why was Whack-a-Mole in Reno on my mind? Yesterday felt a lot like playing Whack-a-Mole.

It was just one of those days. Started slow for the first half-hour, which was the only time I took any pictures.
Back of the hardware store, where all the cool kids enter and depart.

Then bang-bang-bang-bang, all day long. Stuff needing done, stuff popping up and changing, then changing again, then yet again, good news and not-so-good news coming in and shifting around, parts runs to town, no time for chow, barely time to check cows.

I did spend a lot of time with my phone in my hand, texting like mad as I arranged the sale and disposal of countless items in our ongoing cleanup effort. That texting! How the firetruck do the young folks do that shit all day and not go bonkers?!?

Yeah, one of those days. You get to the end of the day and the unaccomplished stuff waves at you from over the temporal fence, yet the accomplished stuff makes an impressive, useful, and satisfying pile.

Despite my best intentions I did not post yesterday. Sorry 'bout that. I shall endeavour to do more better to the best of my ability.

Be well and enjoy the blessings of Liberty.


  1. Blogger just ate my very long comment. #%*@#%*!!.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Blogger hungry!

      Thanks for stopping by and feeding the monster Paul.

  2. I'm most content in the high mountains and canyons but your pictures remind me I enjoy the prairie too.

    1. It's got a lot of charm on a pretty November morning.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Enjoyed all the views, and news.
    It's okay if you don't post every day, but we sure like it when Ms. Muse stops by and gets you fired up.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Ms. Cleanup has been distracting the hell out of me. Which is good, nothing like stringing 3-4 can see to can't see days together.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting John!

  4. Rangers were superb little trucks! We shall see off the new ones deserve the name!

  5. I'm late to the party, though I see my Muse has been here. She is such a tease!

    Ah Fallon, The WSO has a story or two to tell of that place as, I'm sure, my son-in-law Big Time has as well. I'm sure Tuttle has been there as well, but he's yet to share a story with me. He will, in time I'm sure.

    Great post, had me chuckling and reminiscing of my young and stupid days. How on Earth did I survive to be 66? Miracle I guess.

    1. One of many Fallon inspired life facts: Iron Hand in an S-3 with a hangover is brutal.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. Oh to be young again... A-6 from Whidbey to Fallon THROUGH the Cascades... THAT was an E-ticket ride! And you guys did a helluva job developing the CSAR component. It's still in use today.

    1. If there's one thing above anything else that I'm satisfied about it's my tiny little piece of post-Vietnam C-SAR. We really tried to do it right, and the Vietnam-era Strike and SAR players were Commanders and Captains at the time and soon to be Admirals, so they shut down most of the squealing when the Remington Raiders and REMF's thought their oxen were being gored. Golden times.

      And Hell yes, the ride through the Cascades in a hand-flown Grumman Flaming Pig was out of this world. For the guy in the right seat, some parts better in daylight, some better at night. Oh to be young again indeed. I really need to write about some of my flying at Fallon. I have very good if sometimes bumpy memories of that.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!