Air-Minded: Throw a Nickel on the Grass


Larry “Crumer” Crumrine

That’s our old squadron-mate Crumer, whose memorial service we attended in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Thursday evening. Crumer, as you can tell from the photo (click to see it larger), flew in Vietnam … two back to back one-year tours, the first as an F-4 GIB (guy in back), the second as a front-seater. I first met him at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, where we flew F-15 Eagles together; later, we were the first two Eagle drivers sent to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, to convert the fighter squadron there from F-4s to F-15s.

We had a big job to do at Elmendorf, a large part of it convincing the 21st Wing and Alaskan Air Command to accept the notion that the F-15 actually had a decent on-board radar and could fly an autonomous air superiority, as opposed to close-controlled interceptor, role. The first day we had a couple of additional pilots and four airworthy Eagles, about two months after we arrived, we scheduled a four-ship for an air combat training mission, two versus two. Five minutes later Crumer and I were on the carpet in the director of operations’ office, trying to convince him this was how F-15 units train for combat, that we knew what we were doing, that we’d have solid visuals on one another before engaging in close combat, that we wouldn’t plow into each other in an aerial fireball. Crumer and I carried the day. We flew the mission, and once the first two v. two was history we were able, with diplomacy and persistence, to finish the job of changing what had been a gentleman’s flying club into a proper fighter squadron.

Crumer divorced when he left Soesterberg and arrived at Elmendorf a single man, accompanied by one of this three children. A few months after our arrival he met his second wife; we hosted their wedding reception. Beside showing our respects to a fallen comrade, we of course wanted to see Leila again; all three kids were there too, along with their own children. Mark, the son who’d gone to Alaska with his father, remembered our son Gregory and asked about him … apparently they’d gotten in loads of trouble together back in the Netherlands, and I guess the less we know about that the better. As was to be expected, there were several fighter pilots at Crumer’s service and the spirited wake that followed at his house, among them two old squadron-mates from Soesterberg, Hendo and Stormy. A somber but simultaneously happy reunion, and I’m glad we went.

As I told Hendo and Stormy, if the rest of our former squadron-mates do us the courtesy of dying within a 500-mile radius of Tucson, we’ll be there for their services. I know, shouldn’t joke about such things. But it’s true. Apart from those who died flying jets, three of our former Soesterberg friends have died, two of them too far away for us to come and pay our respects in person. Crumer was pretty special, though, and I’d have driven farther to throw a nickel on the grass in his memory.

Oh Hallelujah, Oh Hallelujah,
Throw a nickel on the grass,
Save a fighter pilot’s ass.
Oh Hallelujah, Oh Hallelujah,
Throw a nickel on the grass,
And you’ll be saved.

© 2014 – 2015, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


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