A Single Daring Act
Memoirs of Korea by an acclaimed novelist.
- By James Salter
- Air & Space magazine, November 1991
(Page 3 of 8)
He also, for a time, carried binoculars. Someone had suggested they might be a help for distant sightings and he rounded up a pair. We were encumbered in the airplanes—heavy clothing, life vest, pistol, flares—and on top of all this and his knotted, white scarf, the binoculars hung. They were not very practical; their field was small and the sky they jerked across, immense. He pretended they were useful. He was like Nelson holding a telescope up to his blind eye. In any situation he was ready to engage. In this he was like Quixote with whom he shared certain characteristics, though he was not, like the knight, a deeply serious man.
In the air he was imperturbable and, rarer, magnanimous. We were in many fights together, often uneven fights, but his mere presence, he felt, made any odds equal. He was not methodical. He fought the way a man does who has a few drinks and sits down to play poker, the cards may be running right. Cigar in his mouth, he enjoys the game, and if he finds himself over his head can still smile and say good night, or as a famous black champion once addressed reporters, having lost the bout of his life, Gentlemen, I have had a most entertaining evening and I hope that you have, too.
One day I watched him turn, in a huge tilting circle, with the leader of a flight of two MiGs. He had hit him earlier, but at long range, and was trying to finish him off. The wingman had disappeared. Into and out of an enormous sun that seemed to burn black in the sky, we flew. In crossing from side to side to stay in position I had moved slightly ahead and called to Colman that it was me passing in front of and beneath him—there had been cases of mistaken identity. “I’m between you and the MiG.”
“Go ahead,” he replied. “You take him.”
It was a lavish gesture, though no more than I expected of him. It would have been a victory we shared. I had already damaged a MiG a week or two earlier and discovered they were not untouchable. I knew, with the confidence that assures it, I would have many, entirely my own. “No, you’ve got him,” I said.
I was looking behind. It all seemed very leisurely. After a while I heard, “Do you still have him, Two?”
I looked to the front. Nothing.
“I seem to have lost him,” Colman remarked offhandedly.