A Single Daring Act
Memoirs of Korea by an acclaimed novelist.
- By James Salter
- Air & Space magazine, November 1991
(Page 7 of 8)
The farewells were the briefest. He merely picked up and left as if the game had meant little to him, walking out without a backward glance. It was over.
I have forgotten when Kasler left, sometime later and after another victory; the MiGs had come down south of Anju during the early mission. He saw them low, but couldn’t catch them and then it developed there was one behind him. His sixth.
I went to find him as he was getting ready to leave. I had a flight of my own by then and other loyalties, but part of me had stayed behind. We said goodbye. He was somewhat taciturn, as usual. I wondered if he was yet aware of what he had won and would have for a long time thereafter, the luster of those hunting days when his name became storied.
Later he came by to say a few words—to console me, I think. There would be other chances. Of course, I said. We would see each other sometime, we agreed. It was heartbreaking to see him go, not for the slender friendship we had, but for the achievement he was carrying off with him. I saw his name one other time, in an article all down a column of the Times during the Vietnam War. He was flying there. He was known, it said, by name in the war room of the White House itself.
I know how they appeared to me, and I try to step aside for a moment to observe myself, how I seemed to them. Even now I cannot be sure—a marked figure, certainly, convivial and aloof at the same time, not uncourageous, driven, a bit unlucky, or was it unwise? They may sometimes have wondered what happened to me. Did I go on, did I rise?
The first good weather in a week. The fighter-bombers are going north again in strength, to someplace up near the border. The briefing room is crowded and electric. It’s maximum effort—everything that can fly.
Far beneath us the silver formations were moving slowly, it seemed, across barren hills. Enemy flights were being announced, one after another, and then someone saw them along the river at thirty thousand feet. Blood jumping after the idle days, we dropped tanks and began to climb. We broke through a thin layer of clouds and into complete emptiness.
Moments later, coming from nowhere, they are on us, four of them at eight o’clock. We turn into them, they pass behind and disappear.