The Open Gate

A B-57 crew faced the end of the world.

Air & Space Magazine

(Continued from page 3)

And so it went, hour after hour, cramped in tandem seats, sitting on top of a would-be automatic holocaust, eyes ever on the pickup truck that would indicate launch verification when it moved out of the open gateway.  “We had special things to consider,” says Mugavero.  “The plane, the fuel, the bomb, the course, the tactics—but I knew that really I wasn’t a special person.  I was as human as the next guy.  I sat in that cockpit and had the same thoughts that anyone would have who knew that life—damn near all life—was about to end.”

After six endless hours, an officer approached the B-57.  He told Mugavero and Clark to shut down the electrical switches and come in.

The pickup truck started up and drove quietly away, trailing a little plume of blue exhaust.  Mugavero and Clark watched the gate close.

The two men unbuckled their straps, pulled off their helmets, and clambered out of the Canberra.  Standing beside it on the concrete taxiway, they rubbed the blood back into their numbed buttocks, stretching and flexing muscles, breathing deeply the cold Korean morning air.  From all over the compound, pilots and navigators appeared, stiff, wan, weary, hungry, cold, scared.

All of them headed for the building, where they began unzipping their flying clothes.  Once inside, a great chorus seemed to rise and echo: “What happened?”

A ground officer gave the answer quickly: President Kennedy had been assassinated.

In the great uncertainty that followed the deadly shots in Dallas, thousands of servicemen around the world had gone on alert.  The end of civilization had been contemplated by many others besides Mugavero and Clark.

When Mugavero returned to Japan a few days later, his family was there to meet him.  Driving home, his wife said, “I don’t know if you heard the news about the president.  He was shot and killed.”

“Yes,” said Mugavero.  “We heard about it.”

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