Categories: Travel Stories

Pamplona! (Part 1)

(Isn’t it about time to die?)

Write Drunk, Edit Sober!

Although the above quote, originally spoken by Peter De Vries, is often mis-attributed to Hemingway.

So, as I sit here, Beluga Martini in hand, I will attribute this homage to Papa himself, as well as to all drunk Navy personnel in general.

You know who you are.

El Principio

(The Beginning)

I still do not know why God takes care of “drunks and fools,” but our trip to Pamplona, Spain, for the “Running of the Bulls” was, if not reckless, then foolishness on an epic scale.

It started, as most foolish endeavors do, with boredom creeping into the ready room of my new squadron, VAQ-35, in Whidbey Island, Washington.  This squadron, unlike my sea-going squadron in Japan (VAQ-136), was what we called an aggressor squadron.  This command would deploy to airbases around the United States, to “work up” air wings that were getting ready to deploy on six-month navy deployments.  We would use our electronic jamming pods (ALQ-99’s), strapped underneath the wings of our planes, and engage in aerial combat training against opposing pilots and navigators in other aircraft, as well on warship.  We did these exercises so our sailors could practice working through our electronic jamming and to counter our attacks across the electromagnetic spectrum.  It was a great shore duty since most of us had  completed a sea-going squadron tour on board aircraft carriers, and thus were deemed competent and “responsible enough” to take these expensive planes for days, or weeks, at a time around the country.

This squadron is where the story starts; and where I must blame my cohort for creating the opportunity to attempt this truly stupid endeavor.  For if Tony wasn’t trying to be a renaissance man, he would not have been reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.  And if he wasn’t reading that novel the discussion would not have turned the “Running of the Bulls.”

So, sitting in our ready room on that cool, crisp summer day in June, we imagined how awesome it would be to act like Hemingway.  To be an expat, to drink, to fight, and travel to this mysterious city of legend. However, we had no idea where Pamplona even was (other than on the Iberian Peninsula).  And with this ill-advised adventure being way before the internet we sure as hell couldn’t Google it. But the more we talked, the more we instilled in ourselves this desire.  As the saying goes; “Hold my beer, watch this!”

Preludio

(Prelude)

Throughout the squadron, the more people we talked to about our scheme, the more our shipmates thought this was a great idea.  And the more we imagined and talked about this manly adventure, the more of our squadron mates wanted to take part – the call of excitement with a touch of danger grabbed everyone’s interest.  Like I said, we all were rather foolish; we flew off aircraft carriers in the Navy after all.

With mob mentality taking shape, the pressure built to where there was no way we could back down.   Everyone wanted to join.  At one point at least a dozen people said they would go.  But when to go?  We had no idea when this ancient ceremony was taking place.  But then it happened.  Someone had done enough research to find out that the race was on July 7th.   Shit!  It was the middle of June and time was running out.  And that’s when we found out who had “a pair,” and who did not.  It’s one thing to talk smack, but when the rubber meets the road, and you have to pony up money to buy a ticket, you soon see who is committed.  Almost immediately after we “pulled the trigger” to go, a few who we knew were questionable dropped out.  Then one by one the mates we thought were going to make the trip slinked away with their tails between their legs, until there were only the original, intrepid adventurers. … pussies!

Tony and I resolved to make this quest happen no matter the cost.  But how do we attain leave papers to attend something so dangerous (and stupid)?  Our skipper, whose call sign was “Death” (to give you an idea of his makeup), would never sign off on such a hairbrained idea.  He would not want us risking our health after the Navy had invested millions of dollars into our training.  However, being resourceful junior officer, we did what any enterprising young lieutenant would do…we lied.

Our scheme was to convince “Death” that we were renaissance men, and we wanted to burnish our international resume’s by traveling to Paris to attain some culture.  To spend our valuable vacation time in museums and understand a new culture in one of Europe’s most famous cosmopolitan cities.    As we stood in his office requesting leave to fly to France, we justified our request by the experiences our trip would provide.  We told him how we wanted to go to this major European city, a global center for arts, fashion, and for us, gastronomy.  We were going to visit the Louvre, see the sights of Paris, and revel in the culture of this sophisticated city.   Of course, upon returning, we told the skipper how this could help our squadron mates by educating them on the wonderful, culturally significant trip we were taking.  It was a level of gibberish rarely seen in today’s Navy.    I am sure “Death,” who knew us well, didn’t buy the culture side of this bullshit story we were spinning, and simply thought we just wanted to go to Paris and chase chicks.  Whatever his thought process was that day he signed our papers, and we were on our way.

With the ink not even dry on our leave papers, I scurried up to SATO, which was the military travel agency, dropped $964 dollars (a number I still remember to this day), and bought a round trip ticked to Charles de Gaulle Airport on the outskirts of Paris.   Yes, we pulled one over on the skipper, or at least we thought.   No matter, we said to ourselves; we were OFF TO SPAIN!

Before we left, we told one Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) – call sign “Bucky” – who we knew we could have faith in, about our plans.   Bucky was months from retiring from the Navy, and since he had “short-timers” disease, we knew we could trust him to keep our secret.  Unfortunately, we also told a few other “close friends” about our plans who were sworn to secrecy as well…or so we thought.

About the Author: James Feldkamp is a retired US Naval Officer, having served as US Naval Flight Officer, Counter-Measures Officer, and Navigator for the Navy’s carrier-based attack aircraft, the EA-6B. In 1991, Jim Feldkamp served and flew off the USS Midway during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Later affiliated with the U.S. Naval Reserves, Jim served as Special Agent for the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia, where he became founding member of the organization’s Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force. Jim resigned from the FBI in 2004 to run for Oregon’s District 4 Congressional seat. He ran as the Republican nominee for the District 4 seat during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. Currently, Jim serves as a Subject Matter Expert at Georgetown University, where he is developing a course centered on “Terrorism and Unconventional Threats.” He formerly taught undergraduate courses in domestic and international terrorism as adjunct professor at George Washington University, and George Mason University.

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