Over the Horizon by Luke Ridenhour. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018
Over the Horizon is heartwarming, fictionalized account of the USS Midway’s 1980-1981 cruise. The story is told through the focus of the officers of VA-115 Eagles, who fly A-6 Intruders off the Midway. The reader is the 3rd person in the cockpit along with the pilot and the bomber-navigator (BN) from preflight briefs, through catapult takeoff and tail hook landing, and the long hour’s in-between.
The reader experiences why a lucky pilot is one whose takeoffs equal his landings. He doesn’t want to dick the donkey. Such irreverent observations are a way to cope with the reality that a single mistake can be the loss of a friend. “Although one pilot, three enlisted men, and four airplanes would not be coming home, the cruise was deemed a success. Acceptable losses for such an at-sea period were defined as five aircraft loss or significantly damaged, three fatalities involving aviators, and three fatalities involving non-aviators.” (p.251).
The book follows a pivotal year for the USS Midway. The Cactus collision and a potentially hazardous flyby of the Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk are two of the dramatic highlights. The officers of VA-115 also face personal highs and lows from a break-up with a girlfriend that cannot handle the strains of the life and death situations that aviators face daily, a divorce from a wife who can no longer deal with the prolonged separations for people serving with the Navy’s foreign legion as the Midway was also known, and unlikely lifelong friendship with Eli, a Filipino caddy at the golf course in Subic Bay who understood that you “can’t argue with God about wind, rains and storm, or why you can’t teach a monkey to meow.” (p. 233)
The friendships of the people in this story will stay with the reader long after the story ends. Everyone is a wonderful human being. Even the sailors on liberty in Olongapo (the adult Disneyland) show remarkable restraint except for the very few that throw pesos away from the children who dive into the Shit River for the tossed coins. The better among the people who cross over the Shit River Bridge between the Subic Naval Base and Olongapo throw the coins near the children or the nets they carry. It is like a band of Eagle Scouts rather than the variety of flawed human beings that one normally finds in a group of individuals. All of the Filipino children are precious, all of the Filipinos are friendly and have wonderful smiles despite the Americans on the golf course spending more in a day than that Filipinos make in a week. Where do we find such friendly, pleased with their lot in life people?
Midway Magic is a constant theme through the story. It helps save the ship from damage during the Cactus collision. It also explains the luck experienced by the various pilots and crew as they perform their intricate, death defying ballet when the night is darker than a “black horse’s ass” and the flight deck is freezing.
Over the Horizon is another theme. Pilots live to see what’s over the horizon. Eli, the Filipino caddy, dreams of someday seeing over the horizon “the mystical line where the water meets the sky. His dream was in full view every day—less than twenty miles away—yet out of reach for a life time, he had finally conceded.” (p. 19)
I would like to read more about life on the Midway as interpreted by those that served on her. It is a time that has passed, but is evergreen for those who love a good sea story that either begins “This is a no shitter,” or “There I was on the…” Let us end as one the flyers, Doc, is known to say, “Yes and Amen.”