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Righteousness Is the Wingman – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  June 22, 2024  /  13 Comments


Of Honor

Thomas Calabrese – Major Drake Longley was a Marine Corps aviator and his fighter squadron was deployed with the Seventh Fleet to the West Pacific as tensions escalated with China. Major Longley, call-sign ‘Dragon’ was patrolling the Taiwan Straits with his wingman Captain Marty call-sign ‘Slugger’ McNielsen. The two American pilots detected six aircraft cruising an altitude of 25,000 feet and flying parallel to them at a distance of ten miles on their radar screens. Abruptly, the six aircraft changed direction and flew directly at the two American F-18 Super Hornets.

Dragon radioed back to the aircraft carrier, “We’ve got bogeys coming our way.”

The command from the carrier was clear, “Take evasive action and return to carrier.”

            “Roger that,” Major Longley replied.

 While talking evasive maneuvers and following orders Captain McNielsen’s jet was hit by a missile that caused severe damage to one of its F404-GE-402 turbofan engines.  Smoke billowed from the exhaust ports and Slugger radioed, “I’m hit…losing power!”

Major Longley ordered, “Try to make it back to the carrier, I’ll engage.”

Captain McNielsen was easy prey for the J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighters because he had limited ability to evade or accelerate. The Chinese pilots made one serious error, they were so focused on going after the smoking F-18, they didn’t see Major Longley loop around and come up behind them.

The F-18’s 20mm Gun System is a M61A1 six-barrel rotary cannon with a linkless ammunition feed system that can fire 6,000 shots per minute.  When he got within range Major Longley opened fire and hit three Chinese jets, two exploded and the third one was badly damaged. This caused the other three J-20’s to break off their pursuit of Captain Nielsen. Major Longley got a target lock on a fourth Chinese jet and hit him with a Sidewinder missile. The other two Chinese fighters came after Major Longley. With surprise no longer on his side, the American pilot relied on his superior flying skills to elude the two jets and get into position to hit the fifth J-20 with another Sidewinder, but that maneuver put him in the crosshairs of the last Chinese fighter.

Captain McNielsen ignored orders to return the carrier after watching was happening on his radar screen. Despite his limited capabilities, he couldn’t leave Major Longley behind. Lights were flashing like a short-circuited Christmas tree on his instrument panel and he got back just in time to see the last Chinese fighter jet fire a short range combat missile and hit Major Longley’s F-18. Captain McNielsen got a target lock on the last Chinese jet and fired two Sidewinder missiles that made contact. Immediately afterward, his F-18 lost avionics and hydraulics so he ejected. 

The current administration did not want to confront China about the unprovoked attack so they covered up the fact that an aerial dogfight occurred. Within hours, the State Department ordered the Pentagon to confiscate all flight data concerning the confrontation. When Captain McNielsen got back to the carrier after being picked up by a rescue helicopter, he was met on deck by his close friend and Communications Officer Lt. Commander Tim Curtis, “You alright?”

Captain McNielsen sighed, “Yeah, but Dragon didn’t make it.”

            “Something is going on, I’ve been ordered to delete all flight data of the dogfight.” Lt. Commander Curtis whispered.

            “You need a make a copy before you do,” Captain McNielsen said.

            “That’s a court martial offense,” Curtis responded.

            “I know it’s a lot to ask, don’t do it for me…do it for Dragon.”

While being examined in sickbay, Fleet Commander Admiral James Douglas arrived, “How are you?”

            “I’m fine, sir,” Captain McNielsen responded.

Admiral Douglas turned to the doctor and corpsman, “I need to talk to Captain McNielsen alone. After they left, he continued, “Your mission has been designated Top Secret and you are ordered not to speak about it…is that clear?”

            “Yes sir.”

Admiral Douglas reiterated the question, “Is that clear?”

            “Crystal clear, sir,” Captain McNielsen said.

 Ava Longley received word of her husband’s death through Department of Defense official channels and their explanation was catastrophic engine failure. It was cold and unemotional. Tunnel 2 Towers charitable foundation quickly stepped up and paid off the mortgage on the Longley four bedroom home located in the Shadowridge area of Vista, California. At the time of their father’s death, Cole was 13 years of age and his brother Luke was eleven.

Despite being grief stricken, Cole was now the man of the house and he embraced the challenge without hesitation or complaint and tried to do what his father would expect him do. One of his first orders of business was help his mother who was becoming more depressed, lethargic and unmotivated with each passing day.  Cole encouraged her to return to school and renew her occupational therapist license. “I can handle things around here, you need to focus on something besides dad’s death. He would want you to be happy, Luke and I want you to be happy too. ”

            “Happy isn’t even on my radar?” Ava cried.

            “I know…but we have to try.”

Ava was an occupational therapist when she met her husband, but put her career aside to be a stay at home mother to her two sons. “I guess I could go back to school and try to get my credentials back. I don’t know, I’ve been out of school for a long time,” Ava sighed.

            “If you set your mind to it, you’ll do it,” Cole encouraged.

Cole told his younger brother that their mother was going to start school and instructed him, “We’ve got to take it easy on Mom so if you’ve got a problem then you come to me first and if I can’t solve it then we’ll go to mom only as a last resort…understood?”

Lucas was easy-going, a natural athlete and gregarious. He was completely content to play sports and hang out with his buddies. He dealt with the loss of his father through physical exhaustion He responded abruptly, “Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”

Three years passed and Cole sacrificed a lot of his free time to look out for his mother and help his younger brother with his studies, but to him it was a labor of love so he didn’t think twice about it. He was born to be responsible and his mother came to rely heavily on him to handle a wide variety of chores around the house and he never let her down. Cole’s efforts allowed his mother to work as little or as much as she wanted without feeling guilty about neglecting her two boys.

Cole handled the financial duties, took care of the maintenance of the house, maintained a straight A average in school and held a part-time job at Puppagayo, an Italian restaurant in San Marcos, California. Lucas barely maintained a C average because to do any less would make   him ineligible to play sports. As he got older, he started getting more publicity for his athletic feats and one local sport columnist called Lucas Longley an athlete with great upside potential.

Ava told her older son, “Your senior year is coming up, I want you to enjoy it. You don’t want to look back on your life and say to yourself, I wished I had done things differently.”

            “Doesn’t it look like I’m enjoying myself?” Cole smiled, “Besides as long you and Lucas are alright, that’s the most important thing to me.”  

            “I’ve already made the decision to cut back on my hours at the rehab center so I can spend more time at home. Your brother needs to grow up and the best thing you can do to help him is let him learn from his mistakes. Can you do this for me?”

Cole sensed how important this was to his mother so he reluctantly agreed, “Okay.”

Ava gave her son a big hug, “I love you.”

It was early August and tryouts for the Rancho Buena Vista High School were scheduled. Lucas had already distinguished himself the previous season as freshman and had earned the starting halfback position. He was thoroughly surprised when Cole told him. “I’m thinking about going out for the team.”

            “Seriously, you haven’t played organized sports since Dad died?” Lucas stated the obvious.

            “I know, but I’ve been helping you train so I might still have something left to offer,” Cole said, “What’s the worst that can happen…I don’t make team, I can live with that. Remember what Dad used to tell us, The next best thing to trying and succeeding is trying and failing.”

            “Go for it,” Lucas encouraged.

The returning players were separated from the new players. One of the coaches recognized Cole from his days as a freshman player, “Cole Longley…I remember you.”

            “Hi, Coach Castellano,” Cole said.

            “I was sorry to hear about your father,” Coach said.

            “Thank you, sir,” Cole said.

            “Your brother is a hell of a player,” Coach Castellano stated.

            “Yeah, he is.”

            “It’s good to have you back,” Coach Castellano smiled, “Best of luck in making the team.”

            “Thank you, sir” Cole smiled.

Cole made the team as a third string running back while his brother was the starting halfback. It might seem like a strange dynamic to have the older brother be the back-up to the younger brother, but it worked because Cole always put the welfare of his family above his own. He didn’t expect to play much during the season, but that fine with him. Cole practiced hard and made sure he was ready if he was ever called upon, but in the meantime he just wanted to enjoy the experience and the spirit of competition.

Rancho Buena Vista was playing El Camino in the fourth game of the season. Lucas was having an excellent game and by the middle of the second quarter, he had 147 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The score was tied 24-24 when Lucas suffered a high ankle sprain on a sweep to the left when his cleats got stuck in the turf and his left leg was twisted. Cole was the first one to help his brother off the field, “How bad is it?”

            “It hurts a lot,” Lucas grimaced in pain.

Second string Bill Whittington went in for Lucas and unfortunately he broke his collarbone on the last play of the second quarter. In the locker room Coach Castellano came up to Cole and told him, “I’m putting you in. Are you ready?”

Cole nodded, “I am.”

What happened in the game was so amazing that it left the crowd speechless. Cole score 5 touchdowns and amassed 211 yards in the second half. When asked how he did it, Cole simply replied, “I’m just trying to fill in for my brother until he gets back. The real credit goes to the offensive line and the coach for calling the plays.”

After two more games where he rushed for over two hundred yards in each one, Lucas told his brother, “I’m going to rest my leg and get ready for the basketball season.”

            “I don’t want to take your position,” Cole protested.

Lucas laughed, “You didn’t take anything from me, you earned it. I’ve already talked to Coach Castellano and he agrees with me. Beside you’re a senior and I’m a sophomore. I’ve got two more seasons of eligibility.”

The brothers embraced and it was obvious that his leg injury had a maturing effect on Lucas. He made him realize that how much he loved his brother. Cole decided to try out for the track team and his two events were the javelin and the 400 meters run in. He rejoined his younger brother on the baseball team and it was special time for them. This might be the last time that they would play together so they savored each moment. Cole played second base and Lucas was the shortstop. They became a potent double play combination.

Because his father was killed in the line of duty, Cole had the option of going to a military service academy. His grades were definitely good enough to qualify. He chose the Naval Academy with the hope of being a fighter pilot like his father. It was Sunday afternoon, June 23rd when the Longleys’ had an unexpected visitor at their home. Lucas opened the door, “May I help you?”

            “I’m Marty McNielsen, I flew with Major Drake Longley. He saved my life and I was there when he was killed.”

Lucas called out, “Mom, Cole, hurry up!”

Several minutes later, everyone was sitting around the dining table and Marty McNielsen explained, “I want you to listen to this recording first.”

Marty placed a small device on the table and touched the play button. The entire audio recording of the aerial dogfight including Major Drake Longley’s voice was on it. When the recording was finished, Marty said, “Drake wasn’t killed in an accident like the Navy told you, he was shot down by a Chinese fighter jet after shooting down five enemy planes.””

Cole asked, “Why did you wait so long to tell us?”

            “Two reasons…first one is that the government designated the incident Top Secret and number two I didn’t want to put you in any danger,” Marty said.

            “I’m confused,” Ava said.

            “That’s make two of us,” Lucas said, “What kind of danger?”

            “My assessment of the current administration’s foreign policy can be summed up in one word, ‘FUBAR’. It means fouled up beyond all repair. The fiasco in Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, tension in the Middle East, enlistments are at historic lows, etc. etc. etc. The list is long and disgraceful, but my point is, they covered up this dogfight for political purposes and the people involved will do anything to keep it secret…when I say anything, that’s exactly what I mean.”

Cole asked, “If that’s true, why give us it to now?”

            “I was expecting that question. I’m out of the Marine Corps and I took a job in Singapore so it will be a little harder for them to come after me, There’s an election coming up in a few months and if we get new leadership, they’ll probably want to know what happened out there, but you have a right to know. One more thing, I consider Major Drake Longley the best pilot and bravest man I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him,” Marty got up to leave.

            “You better sit back down,” Ava said.

            “Excuse me?”

            “My sons need to know as much about their father as you can tell them, I would deeply appreciate any other information that you are willing to share,” Ava said softly.

Marty promised, “I’d be honored to do so. I’ll start at the beginning and won’t leave out anything.”

Two hours later, Marty McNielsen left and the Longley family had a meeting. Cole was adamant, “There’s no way that I’d go to the Naval Academy or serve in the military knowing what we know now.”

Ava added, “I don’t trust our district congressman or the senators from this state, they’re all part of the same administration and they’re drinking the same Kool-Aid.”

Lucas added, “Who would help us then?”

            “We need somebody who won’t be intimidated or silenced,” Cole said.

Cole made three copies of the audio tape then contacted Tunnel2Towers, Mighty Oaks Foundation and Elon Musk. He told them what the audio recording had on it and asked them if they would be interested in hearing it. They all agreed to do so. There was a media firestorm when the recording went public and the administration went into serious damage control, stating that the tape was edited and untrue. The White House press secretary called it a ‘deep fake’.

 Congress decided to conduct a hearing into the issue and Cole thought it was best if he represented the family. He refused to name Marty McNielsen as the person who gave the family the tape despite repeated demands by members of the committee.

Congressman Adam Waterson scolded Cole. “You should be ashamed of yourself coming before Congress with an audio recording that cannot be substantiated!”

From the back of the room came the voice, “I can substantiate it.”

Marty McNielsen walked forward and stood behind Cole Longley.

            “Who are you?” Congressman Waterson asked.

            “Former Marine Corps aviator Marty McNielsen and I was there.”

Congressman Waterson was left speechless.

The election came two months later and the current President lost by double digits in every state. He could not overcome the negative publicity of this scandal. Three months after taking office President Daniel Ryerson posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Major Drake Longley.

President Ryerson called Cole aside after the ceremony in the rose garden and stated, “I know that you turned down your appointment to the Naval Academy.”

“I know that the government betrayed your family. I formally apologize for that, but our country needs men like you. America cannot survive without brave and patriotic men like your father that are willing to go into harm’s way to protect our way of life,” President Ryerson stated with a sense of urgency, “Don’t hold the action of a few bad people in the government against the country.”

Two years later, Lucas followed his brother into the Naval Academy. Cole was eventually assigned to the Warlords fighter squadron stationed at Miramar Air Station and when Lucas finished flight school he receive orders for the same squadron. Whether President Ryerson had anything to do with this fortunate turn of events, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Lucas smiled, “Like Dad used to tell us…righteousness is the wingman of honor.”

     The End


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  1. Tony says:

    Mr. Thomas Calabrese knows how write a story and has provided another fantastic story in this Sunday’s Vista Press for fans and people fortunate enough to have access to the Vista Press to read.
    Mr. Calabrese does not disappoint with any of Sunday these family stories, they are inspirational.
    Here we have a Marine Pilot that did the right thing, although it took some time for him to come forward, it worked out in the favor of the family. The downside to this story is we have corrupt people in our government that took an oath but have not upheld it and eventually it comes out. Your Oath of Allegiance is Sacred, Honor it. Thank you Mr. Calabrese.

  2. Tom says:

    I love stories about fighter pilots…and the ones with clandestine backgrounds are even better. This smacks of exactly what would happen in today’s “political sham”. ” Oh my goodness, don’t upset the Chinese…or Russians…or whomever.”

    Our greatest Generation, or rather the men and women who are still alive, are so sad at the state of our government. I too am ashamed. And the folks who call themselves the leaders…they should hang their heads in shame and have their pensions and privileges removed. It is a disgusting scenario.

  3. Clyde says:

    A great story of family values , patriotism, bravery and the rampant corruption and misconduct in our government.

  4. Patrick Madden says:

    Great story

  5. Robert says:

    Nice story. Enjoyed reading it.

  6. bob wolf says:

    good story.

    i don’t think there are too many things that can embarrass a corrupt govt. only hope is enough patriots to hold them accountable at the ballot box

  7. Thomas says:

    It Was me behind him who shot down the Seventh Chinese hunk of junk in my A10 -Warthog!!! Cool Piece Governor!

  8. Leslie says:

    Sweet story! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Jeremy says:

    A very enjoyable story.

  10. Jon Gregory Nielsen says:

    Thank you, Tom, for another up-lifting / inspiring story yesterday.

    The close relationship that the two (2) brothers developed is a solid reminder for all of us who have siblings of our own. GOD created the “family unit” to be the cornerstone for all civilizations.

    Incidentally, the Old (also known as “The 1st”) Testament has several examples of families where members strengthened or damaged their home life and family bonds, which is in total disobedience of GOD’s intended design for all of us to be strong and peacefully interwoven with all of our family members.

    Captain Calabrese,
    Muchas Gracias once again.

  11. Lloyd M Thorne says:

    Another great story, Tom. Glad we had Marines as pilots. Hoping the next election goes as the one in your story. I just hate hearing Dems run Trump down. Biden and his group of whatever they are, in his administration of rainbow weirdos, are on the way out. As a Naval Academy grad, great choice.



  12. Marty says:

    Good job Tom. Writing this story must have taken you a long time, great detail.

  13. Skip says:

    Can’t sleep, so I read Righteousness Is The Wingman with great interest. My college classmate was killed in an F-4 crash in Vietnam. His family was given his Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross. The problem? Vann was not shot down. He crashed after making a wrong turn on an instrument approach to Chu Lai Airfield in September 1969. I spoke with his wingman who noted the incorrect turn and tried to call Vann, but Vann had already changed radio frequency for his individual TACAN/GCA. It was a long day and after Vann’s second mission above the DMZ. I’ve never understood the efficacy of lying to folks about someone’s death. We don’t all die as heroes.
    Semper Fidelis!

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