I was a 29-year-old United States Air Force fighter pilot, hanging from a parachute, slowly descending into hostile territory. I looked below my dangling legs as I watched my doomed F-4 Phantom shudder, shake, and cartwheel its fiery way to the ground. Missing its tail section and a large part of the left wing, it was now totally engulfed in flames. It was hard to imagine I had been sitting in the cockpit, at the very center of the fireball, a few seconds before. Finally, I saw it hit the ground with a huge concussion that I could see but not hear. The fire and smoke reached into the sky several thousand feet. I thought for a few seconds how unlikely it was for a small-town Texas boy to be involved in such a monumental problem as this was turning into.
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