WARSAW — For most people, flying a crippled aircraft carrying the most destructive weapon ever devised by mankind would be a psychologically scarring event, a mind-altering moment destined to haunt their dreams for a lifetime.
To hear Graham Hood tell it, however, it was just another day at the office.
“Aggravating” is how Hood, a Navy veteran, describes the day in 1970 when he was flying a C-130 from Okinawa to Hawaii with a cargo of weapons, which included a nuclear missile.
As the plane approached Iwo Jima, one of its engines malfunctioned and Hood radioed the island for permission to land, a request which was promptly denied.
“If you know the Pacific you know Iwo Jima is out there by itself, there’s nothing close to it,” explained Hood, during an interview at his home in Warsaw. “We had to divert to Guam, about 500 miles away. The Air Force had a search and rescue C-130 that they sent out to fly alongside us, which I thought was nice.”
As their altitude continued to drop during the flight, Hood told his loadmaster to be prepared to jettison the planes cargo, including the nuclear device, on his command. Hood said the loadmaster responded that there would be an international incident if those orders were carried out.
“I told him ‘Do you want to have an international incident and be able to explain why we did it or do you want to be dead and let them wonder what happened?’ He had to agree that he would rather be alive.”
Hood said he was eventually able to nurse the plane safely into Guam for repairs, but not before he had time to reflect on the fate of a vessel that carried a similar payload during World War II.
“I though about the Indianapolis, the ship that carried the atomic bomb to Tinian to be dropped on Hiroshima. The Japanese sank it on the way back and they lost 1,100 men, most of them eaten by sharks. We were flying right over those same waters, so it was kind of concerning.”
Despite his nonchalant attitude toward many such life-threatening incidents, Hood said, as a young man, he had little interest in joining the military. Hood received his draft notice in 1966 during the last semester of his senior year at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson. At the time, said Hood, he was under the impression that his enrollment in 12 course hours granted him a deferment.
“I was confused at first. Come to find out, one of the courses got changed from a three-hour course to a two-hour course, so I only had 11 hours,” he remembered.
After completing his pre-induction physical in Norfolk, Virginia, Hood, who had already applied unsuccessfully for the Air Force, was inducted into the Navy and reported to the Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. Hood can still recall his initial welcome by five officers and a Marine drill instructor
“They were very nice to me and everything; they said come around here, we want to show you something. I went around the corner to a little office and I was greeted by those same people who had been so nice, but now in not such a nice manner. They told me to hit the bulkhead and I looked around and said ‘What’s a bulkhead?’ I had no earthly idea.”
Hood said he lost 25 pounds in ten days of rigorous physical training at the school, dropping from 185 to 160 pounds.
After completing Aviation Officer School and ground flying training, Hood returned to his hometown of Goldsboro, where he married his wife, Vickie. “Then I took her to Florida,” said Hood, “and never took her back home.”
Hood completed flight training school in February of 1968, graduating number three in his class. After serving as a flight instructor for a short time, he was sent to Hawaii, where he flew C-118s with a transport squadron to destinations along the West Coast and across the Pacific. Hood said his regular itinerary at the time would be three weeks in Hawaii followed by three weeks in Alameda, Florida then back to Hawaii for three weeks before flying out to the Philippines for several more weeks.
Hood’s squadron also made flights into Vietnam, from August 1969 through December of 1971, in support of the United State’s ongoing war effort in the country. In 2000, Hood would be diagnosed with multiple myloma, a rare form of cancer that has been traced back to his exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange, which was widely used during the Vietnam War.
Between missions, Hood also took part in test flights.
“I’ve been on numerous test flights where we had to land with one engine out,” said Hood, who described a series of six consecutive flights where his planes landing gear refused to descend and had to be cranked down manually.
Hood’s next tour of duty took him to Guam, where he would spend two years as an aircraft commander flying C-130s as part of a top secret mission known as TACAMO (Take Charge and Move Out), which provided a system of airborne communications links designed to be used in a nuclear war to maintain contact between the National Command Authority and various nuclear weapons delivery systems, primarily nuclear submarines.
As Hood describes it, introducing his wife to life on Guam was nearly as stressful as some of his more memorable flying missions.
“I took her on a short tour of the island and when we got back she said, ‘Oh, I guess we can see the rest of it tomorrow.’ I had to tell her ‘That was it; you just saw the whole island.’ She just broke down and started to cry.”
Hood’s final Navy tour would be in Columbia, South Carolina, where he served as an aviation officer recruiter for the state of South Carolina and western North Carolina.
In 1977 Hood retired from the Navy and moved to Warsaw, where he and Vickie opened a Western Auto store.
“We decided the next tour of duty was going to be on a big grey thing that floated on the water and I was going to be gone for nine months at a time. I didn’t think that was too good since I had a wife and two children.”
Though he was no longer an active Navy member, Hood maintained his reserve commission. Six-years year later he went back into the reserves, serving until his retirement in 1992.
Hood’s final flight mission would be one of his own making. In 1995 he took part in the “Angel Flight” program, flying patients from Duplin County to locations across the country in order to speed their treatment. Hood said he would normally fly the middle leg of a three part flight plan, carrying the patient and two to three caregivers. According to Hood, the program was offered free to the patients, with the cost being absorbed solely by the pilots.
Having sold the Warsaw retail business and retired from flying in 2000 following his cancer diagnosis, Hood, who has been chosen as a Marshal for this year’s Veterans Day parade in Warsaw, said he still keeps in touch with several of his fellow veterans.
Looking back on his military career and the forty-six year marriage that has given him three children and eight grandchildren, Hood said he’s content to let the adventures of his Navy days, and any lingering bitterness over his disease, fade quietly into the past.
“I still think about flying and some of the things we did, but I mostly concentrate on my family and all the things I’ve been blessed with since then. It’s been quite a life.”