Joining a Murmuration (or) Bud Cowart’s view

8 Jun

Here is this week’s submission for Madison Woods’ FridayFictioneers. I knew what I would write about the moment I saw the picture below. Blimps, airships, dirigibles, Zeppelins; silent, imposing, and fantastic, have figured large in my life. More on that in my next post. This one must go out now. The link to Madison’s story is here. Join in the fun by reading, commenting and posting a link to your story.

The airship rose, lifting us all into the sky. I scrambled up the thick brown rope, then slid down and sat on the wide wooden toggle. Gripping the line hard with both hands, I took stock and only then realized everyone had let go except Bob and Nigel, who each dangled, white knuckled and ashen faced from two of the tethers.

Far below, my frantic shipmates looked like a murmuration of starlings swooping to and fro above the dusty floor of the mesa.

 After a while, unable to maintain their purchase on this life, my friends took flight to join them.


(You’ve read the 100 word story inspired by the photo. Now here’s a slightly longer tale from another perspective and some information to put everything in its proper place. If you’re pressed for time (WordPress joke?) please comment and drive on, but if you have a few minutes, please add what follows to your thought process. Aloha, D.)

Wednesday, May 11th, 1932.

 We were just forty boys picked for an easy detail toward the end of boot camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego.  We stood to morning quarters, ate chow, then boarded a bus that took us the ten miles out to Camp Kearny. Scuttlebutt was that we were going to be ground crew to help the Akron land.

 Orders were to grab hold of the bow lines and hang on. Sounded like fun and kind of was until the ballast system gave up the ghost. Those in the know cut the main mooring line to keep the huge airship from doing a headstand and when they did there was no stopping her ascent. Wish they’d told us that.

 We really tried to do our job, but things got way out of hand. I was one of the seven you can see in the newsreels who let go early enough to live and be forgotten. It was no big deal; I’d jumped out of haylofts higher. Bob and Nigel waited too long and then couldn’t secure themselves. When their strength gave out they fell for what seemed like forever, legs and arms wind-milling to their dusty impacts. Bud Cowart hung on like a limpet and lived to tell the tale. Even got himself a tour after they hoisted him in.

 The Akron eventually landed and thirty-eight of us returned to base that night as men.

 I’d been thinking about striking for Aviation Metalsmith but airships had pretty much lost their luster. Too risky. Besides, I knew a yeoman who said he could get me orders to the battleship Arizona in the Pacific Fleet. Magazine tender. Sounded like easy duty.

(Thanks for making it this far. Thought you guys and gals might like to know about the Akron and the heyday and hubris of the big airships.)(Skip the ad right away–sorry about that–it’s a content driven world, alas.)

55 Responses to “Joining a Murmuration (or) Bud Cowart’s view”

  1. TheOthers1 June 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Wow! You’re incredibly interesting. Seriously, I’d love to sit and listen to you tell stories for hours. An intriguing gentleman you are. Your story (though I guess it’s not fiction with your explanation) was great. Thanks for sharing.

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Dear CC,

      Turnabout is fair play. I get the feeling some of your posts are not fiction either, and I thank you for sharing.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this piece. it came together in fits and starts but finally fouond it’s pace and rhythm. So many gripping stories from the not so distant past are out there waiting to be retold to new generations. It’s an honor to try to do them justice.



      • TheOthers1 June 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

        I have you fooled then. My stories are everything I’m not; daring.

        I look forward to reading more great stories from you, Doug. It’s always a treat reading. 🙂

  2. Caely June 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Dear D,

    I figured it has been a while since I set some footprints here.

    I’d like to tell you, how much you inspire me (and many others), but how many times haven’t I told you that already?

    So just let me say, that your words, and your being, is magic in physical form.


    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

      Hi Cae,

      You are sweet to me and it’s going to cost you when at last we meet in some Swedish (or Australian) drinking establishment. I was fortunate to meet you and am more fortunate to have you as a faithful reader.

      I enjoyed reading through your posts on Facebook. Thanks for friending me there.

      Aloha for now, my friend.



  3. Running from Hell with El June 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Blimps, dirigibles, Zeppelins and other airships steal a special place in my heart because my youngest child adores them. For Christmas, what he wanted most was a model of the Hindenburg. Alas, we could not find one, but we acquired a heavy, metal model of the Goodyear, and he loved it.

    A few months later, my friend Sam came to visit. My son loved Sam so much that he snuck the Goodyear model in her bag when it was time for her to fly back home. “That way,” he explained, “She will have to come back and visit us.”

    Thank you for bringing these memories to mind this morning.



    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      Dearest El,

      You have been kind to read and let me know you were there with likes and comments. It is very grataifying to have you as a steady reader of my regular, but infrequent posts. I appreciate it and want you to know I don’t take it for granted.

      My father was a young boy riding his bicycle down Wikipeko Avenue in Wannamassa, New Jersey one evening. He watched the Hindenburg fly over on the way to Lakehurst and then heard it explode eight miles away. I’ve spent time walking through the cavernous dirigible hangers there and marveled at their size. What an era that must have been.



  4. Craig Towsley June 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    another magic piece Doug,

    especially this “Bob and Nigel, who each dangled, white knuckled and ashen faced from two of the tethers.”

    We should start handing your stories out as examples to those trying Friday Fictioneers for the first time.

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Dear Craig,

      Your discerning eye make me stay on my game. Thanks for the kind words. As to those who want to try their hands at flash fiction, I say, “Jump in, the water’s fine.”



  5. Sandra June 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Good grief Doug, a terrific story and an even more terrifying background information. You brought that to life in a way that had me transfixed. And I could so imagine it happening, you told the tale so well. Great work that will stay with me a while.

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

      Dear Sandra,

      Thanks for reading and ‘Good griefing’ me! I really appreciate your input and perspective on my stories.

      By the way, I thought Just Chillin’ was superb. I’d have cut the line, too.



  6. flyoverhere June 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Glad you did the extra…..I got a taste of this feeling once on a sailboat. Skipper told me to grab the line to one of the sails and go below, the wind caught it and jerked me upward. The end of the line twisted around my ankle and for a moment I thought I might become fodder for the gulls…..

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      Ah! The line wrapping around your ankle and you riding the spinnaker to your doom. Love it. That will set your heart to racing, ‘eh?

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I live and die by input from gracious folks like you.



  7. rgayer55 June 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    I agree with CC (The Others), we should just sit around a campfire some night and listen to your stories. I’ve always loved history and you have a great way of making it come alive with a personal touch.

    Thanks for the nice comment on mine. I really had a great time with this prompt. I enjoyed your prologue too.

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      Well, Russell,

      i appreciate your generous compliments re my storytelling, but before everyone is put to sleep around that campfire, we’ll have to have a yarn or three from you. Your consistently lunatic take on life is refreshing and affirming at once. I can’t keep up, so I’m taking notes.



  8. Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla June 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Well told, Doug, as always. A “murmuration of starlings “— is that like a murder of crows? That’d be for another, less benign, story, I guess. “Unable to maintain their purchase on this life, my friends took flight to join them” was a great touch, or a touch of greatness.

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Dear Carlos,

      I like that you always keep wine in your compliment canteen. Thank you for being my friend. Off to yours now and looking forward to it.



  9. theforgottenwife June 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Amazing story, both the flash fiction and the longer one! Terrificly done! I agree with Craig – you set the bar high and are a sterling example of how to do this the right way and with panache!

    Thanks for commenting on mine:

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      It is I who must thank you. Comments such as yours keep fuel in the tank and ink in the pen. Much appreciated, my friend.



  10. Lindaura Glamoura June 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Wow, that was quite a hair raising tale. Your story was beautiful and losing “their purchase on this life” as if they were really joining the starlings, was a lovely bit of writing.
    the added history was a bonus we all enjoyed.
    Real Life seems horrible to me sometimes, a learning process from which none of us survive…
    and I am, as ever,
    Laura lindaura at:

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      Dear Linda,

      Thanks you for reading and taking the time to comment so generously. I flew over to yours and was transported. Lovely story, my dear.



  11. readinpleasure June 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    You did justice to the prompt, of course, your background. I am grateful for the extra information; a little learning. I think it was a heroic effort with sad undertones. Well done, Doug. Mine is here:

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      Thank you for your vote of confidence. The prompt was open ended and your ‘Emily’ was the perfect example of where imagination can go when it rides the winds.



  12. boomiebol June 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Great job, and thanks for sharing the extra information, insightful. Nicely done

    • dmmacilroy June 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

      Thanks Boomiebol,

      Your kind comments bring joy to my morning.



  13. tedstrutz June 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Murmuration… Really??? Good one, Doug!

    • Douglas MacIlroy June 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      I don’t normally go there, Ted, but that word just spoke to me. It seemed somber and sad and fit the story too well to be be ignored.

      (Please keep me up to date on your schedule in Volcano. Can’t wait to meet you.)



  14. unspywriter June 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I remember reading about that event, and you captured the emotions so well. And a wonderful tie-in to Pearl Harbor. Nice to see things from both sides. Big surprise, we again were thinking along the same lines.

    Here’s the associated post:

    And here’s the story:

    • dmmacilroy June 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

      Dear Maggie,

      I really enjoyed ‘Surly Bonds’, your most excellent story this week. I hope everyone reads it over and over again. (I like that us great minds think alike, too!:)



  15. rainang June 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that story and also about the Akron, always good to know something new.

    • dmmacilroy June 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      Thanks for thanking me, Rainang. It’s a pleasure adding a bit of history to the flash. Makes for good reading.

      Off to read yours now, (though I think I found you early. I blame oxygen deprivation:)



  16. Kaitlin June 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    I’ve always wondered how many people forgot to let go. Great job.

  17. erinleary June 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Great story, both of them. Camp Kearny was named for one of my ancestors – it’smy maiden name. My dad was a history buff and served in WWII in Hawaii. All sorts of interesting parallels which made for compelling reading. BTW, loved the use of the word Murmuration.

    Mine is here:

  18. Brian Benoit June 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Great job, with this Doug, and I’d say you definitely did the story justice. I also find it interesting to see the forms foreshadowing can take in flash fiction (with the reference to starlings before the two take flight). Thanks also for the word-of-the-day: Murmuration!

    Brian (Thanks for your comments. Here’s for your readers:

  19. Cara Michaels June 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Wow, Doug. Great stories. Especially loved the longer tale… but going to the Arizona? Whew, what a trade off.


  20. Nifti June 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    Hold a sec. How many characters di you kill off there?! I like the first story, seeing as I am a lazy reader, (and writer) and enjoy using my imagination which is what the first one offers 🙂 Please visit and tell me what you think of my attempt this week, getting closer to conjuring up an actuall story:

  21. elmowrites June 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Hey Doug!
    Once again, a fantastic insight into another world. Thanks for the story, and the backstory too.
    I found the backstory much easier to understand, partly because you so love to challenge me with your vocabulary, for which I entirely take the blame, but also because a few things weren’t clear.
    In the first para, he climbs up, then down. It was hard for me to picture exactly what was happening at this stage. Then in the last para, you’ve got plural pronouns refering to a) the men and b) the birds, without any distinction. Took a second to get hold of the image and the second was just long enough to break the beauty. Might I propose “After a while, unable to maintain their purchase on life, my friends took flight to join the flock”? Or somesuch?
    My favourite (gruesomely beautiful) line is the description in the backstory of the men falling.
    I’m over here, also stuck in wartime,

  22. Scott Hays June 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Well, Doug … once again you demonstrate a keen ability to say an awful lot in just a few words, and to say it beautifully. “Murmuration” connotes so much, while Nigel and Bob taking flight to join them completes the picture. Thanks … and thanks for the longer exposition. You might be interested to know that I was, at one time, quite an expert on the fate of the Akron’s sister ship, the Macon. For several years I worked as a docent at the Point Sur Lighthouse which, if you have never been there, is located out on a tombolo (an “attached island” … in this case, composed of volcanic rock) called Moro Rock; the only access for guided tours is by foot (cars exit US 1 through a locked gate and drive across the sandy spit to a parking lot at the base, then walk up the road to the light and the keeper’s quarters). During the tour, many of the guides (especially me) take time to stop along the steep trail to tell the history of the USS Macon, which crashed there in 1933. There is an entire room devoted to the Macon up in the museum, including artifacts that have been rescued by divers. As a result of learning that history, I also knew about the Akron and, as a matter of fact, almost went that direction with my story, too. Instead, I took it somewhere else, which can be read at

  23. Kathy McClure June 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Both the story and its origins left me breathless. I hope to see more of your history so I can share it with my son! (Groupie much?)

    But I do want to see more.


  24. Madison Woods June 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Wow, Doug. Your story was great although sad even without knowing *the rest of the story*. But the backstory really made it shine.

  25. Derek Osedach June 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    wow! I freaking love this — well done! both the 100-worder and the more-worder! Can’t tell which I like more. Maybe the shorter version because it forced you to rely a little more on poetic imagery. Because I really loved your tentpole line: Far below, my frantic shipmates looked like a murmuration of starlings swooping to and fro above the dusty floor of the mesa.

    Here’s mine:…-the-spearhead/

  26. rich June 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    i remember that. that was sad but amazing at the same time.

  27. Kwadwo June 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Two takes on one prompt. That’s a Herculean effort. I liked the first story better, though.

    Here’s mine:

  28. rochellewisoff June 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Doug, Nothing much to add. Other than I love your writing. Perhaps your character met my Daniel form last week on the Arizona. Glad you expounded with the longer version. Thanks again. Yours is one I look forward to each week.

  29. Lora Mitchell June 9, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    Dear Doug.. Not sure I can add anything else. The others pretty much said it all…however, I also look forward to your brilliant stories every week and want to thank you, for I LOVE history. It was my school major and if not for a different path, my intention was to be a history teacher. Thank you for including your backstory. I gasped when you mentioned the Arizona. I just finished reading two fascinating books which may interest you…”Hitler’s Children” (Guido Knopp) and “A Child of Hitler”…(Alfons Heck)… True and candid accounts of their indoctrination into the HItler Youth (from age 6) …right up to Germany’s surrender. One reads a side that is little recorded. It’s of special interest to me because I had a German boss/longtime friend, who was a member of the Hitler Youth who only said one thing to me in all the years of our friendship. “I was one of the lucky ones….to survive.” Here’s mine:

  30. Virginia Pohlenz June 9, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    As always, an excellent post. I’m glad you added the extra info–soooo interesting. I can’t add much that hasn’t been said already. That’s what happens when you’re so far down on the comment list. 🙂 I agree with ALL that’s been said–Great job!


  31. Sheila June 9, 2012 at 3:06 am #

    Your stories are amazing! What a life you have led! Great job!

  32. Linda June 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    What a brilliant story and a fantastic way to describe the way someone dies by joining the murmmuration of starlings – just beautifully written 🙂

  33. N Filbert June 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    so well done! and use of language – yes, i think we all delight in that core phrase “murmuration of starlings” – grand thanks!

  34. Brandon Scott June 9, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    You are a wealth of knowledge, my friend. I look forward to reading your stories every week. The background on this one was great. Stories based in reality seem to have a way of digging in and taking hold, don’t they? I’m not much of a history fan myself. Most of the stuff I learned was taught in such a boring way that a lot of it just didn’t stick. If all history was taught in the form of your stories, we’d all have a better understanding of the past.

  35. jake kale June 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Wow, that was an incredible story. Sadly the Youtube video isn’t working for me, but I managed to find another on Live Leak. I don’t know if it was the same one, but watching it was quite harrowing. Bud Cowart’s tenacity is inspiring, however. I can’t imagine what it must’ve felt like clinging on for dear life for a whole hour, after witnessing two of friends plummet to their deaths. Amazing.

    Here’s my entry for this week. I decided to do something a but different.

  36. Karmic Diva June 10, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I love both pieces. The man was doomed when he was given the orders for the Arizona. Little did he know. Very compelling.

  37. Janet June 12, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    Doug, you never disappoint and this week is no exception. This was such an intense piece and to tie it in to the Arizona. Just fabulous.

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