With a thunderous roar of power and the aid of a catapult the F A 18 shot into the sky, leaving the USS Eisenhower behind.  Captain Reginald Cooke was off to test the enemy air defenses in the gulf.  As the twin Pratt and Whitney engines hurtled him into unfriendly skies, the pilot thought of the endless sorties he had flown.  Take offs and landings, the only by the book procedures he ever followed.  He flew by the seat of his pants.  He lived life that way too.

It would be nearly forty five minutes before Captain Cooke penetrated enemy air space.  He looked at the faded picture of his childhood best friend and his mind drifted back twenty five years to Dayton, Ohio.  To being 12 years old, and learning lessons in leaving.  He could deny it no longer.  The only true friend he had known in his twelve long years of life was packing and leaving for good. 

"I'll write every week to let you know what I'm up to" said blonde haired 12 year old Billy Thornton.  Sure, thought Reggie.  He never heard from Billy again.

Approaching the target zone the pilot switched on his long range radar, armed his weapon systems and began scanning his field of view.  Radar soon detected three enemy aircraft approaching from the right.  The mission was to determine when and where western forces could expect to be detected and intercepted.  The mission was not really intended to be provocative. 

Captain Cooke was under orders to engage the enemy only in a defensive manner.  In other words, turn and run if and when he was detected, not Cooke's style.  Reginald Cooke did not earn the rank of Captain by disobeying orders from his Navy superiors though.  He banked a hard left and marked his detection location on his electronic navigation system.  He fired the afterburners and initiated evasive maneuvers. 

The F A 18 has some of the world’s most sophisticated equipment of any aircraft in service, and the missile detection system just warned of multiple lock–ons by enemy air to air missiles.  Dropping chaff, clouds of aluminum shards designed to attract incoming missiles away from their intended target, took out two of the now confirmed six missiles.

Seconds before impact, the seasoned Top Gun pilot pulled back hard on the control stick, nosing the agile aircraft into a seven G loop.  Two more missiles, just missing the external fuel pods, started their descent to the sea, having lost their lock–on.  The Captain had eliminated four of the six missiles in less than fifteen seconds; all played out in extremely slow motion.  Suddenly, with a violent crash missile number five impacted with the tail section of the jet.  Malfunctions in the hydraulics, weapons, and flight control systems caused warning messages to be dialed across the L. E. D. readout as whistles, horns and beepers started screaming.  Reggie, with a partial lock on one Mig–29 fired a missile.  The pilot shouted, “Dog in the water!" as the Chinese built Russian designed fighter plummeted towards the ocean.  The aircraft was losing altitude when the final missile hit the left wing.  The computerized cockpit had become a churning cauldron of black smoke.

As his parachute opened the captain saw two F–16C Air Force fighters engage the Migs, who turned to evade the superior aircraft.  Captain Reginald Cooke splashed into the Indian Ocean.


Lieutenant Commander James “Buck” Buchannan had returned only the night before from a rescue mission in a classified region, and was being awakened by his five year old son James Junior, "J.J." and his eight year old Amy jumping on his bed and giggling.  Susan, Buck's wife of ten years was busy making his usual welcome home breakfast of bacon, eggs, and banana pancakes.

Breakfast was interrupted by the ringing of the Buck’s government issued cell phone.  Susan gave Buck the "don't you dare" look, but Buck picked answered anyway. 

"Lieutenant Commander Buchannan, please," Said the voice on the phone.

"Speaking, Willie, is that you?  Don't tell me you miss me already!"  Buck answered.

"No, sir.  There is an urgent encrypted message for you.  It requires your immediate response."

"Be right there, Chief."  Buck said, clicking off the phone.  He wolfed down his breakfast, changed into his uniform, kissed his wife and kids, and headed for headquarters.

After clearing security, the tall, red haired officer entered the Encryption Room with a frown, knowing another mission was coming down the pike.

"G'mornin' Buck, how was your flight?"  Chief Petty Officer Thornton asked. 

The Lieutenant Commander’s uniform was sharp and correct, as always.  But his countenance wasn't exactly shining this morning.

"That's classified Willie" said Buck wryly, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to shoot you."

Chief Thornton Chuckled as he placed his key to the safe in the lock at the same time as Buck did.  They both turned their keys and the safe door clicked open.  Buck removed the contents of the save and went into the "secure room" and locked the door.  A short while later he came out of the secure room with the following message:

AIRMAN DOWN                     INDIAN OCEAN                                         PREVENT EXECUTION           RESCUE AT ANY COST

Buck handed the message to CPO Thornton and instructed him to assemble the rescue team for departure at 1400 hours.

"So much for R & R." He said on the way out the door.

Chief Thornton began contacting members of the Emergency Contingency Unit.  Lt. Commander Buchannan returned home.


Susan Buchannan knew intuitively that her husband, being a Navy Seal first, patriot second and an honorable man third, maybe that's why she loved him so, would be gone again, to a secret location, again to return at an undetermined time, again.  She had already packed his deployment bag and sent the children to the neighbors.  Susan seemed to know that there would only be time for good bye though.

Back at the ECU, with the briefings, planning and scheduling complete, each team member spent their time considering the task before them.  Jack Riley, an explosives specialist code named Boom-boom went over in his mind exactly what his plastique exlosives and C-4 would do to the bunkers that held his captured comrade.

Jonathan Parks, the communications expert code named Big Operator or Big O for short calculated triangulation methods using the topographical maps provided by Naval Intelligence.

Willie Thornton, a medic who knows more about field medicine than anybody but God, appropriately code named Doc could not get that name out of his mind.  Reginald Cooke I know that name.  Studying the personnel profile of the captured airman, it came to him.  With about the right birthday, growing up in the right town in Ohio, it had to be him."Reggie, this has to be Reggie Cooke" he said to himself.

They hadn't seen each other since his mom moved the family to California.  Willie had changed his name from Billy, to distance himself from his father.  Willie's dad, William Thornton Sr. went to prison for embezzlement.  Because of his mother's shame, she didn't let her son tell anyone of his father.

The team leader, Buck Buchannan code named Big Red thought about his kids, and how they shouldn't have to grow up without their dad.  This is my last mission he promised himself.

Approaching the drop zone in an Air Force C-130, Willie Thornton finally figured out why both his marriages had failed, why the Navy was the only thing he could do right.  As long as he stayed with the Navy, the Navy would stay with him.  He could not abandon the Navy, like he had abandoned his best friend.  Like his wives abandoned him.  Now he was faced with an opportunity to rectify is childhood.  Willie's father long since dead, his mother also gone, were unable to interfere with his chance to reunite with perhaps the only friend he'd ever know.

Heavily armed and camouflaged, the team filed out of the cargo/troop transport into the black night space.  Once on the ground, each member of the rescue team pulled in their parachutes and buried them in the sand with great dispatch.  It was a five mile hike over rough terrain with little natural cover.  With their desert camouflage and maintaining a distance of fifty to seventy five feet, they could avoid detection so long as they kept perfectly still when a search plane passed overhead.

There was to be no verbal communication from the moment they stepped off the plane until they had cleared enemy territory.

As they approached the crest of the last ridge, an unexpected foot patrol spotted Boom-boom.  The gunmen yelled for him to stop and raise his hands.  Big Red, from twenty yards put a knife through the heart of one while Doc silently fired one round through the temple of the other killing him instantly.

For years, clandestine missions requiring the elimination of "unfriendlies" to protect the team and reach the target were a way of life for men just like these.  Willie always prayed for the people he killed, and their families, in Honduras, Panama, Beirut, the Persian Gulf and more.

Slipping past the outlying perimeter guards, the team entered the compound."Big Red, where's the resistance?" asked Boom-boom.

"Dunno, stay sharp, and shut up." was the reply.

The compound consisted of tents made from camouflage netting, sandbags, gun placements, trucks, troop carriers, and a few out buildings made of mud and brick.  All four men noted the absence of heavy weaponry such as tanks, anti-aircraft guns and surface to air missiles.  In the center of the compound was the only fortified building.  It appeared to be heavily guarded and well lit both inside and out.  If the lights were disabled, it would alert the camp.  They couldn't just stroll into the building either.

Captain Cooke could only see shadows from one eye.  The other eye was swelled shut.  His nose was broken and so swelled he could only breathe through his mouth.  That was labored by the broken ribs.  With a broken jaw, he could no longer answer his captors, no matter how many more bones they might break.  He lay in a small cell, slowly bleeding to death, internally and from the wounds left from the beatings.  And the Captain knew it.


Susan Buchannan was smiling.  The warm sun, the lush green grass and beautiful wildflowers were just perfect.  The children were playing happily and she was in the arms of the strong, steady man who was her rock, her constant.  The birds stopped their singing.  A cold wind had blown in.  The sun, now obscured by the dark, ominous clouds seemed to have grown cold.  The children ran to their mother, their clothes now torn and dirty, frightened and crying.  She suddenly realized that those strong arms that had been protecting her had vanished.

She screamed his name "Buck, Buck, where are you?"The only response was the wind.  The cold howling wind was whistling past her, and chilling her to the bone.

Susan kept screaming for her husband but only the wind would ring in her ears.  She was crouched down with her arms around her children like a bird hiding her young under her wings.  Soon the only thing she could hear was the ringing noise in her ears.

Violently she opened her eyes and straightened her body.  It was dark, but familiar.  She had awakened from the worst yet of her nightmares.  The phone was ringing.

"He... Hel... Hello?" she answered with great trepidation."Mrs. Buchannan, This is Captain Rawling, from the base. I need to see you right away.  May I come over?  I'm afraid I have some rather bad news."

The receiver fell from her hand as she curled up in grief.

Boom-boom had circled around to the north end of the compound.  He was placing charges of various sizes at apparently random locations to create a diversion while Big O and Doc were cutting through the chain link fence.  Big Red was readying the rocket launchers.

Boom-boom returned and indicated the charges were set.  Plan "A" was in motion.  The first explosion lit up the night sky, and caused a siren from one of the two guard towers.  The search lights were being trained on the northern end of the camp when the second charge brought down the first tower.  As all the commotion drew the attention of the soldiers to the north end, the rescue team moved in.They didn't get far when a squad of enemy soldiers began firing on them.  Big Red was first to return fire."Here's your resistance, Boom-boom!" he shouted as he took down two men.

Boom-boom eliminated the other two with his m-16.  "That wasn't much, Boss!!"  said Boom-boom.

The explosions continued as the four men made their way north towards the center of camp.  The second tower came down and the fuel tanks erupted.

Machine gun fire was coming from the east.  Small arms fire from the north.  Big O destroyed the machine gun placement with a hand grenade.  Doc and Big Red fought back the small arms fire as the four moved into the building.


The pilot must have been hallucinating; he was saying "Billy! Catch the ball Billy!"

Captain Cooke was conscious, but delirious as Doc injected him with morphine for the pain, and adrenaline to keep him awake.  With three broken ribs, his right leg broken and his right hand and forearm badly burned he couldn't possibly move by himself.  Doc and Big O made a makeshift litter out of the ratted blanket and the ropes that had bound their comrade, while Big Red and Boom-boom defended their charge.

Boom-boom set more charges as they moved outside.  Running south, with Big Red in the lead they encountered more soldiers.  Buck emptied the clip then threw down his automatic rifle, then drew his 9mm pistol.  Big O and Doc carried the broken body of the pilot on the litter and fired on the enemy soldiers as they approached.  The central building which had housed their colleague collapsed when the charge exploded, sending debris everywhere.

I didn't think I used that much plastique." Boom-boom thought.

Big O threw a grenade at an oncoming jeep, turning it into a fatal wreck. 

"We coulda' used that–stupid"  Shouted Big Red.

They kept running.  It seemed farther on the way out than on the way in.  They came to another jeep, this one empty.  They tried to be gentle as they put the captain in the jeep, then the rest of them piled in and took off.

The jeep crashed through a gate at the south end of the compound under a hail of gunfire.  They sped off into the darkness as the last of Boom-boom's explosions kept the guards confused. 

"Make the call; we'll be at the L.Z. in five."  Ordered Big Red.

"Queen Bee, Queen Bee, this is Stinger, do you copy?  Over."  Went the call over the tiny transceiver pulled from Big O's breast pocket.

"Stinger, this is Queen Bee, making for L.Z. what's your ETA?  Over."  Cracked the little radio.

"L.Z. in five–copy?"  Big O answered.

"Stinger–what's your status?  Over."

"Extraction complete, the fly boy is hurt pretty bad, over."

"Affirmative Stinger, any other injuries?  Over"

"Neg..."  Big O's reply was cut short by bullets hitting the jeep.  Big Red was hit.  Doc was hit in the left arm and leg.  The vehicle swerved into a sand dune and flipped over, ejecting the occupants.

As the fire fight concluded, the more aggressive rescue unit hoped they had eliminated the last of the enemy chase team.

Buck was lying across the wounded pilot.  There were groans, bullet wounds and a lot of blood spilling into the sand.  After all this they could not lose that pilot.

Jonathon Parks, "Big Operator" and Jack "Boom-boom" Riley took up defensive positions to cover Doc as he separated the wounded men.  Buck was one of his own, his team leader, and his guiding light since joining this elite squad.  But he was trained to first aid the one they've rescued.  The airman's left lung had collapsed, but he was still breathing.  There was no breath in Buck's chest, no pulse.  Willie "Doc" Thornton started CPR. It was only a moment until a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter crested the hill.  Two medics were on the ground running before the chopper had touched down.  They loaded both wounded men on stretchers and put them in the aircraft.  The medics took over CPR and tended to the rescued hostage.

After refueling mid-air several times, the chopper landed just after dawn at a remote airbase  The wounded taken directly to surgery, the survivors to de-briefing, and the dead to the morgue.  After being debriefed, Willie stayed with the pilot until he woke up.

"Hello, Captain, how do you feel?"  Willie asked nervously.

"Not too good.  How'd I get out?"  Asked the Captain.

"We just went in and took you.  Do you remember anything?"

"The last thing I remember, I was thinking of an old friend from when I was a kid"

"You mean Billy Thornton, sir?"

"Yeah, have I been talking in my sleep?"

"Sort of, sir"

"You know him, Chief?"

"Yes sir, I know him."


Sir, my name is Chief Petty Officer William Thornton.  I'm a Navy Seal."

The doctor came in and began his examination of the patient.

On arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, there were no marching bands, no photographers, and no hero's welcome.  They had lost a man, a leader of men on a "training mission" the official account had read.  No details were ever to be released.

As Willie Thornton sat down in his small apartment, he reflected on his latest experience.  One friend dead, another friend found at long last.

I'm gonna take more time to enjoy my life he said to himself.

The telephone interrupted his retrospection.

"Chief Thornton, please."

"Speaking, who is this?"

"Chief, this is Commander Thompson, from Central Command.  There is an assembly for your team in one hour."

"I'll be there.  G'bye."

Willie decided then and there that this would be his last mission.