Russell E. Hershey,
INTERVIEW WITH OVIDIO PUGNALE - 30.8.1996
INTERVIEWER: First of all can I ask you the trickiest question of all. Can I have your name and your title during the Sixties, for the transcripts?
OVIDIO PUGNALE: I'm Ovidio Pugnale. The period of 1960 to 1970 I was assigned to several different bomb wings at the start I was a B-52 co-pilot and went through all the various positions ending up as an I.P.
INT: Can you tell me first of all, in.. the early 1960s, what your job was?
OP: The early 1960s I was primarily a co-pilot on a B-52E assigned at ..(inaudible).. at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
INT: And what did that involve?
OP: Co-pilots' primary duties were acted as the flight engineer, of course you was back up to the aircraft commander and also somewhat orchestrated crew coordination with respect to the navigation and the mission timing and some of the radio calls and that sort of thing.
INT: What was your.. mission at that time?
OP: The primary mission in those days of B-52 was really strategic deterrents and that we pulled a significant amount of ground alert and airborne alert and were primary retaliatory threat.
INT: To whom?
OP: Our adversaries whomever a threat to our adversaries whoever they might be.
INT: Can you talk me roughly through what your tour of duty would be? What was it like to go through an average week in your life then?
OP: The typical tour of duty in the ..(inaudible).. in those days as a crewmember, we traditionally pulled a week of alert and generally it started on a on a Thursday with a changeover at the air aircraft and then with a study during that day and then it was ground training all during the week. weekends were relatively free and terminated one-week later, uh..
INT: When you had to go on the twenty-four hour alerts, what was that like?
OP: The twenty four hour airborne alert in those days early in the Sixties it was primarily for training that the Strategic Air Command at that time felt that it might be necessary to put aircraft in the air so we practiced that from time to time and different wings would take on that airborne alert commitment thirty, sixty, ninety day cycles.
INT: And so when did it become a sort of an.. operational requirement for SAC to keep B-52s in the air the whole time?
OP: Primarily we pulled airborne alert on a strategic basis whenever we had a real threat. For example, the Cuban crisis those types of missions.
INT: Can you explain, given that we have a lay audience listening to this, of why.. would you want to keep an airplane in the sky the whole time?
OP: The objective of having aircraft on airborne alert was that you had a significant force airborne at one time to possibly one survive any pre-emptive missile strikes from adversaries, to catch the aircraft on the ground and that they could be launched to the targets and reach the targets in a very short period of time and thirdly with a significant number of aircraft airborne, it sent a very strong message to our adversaries.
INT: I think it goes without saying to a certain extent that the adversaries, certainly throughout the Sixties, were looked upon primarily as the Russians. What was your attitude or your colleagues' attitudes towards the Russians?
OP: My attitude towards the Russians in those days as we truly perceived them as a threat to the extent in the early Sixties I recall buying a house and a selection of house with a lot that we could build an underground shelter and we received briefings, intelligence briefings and we truly perceived it as a threat and we felt that our mission was very important, compelled to do our jobs as they were told to us.
INT: Do you think.. was it perceived certainly by.. the people that you worked with that the Russians had war aims? Did you think that they wanted to expand their empire and that's why America needed to be so alert? Or was it more of a Pearl Harbor mentality that America had been caught once and wasn't gonna be caught again?
OP: I believe that we felt that the primary threat was that you could see Communism growing and that threat that when would it become our turn or the when would Communism begin to take over in those areas where we had strategic alliances with. And that's what we were very concerned with and that's why we had this formidable threat against the adversaries, the Russians if you wanted to class.. you know, just be very candid about it. It was a tremendous retaliatory strike capability.
INT: What was the retaliatory strike capability of a single B-52?
OP: The retaliatory strike capability on a B-52 varied according to the missions. If you were targeted against missile strikes, you know, you carried a certain mix of weapons. If you were going after a marshalling yards or railroads or factories you carried a different type of munitions. But it was primarily nuclear. In those days, in the early Sixties we really the conventional capability was not spoken of much insofar as the B-52 was concerned. It was almost all nuclear.
INT: Can you tell us what sort of megatonnage you carried on an average mission?
OP: ..(inaudible).. tonnage that we carried was much larger than what we dropped at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. specifically it would get into the several megaton range.
INT: And did you.. obviously you must have known where your.. targets were. Did you know where your targets were prior to.. as a mission started or was that something that was revealed to you as and when required?
OP: The targets that that we were given were given to us in advances especially when you went on alert, even at airborne alert, because we did a lot of target study and studying those areas where your aiming points were and target significance and everything so there were no surprises. You didn't fly against targets of opportunity, you know, flying along you say 'gee, there's something that looks interesting to hit. Let's go over there and hit this.' No, we were a very structured force and we had specific targets. Later on we got more sophisticated to the extent with forward looking infra-red we were able to detect that if a target that was assigned to our particular sortie had been struck, you could tell with infra-red because of the heat coming out of that target area and we knew where the target was, then we would withhold our weapons and go on to another target. So we were given a series of targets because more than one weapon system was assigned to a specific target to assure one hundred percent target destruction.
INT: Could you tell us what any of those targets were that you trained to attack?
OP: No, the targets that we were assigned you know, specifically, you know, that's some thirty some years ago but you can pretty well realize they were the missile sites primarily, the factories, not metropolitan areas for the sake of taking out population. That just was not in our plan. They were all strategic targets.
INT: Were you and your colleagues, your crew members, conscious of this incredible responsibility you had flying around the world with live hydrogen bombs?
OP: All of us were very conscious of what we carried in our bomb bays and the amount of destructive power that that we had at that.. Very early with new crew members that was discussed and in briefings it was discussed. And in private discussions amongst ourselves we discussed you know, this awesome destructive power that that we had. And some of us it bothered a great deal but we learned that we had to deal with it. Somehow it didn't really cause too many emotional problems at that because the methodology that we felt that it was an important mission, it was something that we had to do, not that we liked it, that we enjoyed it or would rather be doing something else possibly but as something that we felt that we had to do for the betterment of the entire world, and we hoped that we were such a formidable threat that we would never have to do it and, as you look backwards, we were successful. We didn't have to do it.
INT: Excellent answer. Did the Soviets know.. first of all, let me ask the last question. you describe what it was like and what was meant by 'flying to a fail-safe point' on one of your twenfour hour alerts?
OP: Flying to a sail fail-safe point,...
INT: What was it like to fly to a fail-safe point and what did that mean?
OP: Flying to a sail... (laugh)
INT: What would it mean to fly to a fail-safe point?
OP: Flying to a fail-safe point meant that you flew your mission to a point where you no longer had fuel to go strike a predetermined number of targets and recover at a post-strike base. Let's see, that's.. what fail-safe meant. That you.. essentially when you reached that point, you would call and you were then ineffective so you came back home.
INT: Could you explain to me what happened.. when you took off on a twenty four hour alert, where would you go and what would you do?
OP: When we flew the twenty four hour alert sorties they were specific plan, flight plans that we there was.. (sentence trails off) Some flew the Polar route, some flew out over the Atlantic into the Mediterranean, some flew west in.. to that area, depending what your location was, what air force you belonged to, what.. we all had.. each base had its assigned sorties and of course some of them overlapped.