Last week WQLN staff members were in Fairview to record people’s stories about “Our Town.” Next they will edit a CD and it will become available for sale… just in time for Christmas.
One story that didn’t make it, perhaps because it didn’t happen here, was about a Fairview man, Wesley Herbol. Wes was born and raised in Fairview. His dad, Henry, was born in Ohio and first came to the community to teach then became involved in the insurance business. Among other things, Henry helped organize the Fairview Fire Department as well as Fairview’s chapter of the American Legion. He was deeply involved in the everyday life of Fairview.
Wes was also.
But, in 1958 Wes was a Navy pilot, assigned to the aircraft carrier, the USS Essex with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean (the featured photo shows the ship from this time period). One day his wife Dottie received a letter in the mail that included an official report. Seems that Wes and his plane “fell into the drink.”
Wes was flying back from Beirut, Lebanon and described the event: “My first approach, which was high and fast (was) waved off and I went around for another try. The second pass was fast. The third pass was normal in all respects and the last speed checked on the air speed indicator was 122 knots. Normal touch-down and engagement followed. I started to move my right hand for the hook-up control and retarded power to the idle detent with my left hand when I realized the plane wasn’t being retarded properly and that I was still moving. I locked my brakes, I thought, and went over the angle of the deck. On the way down I pulled the canopy emergency release and was gratified to hear the hiss of the canopy air motor working.”
He went on to write: “I believe I entered the water in a port-wing down, nose-low attitude. I waited until I felt things stop and water rushing in. Then I unsnapped the lap belt and reached for the canopy rim. I pulled and came free and immediately started to feel a choking sensation due to the automatic valve on the oxygen connection. I tore my mask and helmet off and let them go free… My only desire was to get free of the aircraft. I could hear the ship’s screws and was anxious to get clear of the ship. I put the sound to my back and swam upward and away from the sound.”
He inflated his Mae West and fired off his pistol, which was loaded with tracers, to show that he was still alive. Nearby the destroyer the USS Miller found him with search lights and started to circle him. He inflated a raft that was attached to his Mae West, but lost his pistol in the process. He was soon picked up and taken aboard the Miller, where he spent the night.
“First of all, let’s get this clear,” Wes added personally for Dottie. “I’ve got a slightly sore back and a few nicks and bruises. Everything else is O.K.” He noted that there were a few things he did not include in the official report, such as: “When I came to the surface finally I gave a prayer of thanks for I knew it had been close. Also I knew that people on the ship thought I was through.” He praised the crew of the destroyer adding, “Maybe it isn’t clear what happened, but my accident was a one–the-million thing – that is, I tore the wire out of the arresting engine. It just happened, like an engine dropping out of a car.” He also added that he intended to be flying again in a few days.
Several months after Henry Herbol died Wes resigned his active duty status but remained in the reserves then came back to Fairview to take on his father’s insurance business. He took on other responsibilities in the community as well. It is hard to sum up all the service Wes provided his hometown after that close encounter.
And, while the story won’t be on WQLN’s “Our Town” CD, it is recorded here.