Lakenheath Charlie by Jymie Darling
I was stationed at RAF Lakenheath in the early 90’s…well…90-94 to be exact. It was a long tour overseas. I had great time there and I met some lifelong friends there….but there was also adventure there.
RAF Lakenheath has “Lakenheath Charlie” supposedly a pilot killed after mistaking Lakenheath as a “real” base and attempting a landing (Lakenheath was a decoy base during WWII, with no real runway and only plywood decoy aircraft).
Our grenade building was a makeshift morgue during that time also….or so the story goes.
I liked my nightshift opportunities and if any came up to volunteer for…I was on top of it. One was because, not a ton of work was accomplished at night. We had no fly times issued by the Queen and without the aircraft running, not a ton was needed from the bomb dump. Now, it was not because I was lazy and wanted to get out of work, it was because a lot of the real knowledgeable old timers took the night shifts and I wanted to pick their brains, listen to their stories, especially if SMSGT Rathbon was on duty. CMSGT Mitchell would stop in and stay a bit and really tell us some tales and some advice that was invaluable. I loved Chief Mitch.
So nights could get foggy…kind of the best setting for the story too…and I loved that kind of weather. Dark, cold and foggy….so very England to me. Just want I romanticized in my head about England and London and just so perfect.
One night, I was told to go move a 16 ton tractor and 40 foot trailer. I needed to back it in at area 5. I said “Yes, sir.” They asked me if I needed a spotter and I declined as there was no traffic on the flightline and no load on the trailer and I have done the move 100 times if not more with a loaded trailer. I jumped in and proceeded to head out to the area. Notified control when I arrived to that I was opening the gates to the area to pull in. Cleared to do so. Now, you have to be cleared to be in the area. Practical jokes aside (and lord knows we pulled some big ones), we had to do it in Area 1…we cannot call in and out of areas to fuck with someone because it is recorded.
So I unlock the gates. I get back into my truck. I pull through the gates. I jump out of my truck..I lock the gates. I jump back into my truck (that is why I was so damn thin back then…lol). I move the truck to the road I need and back it into it’s spot. I grab the truck that was there that needed to be removed and put into the parking lot by the AMMO Bar on the flightline (yes…we had a bar folks…just for us) so that it could go to maintenance in the morning. That was the only big work order of the night. Woohoo. I pulled out of the area. Calling myself out to control and headed to the lot. I was backing the trailer in and I was having a bit of a hard time because of the fog rolling in pretty thick. I took a deep breath, pulled the truck out to straighten it and proceeded to back up again. I saw I man out there in a flight suit. He looked like a pilot. He had a light…like a lantern. I thought nothing of it because…after all…I was on the flight line. He proceeded to help me back the truck in. Guiding me from the rear of the trailer. Nailed it and proceeded to call into control. End the work order. And turn off the truck and secure it. I finished that in about 10 minutes and jumped out to say thank you to the pilot but he was gone. No worries. Late at night and he probably did not want to wait. I walked back to the bomb dump, got my fire chit, turned the gate keys and both vehicle keys into control and went back to the office.
Everyone (all 5 of us) were in there now. I walked into a middle of a story that I wish I had been able to hear the beginning of. They asked how it went. I said…Yep. I told them of the nice pilot that helped me out…their eyes got big and they laughed…they said…Yeah, Lakenheath Charlie is one helpful son of a bitch and told me the story of him and their encounters with him….and that night I realized that a ghost had helped me park my truck.