The seven men assigned to the Ranger-12 flight were typical of the 1980s Navy, which is to say they did not fit the stereotype in which many people still cast military professionals. These were not barely high school graduates who fled to the service for a steady job. They were well educated, mature, and – for the most part – was their work as a career, not a job opportunity. In their own individual ways, they were really quite extraordinary.
The Crew of Ranger-12
If there is a fast track for Navy intelligence analysts, Steve Batchelder had the inside curve, both from breeding and performance. Once of the Six children of a New Hampshire State Supreme Court justice, Batchelder was held in deep respect, even awe, by many of his peers. Often the same words were used to describe him; “reserved, brilliant, a quiet wit, hard-nosed perfectionist, meticulous,” And he had lived up to his breeding. It was Batchelder, 30, who provided the critical nexus in the Mediterranean for Navy pilots to intercept an Egyptian airline carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers. The feat earned the taciturn lieutenant a medal and an assignment to brief the Joint Chief of Staff.
He was a career Navy intelligence officer whose only outside interest lay in his wife of seven years and their two children. Batchelder’s final fitness report, written a month before his death, said in part: “Head and shoulders performer. Number one of 15 in (his category. Vast potential. Most strongly recommended for early promotion.”
At 37 the oldest man on board Callander was the plan’s navigator and mission chief. He had served most of his career in the Whale and was known in Navy intelligence units all over the world. He was the only Vietnam veteran aboard, a recipient of two Bronze Stars. In 18 months he would have retired. He and his wife and three children had enjoyed Rota and Navy life, but it was time to go, he had told his family.
It was the love flying that had kept him in this long. A delayed college degree from Purdue had caused Callander to miss qualifying for pilot school himself by only four months. The bad time irked him, family members recalled. One compensation was a terrific competitive streak. Whether it was tennis, a footrace or once just to see who could eat the most Jalapeno peppers, Callander fought to win. New he was the right-hand seater in a two-seat jet, the steadying senior influence on a progression of junior pilots.
Another fast-track man, Richards, the junior evaluator, was a two-year veteran with VQ-2 and had taken part in both bombing raids against Libya. He seemed to have found a home away from home in the cramped, noisy electronics bay of the Whale. Sometimes sitting at the dials was like driving a car through the desert and carefully turning the dial in search of a radio station. Other times, the airways were full of signals that must be sorted through. At both, Richards excelled. A computer buff, he spent his spare time studying mathematics in anticipation of a Navy-sponsored post graduate education.
Richards, 27, was a Detroit native and graduate of Hope College, where he met his wife. The enlisted crew found him an easy taskmaster and his fellow officers admired his mind. He was the only man in the squadron to know Al Levine when the pilot showed up at VQ-2 in the fall of last year. The two had attended Aviation Officer Candidate School together.
Rich Herzing was 10 when his cousin died in a plane crash off the Nimitz. An A-6 Intruder had flamed out after takeoff. The pilot and Herzing’s cousin safely ejected into the water but landed in the middle of the spreading fuel stain from the sunken Jet. In his excitement to mark their location, a Nimitz deckhand fired a flare into the sea. The fuel erupted into flames and the men died. Three years later, Herzing announced he would follow his cousin’s footsteps and join the Navy. No plea on his mother’s part could change his mind.
He was one of those natural leaders, friends recalled, whether for a trip to the shore or just a quick beer at Paul’s Bar. He had a thing about carrier deployments and was constantly looking to add to his number of “Cats and Traps” – catapult takeoffs and trapped carrier landings. Herzing, 22, was not supported to be aboard this flight. At the last moment, another crewman was bumped and Herzing pleaded to take his place. Jan 25 was to be a special flight for the St. Mary’s, Pa. youth. It would qualify him for the Centurion’s Club – it would be his 100th “Cat and Trap.”
Technically, Price was not a member of “The Electric Bats,” although he was with them nearly all the time. His unit was even more secret, known only as Navy Security Group, Department 30. Price was trained in Russian. He had studied for two years at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. His wife, Sherri, recalled the school as down-to-dusk drudgery. Rota was much more fun. They lived with a Spanish couple and were mastering that language.
The 28 year-old native of Opp, Alabama, was an unlikely Navy spook. He had a strong musical background and a good voice, making it to the all-state choir and a role in “Annie Get Your Gun.” In college at South Alabama, weekends were spent with the Baptist Children’s Home. He was elected state president of the Baptist Student Union. There was also the band, rifle team and cheerleading. Fidgety when not busy with something, he reveled in the demands lately for Russian interpreters. “This is going to be a busy year for me, Honey,” he told his wife.
Bad luck had stalked Rudolf’s Navy career. First the 20 year old learned that his dream of becoming a radar technician was doomed because he was color blind to shades of green – the color of most radar screens. As an alternative, he selected language school and planned to major in Russian. But the day he reported to school, he fell ill. When he got out of the base hospital the Russian class was felled and Rudolf was left with Arabic. It had been a tough two years of school for the Milwaukee native. But with a promotion, things seemed to turn around.
“Craig was tough, “said his stepfather, a Navy career petty officer. “When he was going through junior high and high school we were always getting called to school, at least once a month, because he was fighting with someone. He wasn’t that big a kid, but he was solid, you know; maybe 6-1 and 170 pounds, real lean. He had this routine. Every morning when he got up he did 50 sit-ups and 50 pushups. He was obsessive about it. The Navy sure straightened that kip up. He was a man.”
Levin was the pilot. He was new to the squadron and a rookie. Until he finished several more missions off carriers he would be known as a “Nugget” to other pilots. He was a native of Long Island and a graduate of Hofstra University, majoring in mathematics. He had studied in Paris as a student at New York University at the Sorbonne. Computers and the piano were late-blooming hobbies. Reserved, even cool to outsiders, few in the squadron knew him well. But those who did said Alan Levine, 26, had the makings of a crackerjack pilot.
“The strange thing is that flying was a secret dream of his, “said Eugene Levine, Alan’s father. “I was surprised when he went into the Navy. I wouldn’t say happy or unhappy. I was surprised. He wasn’t in the Navy for the sake of a Navy career. He was in the Navy because it was the instrument that gave him the opportunity to fly. He loved to fly. It doesn’t matter whether he liked the Navy, didn’t like the Navy, liked wearing a uniform or didn’t like wearing a uniform. All that is nonsense. But I can tell you his desire wasn’t to fly this plane. He wanted a fighter. My son talked to me about this plane. He didn’t like it.
Source: The San Diego Union, April 27, 1987