F-14 fighters and Ukraine

Laptop sticker
Laptop sticker
Dan Rattiner

In early September, Iran announced its intention to buy 24 Russian fighter planes to help it modernize its air force. The fighters, called S-35s, are not the best fighters, however. But they are pretty good, a notch or two below America’s best, and the Russians could probably spare some of them.

The best in Iran’s current air force are more than 50 years old. They are American-made F-14 fighters. All built at Grumman Aerospace Corp., the largest employer on Long Island at that time, and also the most advanced fighter jet in the world at that time.

This seems so very long ago from today’s perspective. But back then, in the 1970s, the debut of the F-14 was sensational news. And we Long Islanders were very proud to have produced such an aircraft. The F-14 starred in the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun.

It also became famous because of some missteps made at that time by our President Jimmy Carter. A civil war had broken out in Iran. Fundamentalists were fighting to overthrow the Shah of Iran.

So Carter, hoping to protect that ally, sold 79 F-14s to him. It was shocking that he did that. How could we justify giving our most technically advanced aircraft to others? None had been given before, not even to our ally Israel.

Then, sure enough, the Shah was overthrown. And he fled to America. Thus these F-14 fell into the hands of Arabs who called America the Great Satan.

In those years, I was playing golf regularly with John Darden, one of the salesmen at Dan’s Papers. We had to play on public golf courses. The private courses were all unavailable to us.

He’s Black. I’m Jewish. People were talking about these restrictive golf club policies as something wrong in the Hamptons. Which it was. It is not that way now.

Golfers ad with Dan and John Darden
Golfers ad with Dan and John Darden

At one point, I published an ad in the paper which featured a photograph of the two of us carrying our clubs and smiling at the camera as we walked down a path alongside the practice green at the very public nine-hole Poxabogue Golf Center in Sagaponack.

The photo caption read “Our goal: to play every golf course in the Hamptons. Dan and John, golf partners. We are both WASPs in the social register. Handicap About 15.”

At the bottom was our telephone number at the paper. “Invite us to the National, the Shinnecock, or one of the others.”

It could not have been more clear that we were not in the social register. But indeed, several younger members, enjoying our efforts, did invite us. And we played most of the exclusive clubs that year.

Now, learning of the Iranian plan to upgrade their air force, I was surprised to see that the F-14s were in use. They were not supposed to have gotten into use.

John Darden, before working at the paper, had been an engineer at Grumman assigned to accompany the F-14s transferred to the Shah in order to teach the Iranian pilots how to operate them. He told me about it.

“I was there for five months,” he said. “We had instruction manuals, spare parts, blackboard discussions, and hands-on classes as we tried to teach the Iranians about these very complex fighter planes. But it was difficult. One reason was an Iranian air force rule that if you broke any part of one of these airplanes, even accidentally, you yourself had to pay to get it fixed. I recall one pilot pressing the seat eject button while the plane was still on the tarmac. The canopy flew off, the pilot shot up high and then floated down under a parachute. We never saw him again.”

Darden also told me that yes, he and the other Americans, guests of the Shah, did play golf in Iran. The courses were just desert, with sticks in the sand. And then one morning, he and the other Americans had to be hustled back to America.

“We fled Iran with all our manuals, spare parts and teaching gear,” he says. “There was no way anyone was ever going to fly the F-14s without them.”

Well, according to the news release last week, fly them they did. Though the pilots do have trouble with them. Many have crashed. One in June in the city of Isfahan. Only about 15 remain.

And here’s a local story about the war in Ukraine. It involves me, Amazon and a sticker I bought to put on the front lid of my laptop.

There’s a whole big market for laptop stickers, mostly, I think, consisting of high school or college kids who want to jazz up their computers. I’m not one of them.

But, having bought a backup laptop for my regular one, I decided the other day to decorate it with a sticker. Scrolling through available laptop stickers on Amazon — sunsets, flowers, paintings, fish, road maps and sailboats, I decided upon something from nature.

It’s a scene of a forest with a giant bear strolling along through it. It cost $22.

With Amazon, of course, you don’t usually know where what you are buying comes from. But occasionally there are exceptions. This was one of them.

Customs sticker from Ukraine
Customs sticker from Ukraine

This sticker came from Kyiv, Ukraine. It was sent last spring while the Russians were storming small suburban towns surrounding that capital city to burn, pillage, rape and kill while shelling the buildings and infrastructure in the capital with their big guns from afar.

Whether the person who sent me this laptop sticker had created it — I now realize it’s intended to show a giant Russian bear lumbering through the forest — I do not know. What I do know is that Marina Sillnaka received my order, rolled up the sticker into a cardboard tube and took off through rubble and maybe smoke and flames, to a customs office.

Official export stamps and forms were signed in both English and Ukrainian, and in a few days, it was flown out of the country and off to me.

Look at the top of this post for a photograph of the sticker on my laptop. God bless that woman and all the other brave heroes of Ukraine. Carrying on business as usual.

More from Our Sister Sites