In the picture he looks like a modern-day Tyrone Power, standing by his plane in jaunty pose, dark eyed, smiling. The perfect image of a dashing Air Force flying ace.
But Capt. Lyn Davis McIntosh was a hometown boy: a son of the South who, until he joined the Air Force, never strayed far from his home in this peaceful Georgia town lush with Spanish moss near the Okefenokee Swamps.
Townspeople who knew McIntosh all his life -- and repeatedly speak of him as an "all-American boy," a "good Christian boy" -- are stunned now beyond belief. Their murmurings echo like a Greek chorus to the news.
McIntosh's life ended in the Iranian desert halfway around the world.
"We're proud of him and what he did . . ."
Ended in the flaming inferno of a bizarre accident during the secret attempt to rescue the hostages.
"I can remember when Lyn was baptized . . ."
Ended -- and McIntosh now belongs to history.
"Lyn McIntosh. You know, the boy who sold shoes down at Christie patterson's store?. . . ."
Lyn Davis McIntosh. Age 33. A footnote now in this dangerous time of international strife.
"After what they did to Lyn's body, I think we should just go and blast 'em off the face of the earth, they're that inhuman. . . ."
Many here are still struggling to comprehend the magnitude and meaning of McIntosh's death.
The flags are flying at half-staff now. At the high school. In front of McDonald's golden arches. And this week a wreath for McIntosh was placed at the foot of the memorial statue for Valdosta's confederate sons who died in the Civil War.
Valdosta's commemorative rites are reminiscent of those played out so often in rural American towns a decade ago when local boys went to Vietnam and never returned. Scenes common in the South.
Decade after decade, the South has given up its young to war. McIntosh followed a time-honored tradition. For the poor, military life was a way up and out; for the middle class and the elite, the military academy meant a citadel of respect and honor. Even when Vietnam tarnished the military in many other eyes, being a top officer did not lose its luster in the South. To die for God and Country was, and is, honorable.
Of the eight men who died in the wreckage in that remote Iranian desert, six were from the South. From Pine Bluff, Ark., Roanoke, Va., Bonifay, Fla., Corryton, Tenn., Dublin, Ga. And Valdosta. The ground leader of the mission, tough, raw-boned Col. Charlie A. Beckwith, who led special commando forces in Vietnam, grew up in Georgia. And President Carter, their Commander-in-Chief, who would herald the aborted mission as heroic, rose out of the red clay of Plains, Ga., by heading for Annapolis and the Navy.
So perhaps it is not surprising that the disturbing talk of war is heard once again, these soft spring days.
A 13-year-old boy says, "Everybody at school talks about, if we're going to war, how they'd like to be a general. But mostly we just talk football," A waitress looks at the pictures in the newspaper of the eight men killed. "Lookit them fine young men. It's a terrible mess. One of the girls who works here, her son's on a ship in that there gulf right now. She's scared to death. We're gonna have war before you know it, hon." A former fraternity brother of McIntosh's says, "If it happens, you'll find a lot of us would feel it's our duty to go this time."
There is strong support for Carter, a conviction that the mission was a noble attempt, no matter the appalling mishaps, and should have been tried sooner.
"It's just a shame," says one retired general, "that some of our boys had to die."
A deacon at McIntosh's Baptist church speaks for many in town: "It's quite refreshing to see a person of Lyn's caliber willing to do things for his country. He grow up in that age when some of those boys were deserting and gong to Canada. He was growing up all through that time -- but, thank God, that attitude never touched him."
On Sunday, they sit in church and listen to Rev. Douglas Reddick, in three-piece pastel blue, offer his condolences and prayers for a quick return of their son's body. It is two days after Herbert and Christine McIntosh were visited by the chaplain of nearby Moody Air Force Base. Even in their grief, they cling to a tradition they know well: attending services at Northside Baptist Church.
Mrs. McIntosh is kind-faced, matronly, her gray hair neatly sprayed, her peach summer dress crisp. Her husband, more than 6-foot tall, has dark hair, gentle brown eyes and a smile that is much like his son's. After the service, the Reverend comes over and puts his arms around Mrs. McIntosh. Tears roll down his cheeks. He had known Lyn McIntosh since the boy was 8 years old.
Lyn's father, called Mac by everyone, seems to want to talk about his son. His eyes brighten. "We've got pictures of Lyn, many of them. We used to take pictures of him coming out of church carrying his Bible." Now an auditor at Sears, McIntosh once knew the lure of flying. He met his wife -- who grew up in one of those blink-your-eyes-and-you've-missed-it hamlets of 200 near Valdosta -- when he was stationed at Moody Air Force Base. He was a B-29 crew member in World War II. Lyn was born in 1946, a year after the war ended.
"Lyn used to love to go with me to the air base." The sorrow stares from his eyes as he says softly, "He was a wonderful boy."
McIntosh extends an invitation to visit the next morning. But that night the television news is full of the grizzly horror of it all. One of Iran's Revolutionary rulers displays for the news media of the world the charred remains of the eight Americans. The act inflames and hardens the growing hawkish mood n Valdosta as it does everywhere; an act that President Carter calls a "ghoulish action of terrorists, a powerful exhibition of inhumanity that has aroused the disgust and contempt of the rest of the world." i
At one point, a revolutionary guard is ordered by Ayatollah Khalkhali to pick up one serviceman's dog tags and read the anme aloud. The name is Lyn Davis McIntosh.
The next morning, Lyn's younger brother, Daryl, politely leads a reporter into his parents' immaculate living room with its Bible opened on one table, in the spotless, ranch-style brick home. They understandably have changed their minds. They, like the other families of the eight dead, now are fearful that their son's body will never be returned.
"Now is not the time to talk of Lyn," Daryl says, "It is just too soon." But he wants to say one thing.
"We're very proud of him. If he volunteered to do something, he believed in it. So we don't have any remorse concerning that."
The seeds of herosim were there in McIntosh's boyhood qualities --a sense of duty, dedication and concern for others that would lead him to volunteer for a mission to save the hostages. And yet, nothing in McIntosh's ordinary, small-town life was spectacualr. Lyn McIntosh could have been invented by Norman Rockwell.
The bare facts are quickly told. Graduated from Valdosta High in 1964, majored in math and minored in English at his hometown college, Valdosta State, graduated in 1968, married Ann Dixon, the girl he dated in high school, taught junior high math until he joined the Air Force in 1971.
McIntosh graduated from high school in an innocent time. Vietnam antiwar revolt was down the road. So was the drug scene. So was school integration. His yearbook shows an all-white class of 174.
Crew cuts were plentiful. So were bouffant skirts and hairdos to match.
McIntosh's extracurricular activities were many and varied. He seemed to be a boy who tried out everything -- football one year, tennis the next, drama club another year. He belonged to Key Club, a civic and business-minded organization, and was sports editor of his yearbook. One constant was Hi-Y, a religious organization he belonged to throughout high school and was vice president of in his senior year.
Ann, the girl he later married, was two years behind him. "That little girl set her cap for Lyn," recalls the English teacher, Mabel Wolinsky. "Both her parents died when she was in high school. She was orphaned, and I think all she had in the world was the love she had for Lyn."
McIntosh's widow lives in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., near Ft. Hurlburt, where her husband was based. Along with the families of the others killed in Iran, she is in seclusion, trying to shield her three sons, Scott, 10, and twins Mark and Stewart, 5, from many of the details that unfold in the aftermath of the ill-fated mission.
McIntosh, in large part, was shaped by his hometown of Valdosta, a town of 35,000 about 250 miles south of Atlanta and 90 miles from Tallahassee. It is prosperous, solidly middle-class with thriving turpentine, lumber and paper industries. Valdosta had its Confederate losses, but it was not demolished; Sherman bypassed it on his march to the sea.
Intergration came relatively peacefully to Valdosta High, now an ultra-modern school with about 50-50 black and white enrollment.
Today, one common bond is sports. Valdosta bursts with pride over its 15 statewide football championships and three national championships; trophies for all sports jam the highschool showcase. "Even the kids who went to the 'white flight' schools in junior high come back for senior high because that's where all the fun is," said one graduate.
Bumper stickers in the high school parkig lot proclaim Valdosta's nickname "Winnersville, USA."
Valdosta's young men went to Vietnam -- blacks more than whites as was the pattern all over the country. "The whites finagled, by going to college and all, and you heard talk of the war as immoral, but you had no demostrations around here," said one teacher.
"Might not everyone been in favor of the war," says former high school football coach Wright Bazemore, "but we didn't have any burning of flags or giving your speeches. We just don't have that sort of thing here. The students all come from good backgrounds, good upstanding families." Like many others, he hastens to add, "We're not backwoodsy."
Moody Air Force base is but 15 miles away, and youngsters grow up seeing Blue Angels and Thunderbird air shows, with planes flying in such precision formation that they look held together by wires. Many of the retired military settle in Valdosta.
It is Democratic, conservative, patriotic and definitely southern. The radios are filled with gospel preachings and the mournful sighs of country music's lost loves. Children are trained practically at birth in the ritualistic politeness of "yes ma'am" or "yes sir."
Above all, Valdosta is filled with the church spires of a town in the heart of the bible belt. There are 96 churches in and around Valdosta, 34 of them Baptist. Billboards urge drivers to "ASK GOD." The town is governed by blue laws on Sunday, and a survey found that the majority of its residents favored it that way.
Lyn Davis McIntosh felt at home here.
The towns people remember first his smile.
"He had all the charm in the world," says Mabe Wolinski, who was also adviser of the yearbook when McIntosh was sports editor. "He could melt anyone with his smile. With these yearbook people you have to nag and push, but I cannot ever remember Lyn getting upset with me."
Over and over his former teachers, classmates, fraternity brothers and employers echo the same sentiments.
John Sessions, a former fraternity brother: "Lyn was just a real levelheaded fellow. He enjoyed a good time, a good laugh, but he was real dependable. He was the kind of friend, you could call him up at 2:30 in the morning, and he's be there and never ask why you needed him. That picture of Lyn smiling, that was not just for a photograph, that was the way he was."
Sue Beth Tilman, a student at McIntosh's during the brief time he taught junior high math before joining the Air Force: "He was a good teacher, always got along with the children. Nobody misbehaved that much, they just repected him."
Margaret Mettiga, classmate in high school and college. "He was religious, but he wasn't one of those who refused to go the parties. "He wasn't a goody goody. He would take a drink, he was definitely one of the crowd."
Rev. Reddick: "He was outstanding. I baptized him when he was 15 or 16.
He had all the benefits of good Christian love and training from Mac and Chris. I'm sure he never doubted their love. If Mac could have gone in Lyn's place, he would have." Reddick chuckiles. "Lyn sold shoes when he was in college and he was an ideal ladies shoe salesman. He always had a smile and interest in people. My wife bought out the store when Lyn was waiting on her."
Christie Patterson, shoe-store owner: "Selling shoes is nerve-wracking. People lead you up to thinking they're going to buy and then they walk right out. Lyn could handle a customer as good as anyone."
McIntosh left Valdosta for the Air Force nine years ago, but visited often. "When he came back, he'd tell me how much he enjoyed flying," says Patterson, "But I had no idea he was in anything so special. He was not a big talker about himself. He just made those intimate decisions and didn't brag on them."
Some Valdostans were surprised that McIntosh went into the Air Force --"I would have thought he would go into the corporate world," said one former high-school classmate. "I thought he'd be managing the shoe store," said Mabel Wolinsky.
But Patterson feels that McIntosh "wanted to make something of himself. He was a fine boy with ambition. Maybe he wanted to go up the military ladder."
If his career choice puzzled some, most were not surprised that he volunteered for a dangerous mission.
"He would have been sought out for this because of his intelligence, dependability, self-discipline," says Ann Baldwin, who taught Lyn McIntosh math when he was 13 and then worked with him when he taught.
"Lyn taught for only a short while," she says. "I don't think he had any intention of making it his career. He was kind of filling in until he went into the service."
When McIntosh joined the Air Force, he pursued his career with typical diligence and became more than an ordinary pilot. He joined the crack Eight Special Operations Squadron. Its legacy of getting the tough jobs goes back three decades when its air commando reputation was fostered by Wingate's Raiders of World War Ii. Their motto is "Any Time, Any Place." The squadron took part in the raid at Sontay Prison in North Vietnam in 1971. The lightning-like strike itself was a success, but the 90 POW's had been moved out before the resue attempt.
The men of this special squadron are especially tight-lipped about their activities, and McIntosh was no exception. Friends and family know that at one time he went into intelligence work but know none of the details.He missed flying so much that he eventually left intelligence to return to the skies as aircraft commander.
His aircraft was a super-equipped huge cargo-carring C-130 modified for special commando activities -- nicknamed the Combat Talon or Blackbird. It was fitted out with the Fulton Recovery System, a rapid method of recovering a downed air-crew member from either land or water, using a helium-filled balloon and a 450-foot nylon lift line. Special radar and equipment allow the Combat Talon to fly extremely low over hostile air space and thus not be detected by enemy radar.
Last week McIntosh told no one, gave no hints, not even to his wife, where he was going when they set off for their mission to try to pluck the hostages from Tehran.
It looked for a while like the resue operation was going to be a stunning success. McIntosh and five other pilots flew the six C-130 transports without a hitch from the United States to an airfield in southern Egypt. The planes were crammed with electronic equipment to jam Iranian communications, with fuel, with chemicals.
Sometime Thursday afternoon. McIntosh and the others roared off from their Egyptian airfields, refueling in midair. Then McIntosh flew down the Red Sea and along the Arabian Sea coast to avoid flying over Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the nuclear aircraft-carrier Nimitz moved into the Gulf of Oman. McIntosh took off in twilight's dusk from a resting place on the western side of the Persian Gulf. About the same time, eight massive helicopters carrying the 90 man raiding party, dressed in camouflage, lifted off Nimitz's deck.
The helicopters and C-130's entered Iranian airspace shortly after dark. Then, the misfortunes that ultimately doomed the mission began. First one, then two, then three helicopters developed mechanical trouble. The loss was devastating. With three helicopters out they would have to abort the mission. d
McIntosh's plane was at the first staging base in the Dash-ekavir salt desert when the word came to abort the mission. In one of the most bizarre incidents, a bus loaded with Iranian tourists came chugging through the remote desert. They were detained -- witnesses to the fiery end of the mission.
The five operating helicopters were being refueled for the long trip home. One, however, had drained a C-130 of fuel and then had to lift up across a road to top off its tanks from another fuel plane.
As the helicopter pilot lifted off and banked away in the darkness from the first C-130, his rotor sliced through the fuselage of McIntosh's C-130.
Both aircraft immediately burst into flames. The explosion lit the desert sky and touched off ammunition, burning so fiercely that no one could get to the men trapped inside.
At dawn, the shocked survivors of the ill-fated mission lifted off. Below, on the desert floor, the wrecked aircraft continued to burn, funeral pyres for the eight left behind.
In Lyn McIntosh's high-school yearbook of 1964, there is this passage:
"All life is a quest -- let us now begin our quest for truth, bold even in our fear, asking only that when there is no longer world enough or time, eternity's mirror will reflect us not unscathed. . . ."