I maybe one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t seen Top Gun Maverick. As of this writing, the film starring Tom Cruise and a sequel to the 1986 hit Top Gun has grossed over $1 billion at the box office and shows no signs of landing anytime soon.

Someone who has seen the film is a former Top Gun himself, Hans Trupp, a longtime friend and property manager on St. Simons Island. I called him and asked how it felt to sit in a theater and watch Maverick Mitchell (Cruise) and his team in action.

“I can’t believe I did that,” he laughs after watching all the on-screen action. But he did. Trupp generally gives the film high marks for its portrayal of carrier life, but sees many things that would not have happened in the real world of Navy aviation. “It’s all about discipline on board an airline,” he says. Finally, planes are launched every 30 seconds and recovered every 45 seconds.

Trupp acknowledges that the egos in the film were real. “We were a very competitive bunch and thought we were all hotshots,” he laughs. “But we had fun.”

As an F4B Phantom pilot, Hans Trupp flew more than 200 combat missions over North Vietnam from two different aircraft carriers: the USS Ranger and the USS Constellation. For his service, he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, 12 Air Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals, and two Navy Achievement Medals with Combat V and the South Vietnamese Cross of Galantry. He deserves them all.

He got his Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down an enemy plane in Haiphong Harbor that was attacking a PT boat trying to smuggle spies into North Vietnam, and he did it at night.

On another occasion, he was flying wings for another F4B when an enemy surface-to-air missile struck the other fighter jet just 100 yards from Trupp, who was watching it descend without seeing the parachute. “It was obvious that they didn’t make it,” he says.

Trupp was also flying over North Vietnam when John McCain was shot down. “I heard his mayday call,” he says, “but at the time I didn’t know it was McCain.” It caused quite a stir since McCain was the son and grandson of Navy admirals.

Avoiding surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) was an occupational hazard, Trupp says. “When they targeted you, you quickly went into a ‘split-S’ maneuver. You turn the plane around and pull the nose down,” he explains, “and then pull up in the opposite direction at a lower altitude.” The missiles couldn’t handle those twists and turns.

After the end of the war and in the real estate business, Hans Trupp realized that a lot of things were in vain. Twenty years later he discovered that John L. Piotrowski, a retired four-star general in the United States Air Force, had published a book entitled Basic Airman to General: The Secret War & Other Conflicts.

In the book, Piotrowski cites a television interview in which former Secretary of State Dean Rusk admitted that the US government gave the North Vietnamese a day’s notice of the planned bombing targets.

Rusk said, “We didn’t want to harm the North Vietnamese people, so we passed the targets to the Swiss embassy in Washington with instructions to forward them to the (North Vietnamese) government through their embassy in Hanoi.” Rusk said the US wanted to Show North Vietnam that we “could attack targets at will, but we didn’t want to kill innocent people.”

An incredulous squad tracked down the retired general after a months-long search and discovered it was true. He and his fellow fighter pilots risked their lives fighting an enemy who was forewarned and prepared, shooting down American planes, capturing survivors and torturing them. Trupp says it was an unforgivable betrayal of the country they served. That’s putting it mildly.

Today, Hans Trupp is worried about the future of our country. He believes that we are militarily weaker and that China, more than Russia, is our greatest threat. Of even greater concern is a generation that seems less and less patriotic and less and less appreciative of the freedoms that have been afforded them and the sacrifices that have been made for them. He and his colleagues did not fight for this. But I’m proud they did. We should all be. Your film wasn’t a Top Gun film. It was real.

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