While F-18s were flying sorties in the Shock and Awe phase of the Iraq invasion, Springfielder Shem Schutte was working on the flight line of the U.S.S. Kittyhawk as a “baked potato.”
The nickname comes from the look of the flame retardant suits worn by an aircraft carrier’s crash and salvage crew.
“We kind of waited for the pilots to crash, more than anything,” Schutte explained. “It happens all the time.”
“My job was to get the pilots out of the fire,” he said.
“Flight decks are crazy. There’s a fire a day up there.”
There are other dangers, too.
When the braided steel arresting wires that catch airplanes snap, “O, shucks,” Schutte said.
Well, that’s a G-rated translation.
While on duty he watched as a snapped cable “took out a helicopter and took a couple of guys down,” he recalled. “Nobody died that time.”
In fact, more deaths came when sailors themselves snapped, deaths by hanging or by jettisoning off the deck into the ocean with the help of C02 canisters.
“People just lose their stuff,” he said, “especially if something happens at home and they can’t get back.”
Now 31, Schutte was 19 and just off a four-hour shift in that intense time when he went online and spotted a remake of a Gibson ES 137 Classic Black and Blue guitar that was “a little under-priced at the time.”
He’d started playing at age 12 on the standard entry-level Squire Bullet.
As a kid, “I played anything I could touch,” he said.
But high-priced Gibsons were out of his touch.
Work on the flight deck brought them into reach.
First, because he was in the Persian Gulf, his military pay came tax free. Add to that the hazardous duty pay, also tax-free, and “it was the first time I had some money I could drop on a Gibson.”
So he dropped $2,800 and had it shipped to him in the Persian Gulf.
“It took a while,” but eventually “the most expensive thing I’d ever bought to that time” arrived.
He plugged it in to the small amp he had at the end of yet another four-hour shift.
Because he’d been painting yellow lines on the flight deck, a little spot of it rubbed off his shirt on to the back of the guitar just about hip level, where the instrument naturally rests.
And once he noticed the paint, “I didn’t want to take it off,” he said.
His model was the Kittyhawk Custom.
Fast forward: Schutte was in Japan in August 2006, finishing up his four-year Navy hitch and looking forward to being reunited with his Kittyhawk Custom when it was stolen from The Boy’s car in the parking lot of the Hickory Inn.
Gabe Judy got the name The Boy because he had two older sisters and was the youngest in the family.
But the name also fit him as the junior partner in the group he had been hanging with for years.
“He’s like three or four years younger than us,” Schutte said. “And we’ve known him since he was a little kid. He’s a really good guitar player.”
“We” includes Dylan Swanton, whose socks Schutte was wearing during the interview and who has been his friend long enough that the two girls they now refer to as their exes were best friends, too.
As can happen, sparing Schutte’s Kittyhawk Custom from the dangers of being aboard a carrier was the first thing The Boy had been tasked with as a full-fledged member of the group.
“I get why he didn’t say” it had happened, Schutte said.
“Nobody wanted to make that phone call,” explained Swanton, least of all the boy who felt awful.
Of course, that was the very reason his friends tortured Swanton mercilessly about it as they scoured the pawn shops and music stores in search of it.
The flip side of it was that on May 19 – nearly eight years after the Kittyhawk Custom had gone AWOL — he spotted it on the wall at Kincaid’s music store, where he seldom sets foot.
“I went in there to get banjo and ukulele strings,” he said. “It was the very first thing hanging there on the right. It stopped me.”
Schutte could see the black strap locks he’d installed to keep the guitar from flying off him while playing.
And after the salesman nodded, “Uh-huh,” when Schutte asked about the little yellow paint spot on the back, the original owner said, “You need to pull it off the wall.”
Schutte bought the guitar back for the $400 the store had paid for it – and without regret.
He figures it’s the equivalent of a reasonable storage fee for the eight years it was away from him, particularly given its great condition.
“It’s not beat up, there are no chips, nothing,” he said. “It’s good to go.”
Another plus is his decided opinion that had it not been stolen, the Kittyhawk Custom “wouldn’t have made it through my first marriage.”
The theft also gave him someone to celebrate with.
When the Gibson turned up again, The Boy was “just as pumped as I was.”
It just makes you want to say “O, Shucks.”