Every kid at one point has discussed the possibility of their dad beating up every other dad in the playground. These debates continued as white collared bespectacled fathers improbably capable of beating up anything picked up their kids in bright colored minivans. I never engaged in these conversations, because they were pointless. My dad had an F-15.
Not anyone can become a fighter pilot in the Air Force. It is a valued position many aspire to and few achieve. This is probably good considering the type of weaponry they will gain control of once all their training is completed. Someone needs to have exceptional health and an academic record which is equally exceptional. My father had both.
He had a masters in public administration and was dual rated as a navigator and senior pilot with well over 3,000 flying hours. Some of the medals earned during his distinguished military career included: the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster and over nineteen other awards before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the early nineties.
Some people have a resolve and determination that shines through their gaze and strips you of every defense. He had that gaze. Having looked deep into that same stare many times growing up, I imagined enemy planes careening into mountains without one shot being fired.
Even after three consecutive hemorrhagic strokes, I saw my crippled father topple unsuspecting nursing staff members to their knees in tears after messing up his dinner order. He was not one to accept disappointment and after decades of commanding troops in the Air Force you knew when you screwed up. He taught me there was always a new level of perfection and to sit down, shut up, and do my job.
This was a lesson I carried with me through much of my adult life. Staff members eventually learned their routines and began to affectionately refer to him as “the colonel”. This was often accompanied by several rounds of salutes and everybody eventually grew to love and respect him. This was how he raised us. Love was freely given, but respect was always earned through blood, sweat, and tears.
Aviation was in his blood and he himself came from a generation of fighter pilots following in his own fathers flight path. His father flew in the second world war and was gunned down by Germans while transporting troops on D-Day. He sought refuge and recovered under the care of a French family before returning to service several weeks later. Several witnesses corroborated that he was the last to leave his plane after it was shot down and his efforts earned him both the Purple Heart and The Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was a passionate man and most of this passion was reserved for the skies. At Boeing he turned down comfortable positions for the chance to continue spreading his love of flight to future generations as both a flight instructor and through his work with the Museum Of Flight. His body was planted on earth, but his heart was always soaring above the clouds. A little over a year ago he passed and is now reunited with his wife up in the heavens where he has always belonged.
I love you dad and you will always be missed!