"Some choices we live not only once but a thousand times over, remembering them for the rest of our lives."
"I can imagine a no more rewarding career.
And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile,
I think can respond, with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
'I served in the United States Navy.'
(John F. Kennedy's remarks at the United States Naval Academy, August 1, 1963)
"A Call To Serve" . . . . And I believe I did ...
Normally, I would have had to retire in 2006, based upon the then mandatory retirement age for U.S. airline pilots. Indeed, my last flight would have been planned and celebrated with family, friends, and co-workers. But this will not be.
All of us who love flight will someday - inevitably and most assuredly - have their final, last flight ever. Some may know or suspect in advance. But most will not realize at the time, that this next flight will indeed be their final flight, ever ...
In 2003 while flying an East Coast overnight pattern, I awaited the results of some medical tests and a biopsy - wondering if the results would in fact, make that my last flight.
Three days later, I learned that it was indeed, very likely my last flight... ever!
The diagnosis in late 2003 was an aggressive and advanced Stage
IV III cancer. Based upon my doctor's and other doctors' prognosis, and considering all my morbid test results I hurriedly made my "final arrangements" with my family, my priest and church, and others. Indeed I had been told that I had less than two years left to live, at best.
Fortunately, quick and radical treatment - and "Something Else" - saved my life. Now
several many years later the cancer is thankfully, mostly in remission and not of much concern in 2008, now 2009, now 2010, now 2011, now 2012 , now 2013, now 2014, now 2015 ..... still living fairly well into 2019 and able to live, and to know and enjoy my two grandsons. I am indeed a very lucky guy!
Of course if it is not one thing, it is another. In 2018 I had a scare that the cancer had returned, but later tests proved I was OK. Then I needed an aortic valve replacement for my heart and a stent in 2019. The operation went well and feel much better today. Dodged another bullet!
In addition to my cancer, I have a few other medical maladies too. I have been told by doctors these are a result of my exposure to Agent Orange while I was in Vietnam.
On one of the legs of my last commercial airline trip as the captain, there was this pretty young girl of about 8-years old. With her mother, she was traveling to Disney World. Apparently she had a serious cancer and heart problems, and the Make-A Wish-Foundation provided for this trip. She was so excited to be on the flight deck, sitting in my captain’s seat while her mother took pictures. I often think about her to this day, and hope and pray she had as good a fortune as I did.]
But that's OK. I have had a great run!
Rejoice those who anticipate flight.
Rejoice those who enjoy its wonders.
Rejoice those who remember, as they might,
And pray for those who are no longer...
Then, for a select few: "Throw a nickel on the grass...."
Iconic Edifices - Old Hangars
I still visit NAS - now MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) - Miramar a few times every week. But my visits these days are primarily to their superbly equipped gym for a cardio-workout, or maybe to the Exchange or gas station.
Nevertheless, I always cast a smiling glance over toward my old flight line.
Those familiar neat rows of fighter aircraft are not quite visible from my vantage on the main road, but the massive and hulking aircraft hangers certainly are. As my eyes move from one old hangar to the next, I wistfully recall each one of the squadrons, and the many fine men they housed. I savor the many rich and vivid experiences I attach to each of those old aircraft hangers, during my many formative years there as a young fighter pilot.
NFWS (TOPGUN) moved away years ago. The "Fightertown" banner no longer adorns hanger #3. VF-151 moved elsewhere, and VF-1 was disestablished, as was VF-1485. The F-14's moved on too, and are now nearly all retired to the "bone-yard." They are being [Edit: Now have been] replaced with newer fighters, just as they, the F-14's replaced and retired the venerable F-4 so long ago. If they weren't sold for scrap, many of the flight decks I used to land on are now museums, like my favorite, the
USS Midway. As have the old squadrons and aircraft scattered to the four winds and beyond, so too have many of my old friends and squadron mates.
But I'm fortunately still here. . . . even if replaced.
[Trivia:   In most all photos of me on this website (except for the TOPGUN
class picture with the standard Navy issue "combat" watch on my wrist there),
I am always wearing the same old stainless steel watch.
I bought this watch at the
Subic Bay Exchange in 1971 for a very reasonable price.
And I still wear that same old Rolex watch today, everyday.
It has been with me through thick and thin!
It has become an old cherished friend. I feel naked without it.
And like me, it has needed some repairs and reconditioning too.
But we both keep on ticking – going on 41 years together, now... /Trivia]
Revived Memories, and Wonder
Often if I am lucky, I can look up and see a smart, tight formation of those very sleek F/A-18 fighters streaking inbound into that same Miramar "break" (the overhead landing pattern) as I used to fly so long ago, with their powerful twin turbines thundering overhead.
However, I find they now enter the Miramar break far slower than we used to do in the good old days. Disappointing, but maybe just as well.
I then find myself wondering if their sharp young fighter pilots are having nearly as much fun as I had at their age,
over those very same runways, so many years ago.
I also can't help wondering if they are nearly as good as I was, for that fleetingly brief moment in my life when I was razor sharp and in my prime - when I was "the best fighter pilot in the world," and having the time of my life!
Perhaps not, I think to myself. . . and too bad.
I also often wonder what might have been, had it not been for that freak Nebraska blizzard nearly half a century ago, which forever changed the course of my life. Though unplanned and unforeseen, it turned out to be the correct course, leading to the fantastic and continuing journey of my life...
... And it is fortunately a course that I still sail with great gusto and great happiness, even today!
... with fair winds and following seas.
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London
Although I am now long grounded, my daughter continues on with our aviation legacy. She is a corporate pilot flying Challenger and Gulfstream business jet aircraft for a very well known and famous, Fortune 100 corporation. (Edit: Now flying Wide-Bodies internationally for a major airline.) So I now fly vicariously with her. (She also once saved my life over 20 years ago, but that is another story for a different time.):
We were young once and warriors. Recent gatherings of old eagles:<
Today whenever I hear an aircraft overhead I look up; just as I always did as a child with every bit of awe and envy now as then. Today it seems difficult for me to comprehend having done all the things I write about here (and thankfully some things I didn’t write about.). I am indeed humbled and most thankful by my uncommonly good fortune in life and the many wonderful people I have met along the way.
"Finis coronat opus"
Note: If you have enjoyed my website, you might also enjoy some of my many aviation related answers on Quora
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