Thursday, July 31, 2014

In the Company of Friends

They still come for me late at night, when the glass is nearly empty and I am alone in the dark with only my thoughts to keep me company. Their boisterous invitation to a smoky pub is irresistible and we pile into the back of a lorry for the trip to the nearest village. It is a retreat to another time, before the date of my birth, when young men laughed too loudly, drank too much to shake off the tension in their necks and shoulders while singing raucous, sometimes naughty songs. Local folk looked on, then quietly, sadly, looked away from faces that may not be back again. After closing time there was always a ten cent nightcap on the base to keep the chill of war away. A blessed sleep in the Nissen hut and the the next morning we set out again, to do nothing less than save the world.

"Home Run" by Robert Taylor

Peter Townsend, Don Blakeslee, Bud Mahurin, Bob Stanford Tuck, Bob Doe, Geoffrey Page, Tony Bartley and many, many more ... My friends are in books, some they wrote and some written about them, and they have been with me for over 60 years.

"Canadian Wing" by Robert Taylor
Johnnie Johnson leads over the Normandy beaches 6/6/44

The first book I bought with my own money was "Wing Leader", by Group Captain Johnnie Johnson, Royal Canadian Air Force (1915-2001). The county circulated a pamphlet as part of a reading program for seventh graders and we could pick a book from a selected list as our reading project for school. I don't remember the 'required' book I selected, but I do remember that we had an option to buy an additional book of our own choosing. It cost 50 cents and I talked my way into a job, of sorts, to earn the money from my mother. I still have it, next to tatters, but I pull it out every few years and re-read it, still much in awe of those wonderful fighter pilots who operated from bases in England during World War II.
"Bader's Bus Company" by Robert Taylor
Beautifully framed by Virginia Bader Fine Art Studio

"Reach for the Sky", Paul Brickhill's 1956 story of the legless legend, Douglas Bader (1910-1982), became an inspiration for countless amputees through the years and was the first book I checked out of the local library. It was Bader's indomitable spirit, first as a pilot, then later, as a POW, that fueled my own independent streak from an early age.

My most recent find is "Tumult in the Clouds" by James A. Goodson. "Goody", who died recently (May 2014) at 93, survived a torpedo attack that sank the ship evacuating him from England to become one of the leading RCAF/RAF/USAAF Aces in the European theatre; he was quite a character. The story of his crash landing behind enemy lines and how he managed to talk his way out of a summary execution by teaching an enemy officer to blow cigar smoke rings is a classic.

My old friends keep bringing new friends into the squadron and I enjoy their company as well . . . there are a lot of books and even more stories but, alas, the men are fading fast. Most, in fact, are already gone but thanks to resources like YouTube and others, we can see their faces, hear their words in their own voices and, of course, read their books. 

The artwork and books that surround me in my home library keep my old friends close, ready for a reunion visit whenever the luxury of time allows. They are always welcome.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Flying for the pure fun of it

I guess I always wanted to fly. A very early memory is the surprise I felt when we were driving to the Hendersonville (NC) Horse Show in the late 1940s or early 1950s and our route took us past the local airport. It was a grass runway then but had lights and a rotating beacon. I saw the beacon when we drove home after dark and spent many a night looking out my bedroom window as it swept across the sky. The steady repetition of green, white, green, white was a metronome of sorts that led me one fine day in 1971 to Bluegrass Field in Lexington KY and Bohmer Flying Service, where I took my primary instruction in the pilot's arts.

I digress (it's a genetic component in the Southern DNA - likely Irish - a simple story is subject to innumerable asides).

After my late start as a career aviator, through AVGAS and Jet-A, props and jets, junior-ness and senior-ness, I am free of OPS (other people's schedules) and fly when and where I want. 

The other day, Jack and I decided to take a long cross-country trip - almost 23 miles! - to visit friends at Hobby Hill Airport. Here is a video of our adventure, captured by my poor-man's GoPro - a pair of sunglasses with a built-in camera. The production quality is awful but we had fun.