Pilots and Flowers Cut by Austin
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These are some reflections on the people, pilots, and flowers of life, that we encounter and pass by on our journey down the path of who knows where. I wonder, and ask, of myself and of you, "Is it possible to love a man"? When we see true worth in some one who shaped our lives and touched us in some way that lasts as long as our memory lasts, is it hard , too hard, to say we really loved that fellow ? Ken Carlson was an ex F86 fighter jock who came back from Korea a bit damaged. He had to settle for jobs like instructing in small spam cans that he may connect still with the magnetism of flying..he was hard on me and all the other students, but I felt privileged to fly with him. I was young, very young, but I was fortunate enough to have a sense of awareness of what Carlson was, used to be, and was fighting with. I liked him a lot. If I could pass his standards then I knew I was going to be good. I never saw Carlson again after I got my licence, but I never forgot the sense of F86s and what combat did to a young man made old before his time. He did that for you and me and I thank him still, 50 years on. One day, out at the field, I see a string of Stearmans just outfitted for dusting and brought out to the line, ready to do battle with the budworm clear across the country. I climbed up on one and knew I just had to fly it, but they were leaving on the morrow and Art was in one of them. Art Beveridge was once my instructor and teaching was not his real forte' so he jumped at the chance to be a duster pilot. At the end of a long and tiring season, he stall turned and rolled up in a fireball, never to fly nor see God's Earth again. I was shocked, and so it went....one great guy after another, cut like a flower from the meadow of life and flying..... My ground school instructor Jung, terrific sense of humor, bragging that a good pilot could easily steer a compass heading within 3 degrees....veteran of two tours of bombing in Lancs, was brought down not by war, but by snow, landing a 707 in a snow storm up by the Arctic circle where navaids were just not there. What I remember most about Jung was his sense of humor, his smile, and his forgiveness. I have just finished reading a book about a round the world race in sail boats where the sailors are alone and on the raging seas for 4 months. Not all survive, but they all come back with a different appreciation of life and friends after living through hell on Earth through the Southern Ocean. Constant storms and waves of 50, 60 feet that knocked them over and kept them wet and weary for time unending. But all said it was beautiful and a voyage of discovery and the human spirit. I think a lot about a major cross country in my RV, consuming thousands of miles and hours of intense awareness, navigating, listening, watching,..I find I have no time for the mundane...stereo, of chatter, or music, balming though they may be to some, and to me when I recline in an easy chair, but now, I am intense and paying attention. After all, there was a time when a group of fighters came up to meet me over La Jolla and the coast when I came near an MOA.....I was young and my radio was poor. I must pay more attention.... But when the light started to dim and the horizon turned to black, I could set down for today and rest in my bag under the wing and wait at my leisure for a new dawn. Can't do that on a boat in the Southern Ocean where the ice growlers roam across your path. These lone sailors must be like us pilots...we must be brothers, that we explore the winds and the forces and we have to be borne upon them to see what lies beyond...and what lies within each of us as well.. And sometimes, in this search, some of us are lost and some by accident and we are pained beyond description for that. Some of these who have stepped to the threshold and by shear luck have been drawn back to walk still among us have expressed the feeling that if it was meant to be, this is the way I would choose....happy, and in the element of my choosing. Weep for me, but only for a little while.... I talked to a dear friend today who lost a young family member..not a pilot, but the semblance is the same, great and dear loss, far too soon, as many pilots and sailors are, but fate prevailed. They, as the roses in my garden, brought joy and smiles and appreciation, and memories fond. If they wither or are cut down, they leave a legacy and seed that a new season will bring forth another set of color and life, a mirror of what they once were, and we will be enjoying them once again. Carlson, Beveridge, Jung, Anderson,McDonaugh, Michaud, Witt, and Watson and many more, these fellows made up the bouquet that I savor... and love still as I look through my logbook. Is it possible to love a man ?...I truly think so. As much as they extended a love of flying to me, and hopefully, to you. At the airfield today, a new RV is about to take wing. The sky is perfect in its tapestry of cloud, and cold, blue backdrop against the unforgiving, snow capped peaks around us. Wind as cold as ice in a glass, and smoke from the exhaust, drawn and scattered by the wind and lost from sight as a drop of ink in a pool of water. Blood flowing in the temples and straps pulled tight and throttle as far as she will go and off and up we go. The same story told a hundred times, but never tiring, else why are we drawn to do it time and again ? When I am at altitude and settled down and the needles have found their resting place, I listen through the headphones to see if I hear Carlson, or Watson or any of the others who brought me to this place...... " Are you happy Austin ?...are you in your element ?.....can we come along and share the joy ? " I surely hope so !