Wednesday, July 21, 2010


At lunchtime today, I walked out into one of those midsummer days such as I remember when I was a boy. The air is soft and humid with just enough breeze to keep it comfortable. Trees and grass are lush shades of green. The sun is bright and the sky a brilliant blue. In the west, cottony clouds are building with the promise of an evening thundershower. The light, the colors, the smells, and the touch of the breeze on my skin take me back, to make me think, to make me remember not only days but also events of long ago .  

Has it really been more than half a century since I first experienced the summer in images so real that even today they rush to my memory with all of the freshness and power of current impressions?

“Yes,” my soul tells me. “It has.”

Has it really been over 45 years since I first saw a girl in a green dress and fell tail over teacups in love? Has it really been that long since our first date and all of our subsequent dates, since movies and prom nights and football games and Sunday afternoons when our chief joy was being with each other?

“Yes,” my soul tells me. “It has.”

And has it really been 43 years since that same girl, dressed in white this time, walked down the aisle and joined her hand and life to mine? We were two kids with huge dreams and absolutely no idea what they were getting into, and none of that really mattered. For better or worse, we were together. 

And has it really been nearly forty years since our eldest made his appearance, and thirty since our youngest? And have we really lived at our current address for over 25 years? It’s just not possible.

And are there now kids that call me “Grand Dad”?

“Yes,” my soul tells me. “It is so.”

Good times, fun times, challenging times, and even trying times, all long past, but at the same time still fresh and new, continuing in memory. 

Someone once wrote that we are all products of our pasts and I am no exception. My past was very good but I am constrained to live in the present. 

Here, in the present, at the juncture of past and future, it is my job every day to wrest from each moment every ounce of flavor that life has to offer. For it is the moments of the now that will make up all of the fond memories of the future.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In the Company of Heroes

I recently returned from a week in the company of heroes; of men who answered the call of their country and went to war in Vietnam behind the controls of a helicopter. War correspondent Joe Galloway called us "God's own lunatics", and, whatever we flew, "God's own lunatics" is a label in which we continue to take considerable pride. Those who flew the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH or "Loach") had the mission of flying low and slow to observe the enemy and mark targets. The rest of us joked that our target would be marked by a burning loach. We didn't need to be convinced that deliberately trying to draw fire was insane. We knew it . Those who flew the UH-1 Huey, or Slick were workhorses. Slicks hauled the infantry into and out of the fight, often landing under fire to deliver reinforcements, food, water, and ammunition; to carry the wounded to aid; and to bring the dead home. When they were called, they came. Where LOH pilots were high spirited and exuberant, Slick drivers were more subdued and business like. The heavy lifters who flew Chinooks and Sky Cranes didn't get enough respect. They just showed up and did their job of moving heavy objects, relocating artillery and resupplying firebases day in and day out every day, faithfully maintaining their part of the supply chain. LOH drivers had callsigns like "Scalp Hunter"; slick drivers had call signs like "Robin Hood", "Crusader", and "Gladiator". Heavy Lifters carried call signs like "Playtex", "Pachyderm", and "Big Windy". Then, there are the gunship pilots. Gunship pilots had call signs like "Bucaneer", "Joker", "Cougar", and "Panther". Gunship pilots directly engaged the enemy and, whether they flew Bravo models, Charlie models or the AH-1G Cobra, always knew themselves to be members of the elite. Gunships covered and protected loaches, performed airmobile escort, and provided fire support; those who flew them knew they were special. As my friend Mike takes pride in saying "Three kinds of people flew helicopters in Vietnam -- those who were Panthers, those who were covered by the Panthers, and those who wish to God they were one of the other two!" Every year, when I attend the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots' reunion, I leave with a deep sense of appreciation and honor to be numbered as a member of this company of heroes. Someone once asked if I was a real hero. "No", I replied. "But I've drunk beer with a lot of people who are." Most of my Vietnam Helicopter Pilot friends would say the same.