Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Pilot's "Dinner speech"

A friend sent this piece to me yesterday. Over the course of living a pretty full life, I've encountered two groups who thoroughly loved their work...cops and pilots. The pilot who authored these words summed up a pilot's love affair with his work as well as any I've seen before:

Change Of Command Dinner speech by CDR "Beef" Wellington, former USNR VFA-203 "Blue Dolphins" C.O.

"Two days ago I closed out my career as a Naval Aviator. The realization is just now starting to hit me, as I'm sure it will the rest of you someday. What follows are my remarks at my farewell dinner. Several of the guys in my squadron had asked me for a copy of what I had written and because it had been jotted down on the back of a cocktail napkin in my weird-assed hand writing and because these things came from my heart, I debated for a while whether or not to write it down, but the response from all the guys and their wives was so humbling and overwhelming, I thought... why not.

Being an F/A-18 pilot and an airline pilot at the same time gives you an interesting and different perspective. Unlike others, at my airline (NWA) they do not have a history of hiring Single Seat Naval Aviators and as such we are definitely in the minority. On every trip when you first sit down next to a guy, the first volley of questions in getting to know each other always includes "What is your background?" Based on 3 years in the airline industry, I have recently decided to flat out lie and stop telling guys that I am a Naval Aviator and an F/A-18 pilot. You might be asking yourself, why would anyone do that?

There are 3 reasons.

One - Because everything that the uninformed population knows about Naval Aviation they got from the movie Top Gun: a credible and reliable source of information if there ever was one.

Two - Because when I tell guys that I am an F/A-18 pilot, the machismo and bravado that immediately comes from the left side of the cockpit becomes somewhat intolerable and I am forced to sit and listen to stories for the next 4 days that go something like, "Mike, did I tell you about the time when I landed my C-5 on a 15,000 foot runway with only 30,000 pounds of fuel in the tanks, with the weather at minus, and oh, oh yeah, did I say it was at night." You gotta be $hi **** n' me!

Three - Because, in their state of curiosity, invariably questions get asked about what flying the F/A-18 is like and what this business of Naval Aviation is all about. It is in my futile attempts to answer these questions that I have finally decided that it is impossible to do so. How can anyone possibly explain Naval Aviation?

How do you explain what it has been like to have seen the entire world through the canopy of an F/A-18 like a living IMAX film?

How do you explain what is like to fly an engineering marvel that responds to your every whim of airborne imagination?

How do you explain the satisfaction that comes from seeing a target under the diamond disappear at the flick of your thumb?

How do you explain catapult shots - especially the night ones?

How do explain the exhilaration of the day trap?

How do you possibly explain finding yourself at 3/4 mile [on final], at night, weather down, deck moving, hyperventilating into your mask, knowing that it will take everything you have to get aboard without killing yourself?

How do you explain moons so bright and nights so dark that they defy logic?

How do you explain sunrises and sunsets so glorious that you knew in your heart that God had created that exact moment in time just for you?

How do you explain the fellowship of the ready room where no slack is given and none is taken?

How do you explain an environment where the content of a man's character can be summed up into two simple 4-word phrases - "He's a good Sh**" or "He's a F---in' idiot."

How do you explain the heart of maintenance professionals whose only enjoyment comes from taking care of our young sailors and providing us with "up" jets to execute our craft?

How do you explain the dedication of our young troops who we burden with the responsibilities of our lives and then pay them peanuts to do so?

How do you explain the type of women who are crazy enough to marry into Naval Aviation, who endure long working hours and long periods of separation and who are painfully and quietly forced to accept the realization that they are second to the job?

The simple fact is that you can't explain it; none of it.

It is something that only a very select few of us will ever know. We are bonded for life by our proprietary knowledge and it excludes all others from our fraternity. As I will, no matter where you go or what do, you should cherish that knowledge for the rest of your life. For when I am 90 years old sitting on my porch in my rocking chair and someone asks me what I have done with my life, I will damn sure not tell them I was an airline pilot, but rather I will reach into my pocket, pull out my Blue Dolphin money clip and tell them I was a Naval Aviator, I worked with the finest people on the planet, and that I was the Commanding Officer of the Blue Dolphins."


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The EHHS Social Order – 10 – Meadowbrook Moms

Before embarking on our Sophomore year at EHHS, a few words about the Meadowbrook Moms.  Generalizations are neither fair nor particularly accurate but, I think in the case of our Meadowbrook Moms, some generalizations might be useful to help understand how some of our juvenile perceptions of class and taste originally developed.

The majority of us were only one or two generations removed from a sort of frontier farm life.   A lot of our parents grew up in smaller suburban homes like those found in the older Poly neighborhoods and farther south.  In fact, a lot of our Moms and Dads, grew up in Polytechnic and graduated from Poly High School.  A smaller number of them grew up in the Handley area and an increasing number of them, as they moved into the newer Meadowbrook neighborhoods, came from elsewhere but, usually not other parts of Ft. Worth.   

Former classmates have told of their more modest home lives, including one household that made do with slicing their Snickers into 6-pieces for a taste of something sweet after dinner—Snickers were 5¢ then.  Others told of how special the family treat was when they got to go out and eat at one of the hamburger stands, six to a bathroom, etc.  For others of us, such things were not seen as anything special.  Small differences, to be sure but, quite large when experienced by children.

Save for perhaps a few of the Brandt family youngsters, none of us lived in lavish circumstances, but such things then, as they are now, are relative.  So, in retrospect, what I recall as social posturing in our old neighborhoods was really pretty small stuff and probably reflected the ambitions of some mothers who, themselves may have felt that their own early life circumstances had somewhat cheated them….the Depression, followed by WWII.  The moms were about 36-45 when we started our 3-year run at EH. 

While we were in school, the Brandt houses on Oak Hill were probably at the top of our 1960s East Side housing terms of size and panache.  However, I recall only Kirk (’61) and Gwen Brandt(’65) as being in the hallways with us in the early 1960s and I never knew how they were related, nor if there were other Brandt kids around at the time that I recall. The clipping of Gwen recounting her recent trips to their Barbados second home was about as socially exotic as it got during our East Side years. Her words rather refreshingly reflect a youthful innocence regarding her privileged her, second homes in Barbados was simply life...hers.

The rest of our East Side housing stock and thus, our appearance of relative social standing was fairly modest as has been previously described in the "Our Houses" chapter.  So, the question of how some of our moms decided to set some of their princesses apart from others is an interesting one.  Of course, as described in the previous "Fort Worth History" piece, there was/is a Fort Worth social order and essentially all of that one played out on the West Side in neighborhoods much larger than ours.

Although my mother worked during my EH/MJH years, I think a larger number of 1950s moms probably mirrored some version of June Cleaver and Harriett Nelson, staying at home to raise the  And for those whose fathers had started making larger incomes during the 1950s, notions of country club memberships, women's clubs, and maybe even joining the Junior League almost certainly danced through their heads.  With the kids in school all day, there was for some, time to play and dream larger dreams.

It's my opinion that having been children of the Depression and having their most energetic formative years taken up with WWII concerns, these moms had only the scenes from 1930s Dick Powell-Myrna Loy movies and a kind of gossipy chatter between the "ladies" to form their notions of polite society--it hadn't been something they grew up with.  And it was almost certainly in these social associations where notions of prepping some of our girls to "debut" were hatched.

Unfortunately, the way it played out was hurtful to many...more on that next....