I was raised by stepfather who was in the United States Army. As such, I’ve been around the military most of my life. Since I was old enough to think about the future, probably about nine or ten years old, I wanted to be a pilot. Going to see all of the war movies shown during World War II cemented that desire in my mind and heart.
During the movies, I was always frustrated when an enemy fighter would get on the tail of one of our planes and then see how our pilot would try and turn around to see the enemy behind him. With my mom’s help, I wrote a letter to the War Department, saying that our pilots should have rear view mirrors to see behind them. To my surprise, I received a very official looking letter back for the War Department! It thanked me for my suggestion and indicated that they would look into the issue. Pretty soon I started seeing fighters with rear view mirrors on fighter planes. I don’t know if that letter had any bearing on it, but later in my life, every time I got into a fighter that had rear view mirrors I thought about that letter.
Having grown up in the military, I knew there was no other life for me but the Military life. I think that serving ones country can be one of the more noble things a person can do. I don’t know if I would feel that way in a socialist or a communist country, but to be part of the great experiment in human history and to be part of the protection of the Republic we live in that has such a high regard for the each individual, that no other type of government has, is a marvelous feeling.
The glory and honor of a military life is only part of my decision to dedicate my life to the military. I’m sharing a little secret with you, but when I was a young man making lifetime decisions, one of my driving motivations was the desire for my stepfather to be proud of me.
The life I chose is a life I’m proud of. I left the Air Force in the 1960s for my family, but I don’t regret any of the time I spent in the service.
What drives you forward in life? How do you make your life decisions?
When I returned from Vietnam and even before I left, I was sickened by the way our troops were treated when they returned from that war. It was as if the public blamed them for the war. In my anger I constructed this poem, which is in the last page of the Vietnam chapter of Turning Final.
I wonder why!
I wonder why, in the dark of night,
When I feel a chill in the pale moonlight
and my mind does things I can scarcely tell
as it asks me why my good friends fell.
In the lonesome thought that has begged for light,
Lo, these many years in the pale moonlight.
Does a nation grieve for her long-lost sons,
who have given all so that she might run?
Does the soul regret lost days and nights
as it hangs in space in the pale moonlight?
Was the quest for freedom worth the price?
“Yes, I’d give my life, and give it twice”
My friends would say who have gone away.
Does a nation understand the sacrifice of the soldier man?
The pain the loss of no more days
to watch his family slowly raise?
Then how much is a soldier worth, when violent people scorch the earth?
We all know freedom isn’t free and the soldier man is you…and me…
All are Patriots one by one, until the call is no more fun.
And there wherewith we all shall stand
the duty finds the lesser man.
So listen up all you out there
who go to church and lend a prayer,
think more of what you freedom cost,
who paid the price and what was lost.
And lend a prayer for those out there.
Duty found the greater man
so those of us who breathe free air
may live a life free from despair.