Out of control–in stormy instrument flight conditions with broken navigation gear, overwhelmed by vertigo not knowing up from down and plummeting toward the concrete ocean–Diamond knew how this was going to end.
It was an impossible situation. He would crash into the Pacific 1,500 miles away from family and home. In the best situation, his “tombstone” would be scattered debris from a Harrier jet; flotsam for a bar-tailed godwit to perch and rest on his own transpacific journey from New Zealand to Alaska.
To a rookie naval aviator, Diamond seemed larger than life. I have one standout memory. My squadron had participated in a major air combat exercise near Las Vegas and a group of us Marines decided to feast on the garish temptations along the Vegas strip. Later on that evening, we ran into Diamond at Caesar’s Palace.
He was a distinguished combat veteran, the squadron’s operations officer and was loudly exhorting the dice as they tumbled across the green felt of the craps table. Wearing a silk shirt, drinking his fair share, sweating the yet to be revealed number and chatting up the blonde to his side, he was a piece of work. A terrific fighter pilot but a wild man nonetheless. I didn’t know him well but he could have been a character out of The Great Santini.
He was complex, no doubt, and driven by what, who knows, but it wasn’t God.