The military has played a significant role in my development as a man. My father and brother were decorated Marine aviators, I served in that capacity as well, and some of the finest men and women I’ve ever met––the best and the brightest indeed––served and continue to serve in the armed forces.
When I began this blog over two months ago, one of my first posts concerned the Republican National Convention. I titled it Blood On The Sand. The Republican nominee for President, Governor Romney––for the first time in sixty years––did not mention war in his acceptance speech. It was clearly a strategic move but it saddened me. No acknowledgement of the heroic men and women who are fighting wars for America in faraway lands? That seemed like a stunning and misguided tactic. So I vented.
At the time, maybe seven readers had visited my site (let’s see, if I have access to five computers, that means two readers net). I shared the following in that post but since only two folks read it––perhaps twin British boys googled bloody sandbox and mistakenly got me––I thought I’d present it today as a tribute to our magnificent veterans. And my adjective is not an overstatement. The below was my experience on a particular day but every veteran and active duty member has an equally memorable story to tell. This is an excerpt from my upcoming book A Leaf on Water…
A day in the life.
I wrote about the excitement and difficulties associated with landing aboard an aircraft carrier, but aerial combat maneuvering is something else. I took it for granted but I never had it so good. Let me explain; let’s go back in time.
Scanning the horizon, I’m aware that first acquisition means advantage. Our jets screaming at one another at a closure speed of 1,000 miles per hour, I nervously check and recheck my altimeter to ensure a five hundred foot vertical clearance, since we’re on the same radial. Still no visual. I haven’t yet seen my opponent. At 25,000 feet, the fight has to begin this way, a safe way to enter the arena that eventually will extend from ground to space.
By now, breathing and pulse rates are quickening and first, second and third turn maneuvers are being strategized. However, I need a visual. There, I see him, a speck at eleven o’clock low. I coolly call out, “I got you, keep it coming” as I subtly nose down to the same altitude.
The other pilot acknowledges and continues his flight path, still blind, apprehensive and knowing the situation is no longer neutral. If he doesn’t acquire me before the fight begins, my advantage will only increase. The roar of flight is powerful in his helmet as he desperately searches for me; seconds tick off, there, at one o’clock, intakes and wings, familiar, he too says, “I got you.”
The stage now set, each in sight, we set dead aim on the other, maneuvering our jets to the starting point. Our goals now are simple: full power, maximum airspeed, don’t give away angles, same altitude, decide first turn, keep close on flyby, avoid midair, starting point in seconds, be smart, where’s the sun, preserve energy. Then it begins.
We pass each other’s wing line within meters, close enough to see the color of our helmets. Manipulating gravity, we violently turn, driving our jets with exacting performance, striving for the vertical and avoiding the horizontal, brains morphing into computers, each seeking the eventual six o’clock missile or gun position. An eternity of dog fighting may only be four minutes, but our flight suits will be soaked with sweat, our bodies racked with adrenaline, a treasure of memories stored. Fight’s on.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I have climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I have chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I have topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
High Flight (by Gillespie Magee, killed December 11, 1941)
God bless our veterans, God protect our armed forces!