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Miss ya, pops…ya taught me so much about patience and silence. About acceptance and where to draw the line. Ya taught me to flirt with the ladies and never hold malice with another. To be a friend to everyone ya met.
Pappy was a fighter pilot. He was in the Army Air Corps. Remember that time before the U.S. had the Air Force? He reenlisted in the Air Force days after Pearl Harbor.
He flew in World War II. All the small prop fighter planes. The P-40 and the P-38. But, his favorite was always the P-51 Mustang. Mine too. It took twelve miles to turn one around and bare it’s .50 calibers on your six. A vehicle that turned the tide.
This was an era when one used a hand crank to put up the landing gear, mind you. He talked once about a fella in flight school that crashed into the side of a canyon wall, on instruments, in cloud cover, during the day. His squadron sank a Japanese submarine in the Pacific. He claimed my Japanese uncle was on that sub. My mother, said it was true too. I didn’t really buy that tale. He sometimes had a playful glint behind his stories, letting on just enough to discern what’s important to hear.
He was in at least one dog fight. That’s about the only story he would never share with me. Ya don’t talk about killing another man. Every soldier brings home secrets of war, so we at home never have to hold on to the things they’ve been called to do.
After his flying days, he got into communications and cryptology. He helped install the first computers in the Pentagon. They used to have computers that would output ticker tape at 750 characters per second. If a stream of tape hit ya at 750 cps, it would smart some! Pappy devised a deflector device that would knock the tape down to the floor.
He’s been in radar installations with huge vacuum tubes, with enough power in the room to light up a fluorescent tube held in your hands. He’s been in nuclear bomb shelters, where the chairs were the most comfortable thing he has ever sat in. He’s trained in the Arctic, where you sleep nude in your sleeping bag, for fear of any perspiration freezing. And, ya keep the beer in the fridge to keep them from freezing at room temperature.
Pappy met some interesting characters in his 30 years in the Air Force. He had a friend that had perfect eidetic memory. Name a page number from any book he had read and he would close his eyes, seeing the image in his mind, and begin to recite the words on the page. He met folks with tremendous special capabilities. Diet, environment and trained discipline of body and mind played quite a role.
Pappy witnessed an atomic bomb test. I sometimes wonder if that’s the origin of my cancer story. Years after witnessing the atomic bomb blast, his hair fell out, over night. Totally bald. Confused the docs. Then, it grew back.
He retired after 30 years in service, a Senior Master Sergeant, with numerous commendations and a purple heart.
My first car was a candy apple red, 1968 Mustang with a black vinyl top. Loved that thing. It broke down every other weekend and I sold it a few years after high school. After pappy’s passing, I got myself another Mustang. I had a bit of inheritance money and splurged on the only brand new car I shall ever buy. It was a 2005 redfire with the 4.0L V6. The Mustang has always been a car that comes alive with tinkering. I threw in 3.73 gears, a limited slip differential, headers, dual exhaust and a Vortech supercharger, for good measure.
It would go like stink. Zero to sixty in 4.5 seconds. On street tires, it hit 13.0 seconds at 106 mph in the quarter mile drag at Portland International Raceway. 327 horsepower at the rear wheels, according to the dyno. It was a fun car. Properly savage.
We never did do that road trip we had talked about after mom’s passing. He died two months and three days after her. I played a djembe and sang at his side during his last breath. I always felt like my father was riding shotgun with me, burning rubber in that Mustang.
I sold it after my divorce. It was a silly, extravagant expense in some ways. From a wee tot, he would point out classic Mustangs to me as we drove about. The 1964 1/2 to 1968 range defined my love of cars. Maybe I’ll drive a Mustang again one day. Though, as a massage therapist, I’m happier than ever with my beat up Subaru, covered in dog hair. I never worry about scratches and door dings any more. Cuz, pappy also taught me to be happy with what ya got.
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