Wednesday, February 28, 2007

eulogy of a fighter pilot

I was reminded of the Great Santini when a guy in my squadron sent this out earlier this week. This my not have been my experience as the child of a fighter pilot, but I can relate to the the way his children idolized their father. This is Col Don Conroy's eulogy, given by his son, Pay Conroy. Full text here, or you can just google "Eulogy of a fighter pilot" for more. This is a great memory of a great man, enjoy.
The children of fighter pilots tell different stories than other kids do. None of our fathers can write a will or sell a life insurance policy or fill out a prescription or administer a flue shot or explain what a poet meant. We tell of fathers who land on aircraft carriers at pitch-black night with the wind howling out of the China Sea. Our fathers wiped out aircraft batteries in the Philippines and set Japanese soldiers on fire when they made the mistake of trying to overwhelm our troops on the ground..

Your Dads ran the barber shops and worked at the post office and delivered the packages on time and sold the cars, while our Dads were blowing up fuel depots near Seoul, were providing extraordinarily courageous close air support to the beleaguered Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and who once turned the Naktong River red with blood of a retreating North Korean battalion. We tell of men who made widows of the wives of our nations' enemies and who made orphans out of all their children.

You don't like war or violence? Or napalm? Or rockets? Or cannons or death rained down from the sky? Then let's talk about your fathers, not ours. When we talk about the aviators who raised us and the Marines who loved us, we can look you in the eye and say "you would not like to have been American's enemies when our fathers passed overhead". We were raised by the men who made the United States of America the safest country on earth in the bloodiest century in all recorded history. Our fathers made sacred those strange, singing names of battlefields across the Pacific: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh and a thousand more. We grew up attending the funerals of Marines slain in these battles. Your fathers made communities like Beaufort decent and prosperous and functional; our fathers made the world safe for democracy.
***
Here is how my father appeared to me as a boy. He came from a race of giants and demi-gods from a mythical land known as Chicago. He married the most beautiful girl ever to come crawling out of the poor and lowborn south, and there were times when I thought we were being raised by Zeus and Athena. After Happy Hour my father would drive his car home at a hundred miles an hour to see his wife and seven children. He would get out of his car, a strapping flight jacketed matinee idol, and walk toward his house, his knuckles dragging along the ground, his shoes stepping on and killing small animals in his slouching amble toward the home place.

My sister, Carol, stationed at the door, would call out, "Godzilla's home!" and we seven children would scamper toward the door to watch his entry. The door would be flung open and the strongest Marine aviator on earth would shout, "Stand by for a fighter pilot!" He would then line his seven kids up against the wall and say,

"Who's the greatest of them all?" "You are, O Great Santini, you are." "Who knows all, sees all, and hears all?" "You do, O Great Santini, you do."

We were not in the middle of a normal childhood, yet none of us were sure since it was the only childhood we would ever have. For all we knew other men were coming home and shouting to their families, "Stand by for a pharmacist," or "Stand by for a chiropractor".
***
When he flew back toward the carrier that day, he received a call from an Army Colonel on the ground who had witnessed the route of the North Koreans across the river. "Could you go pass over the troops fifty miles south of here? They've been catching hell for a week or more. It'd do them good to know you flyboys are around." He flew those fifty miles and came over a mountain and saw a thousand troops lumbered down in foxholes. He and Bill Lundin went in low so these troops could read the insignias and know the American aviators had entered the fray. My father said, "Thousands of guys came screaming out of their foxholes, son. It sounded like a world series game. I got goose pimples in the cockpit. Get goose pimples telling it forty-eight years later. I dipped my wings, waved to the guys. The roar they let out. I hear it now. I hear it now."

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother took me out to the air station where we watched Dad's squadron scramble on the runway on their bases at Roosevelt Road and Guantanamo. In the car as we watched the A-4's take off, my mother began to say the rosary. "You praying for Dad and his men, Mom?" I asked her. "No, son. I'm praying for the repose of the souls of the Cuban pilots they're going to kill."

Later I would ask my father what his squadron's mission was during the Missile Crisis. "To clear the air of MIGS over Cuba," he said. "You think you could've done it?" The Great Santini answered, "There wouldn't have been a bluebird flying over that island, son."

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11 Comments:

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Aluwings said...

Did you read the book "Flyboys" (not the movie made last summer with the same name...). Not a knock on the brave pilots and soldiers involved in wars, but certainly a challenging look at war in general. Who is the real enemy?

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger Greybeard said...

Alu-
Haven't read the book, but I get your drift...
One of the critiques:
"Good read, with notable exception of equating our bombing to Japan's crimes."
My father was 20 on 7Dec41, and a member of the Indiana National Guard.
That day, he had no doubt who "the real enemy was".

Your response?

 
At 9:03 PM, Anonymous yak said...

While touring the museum at Hiroshima in 1991, my mother, who was 13 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and I both noted the not-so-subtle portrait of Americans as being the bad guys of WWII. Her comment - they should never have bombed Pearl Harbor or enslaved a fair portion of Asia.

War sucks. But it is way better to be the winner than the loser. And making the point that you don't really want to %$#^ with us goes a long way to making certain that it doesn't happen again.

 
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