USAFA Part II: How To Roll a Car Down a Mountain and Other Stories

Cadet Chapel at USAFA with view of class wall

Cadet Chapel at USAFA with view of class wall

Did I mention that I’m really glad I went to the Air Force Academy for the Homecoming Memorial Ceremony?  In the photograph above you can see the class wall (where all the class plaques are) – right where we were sitting for the ceremony, and the plane where one of the buglers was playing taps under the tail.  Plus it’s just a really cool looking place.

One of the things I enjoyed was talking to the two young cadets about the Academy, and about Don’s time there.  There are certain things, in any club, that only the insiders truly get.  Don had often told me stories of his time at the Academy, and in the Air Force.  Among these folks, I could tell these stories, and there was an instant understanding.  Since I briefly mentioned one of those stories in the previous post, I thought I’d expand a bit here.

So here’s a thing about pilots: they aren’t afraid to pull G’s.  Ever.  This seems to be true of pilots who haven’t even been to pilot training yet.  So when Don was out on a double-date (and a blind date at that) with the Commandant of Cadets’ daughter, in the Commandant’s car (a VW Beetle), and Don was driving back after an uninspiring evening, he took a turn too fast.

The car went off the road.  Now, in a lot of places, say, Kansas, Orlando, Bakersfield, going off the road just means, well, going off the road.  In Colorado Springs, however, that meant going down a mountain.  And rolling the car.  Oops.  Fortunately, they were both ok.  Which is why it’s funny.  Now.

Of course, rolling, say, the Dean’s car, at any university is not the best strategy for academic success.  Doing this at the Air Force Academy led to Don marching some tours on the terrazzo.  Don didn’t think the Commandant (it may have been the former Commandant) ever found out who rolled the car.  But his direct commanders knew.  When the other seniors were allowed to get cars, Don wasn’t.  He had to wait until nearly the end of his senior year.

The two cadets who were escorting us are both interested in flying.  I told them about how Don’s vision had gotten worse while he was at the Academy, to the point where he wasn’t able to get a vision waiver any more.  So he went to see the flight surgeon every day.  For a month.  Don’s vision didn’t improve, but the flight surgeon gave him a waiver just to get Don out of his hair.  He gave Don his waiver and told Don to NEVER come back and see him again.  That’s how Don got to fly.  And Don loved to fly.  He loved it.

Don flew tankers.  KC-135s.  These are the big jets that refuel other planes in the air.  I told Steve and Colin, the two cadets, how Don once refueled the SR-71.  Their eyes widened.  I didn’t have to explain why that was cool or what the SR-71 was.  When they were giving us a tour on the way to the ceremony, we passed a wall in Arnold Hall that had pictures of all the Academy grads who’ve been into space.  I turned to 20-year-old and said, “Daddy would have loved to do that.”  One of the cadets said to me, “Well, he refueled the SR-71, so that’s pretty close.”  Yes it is.

I told them how Don once got to refuel the Thunderbirds.  Again, this evoked a, “Wow!” from the cadets.  The Thunderbirds are the Air Force’s fighter drill team.  Very cool to watch.

The Col. who is the head of the Academy Prep School, and the cadets, asked me if Don ever talked about some of his experiences in his basic training summer.  I told them that he didn’t talk about that much, except to tell me about how homesick he was at the beginning, that is was a miserable time for him.  They all nodded in agreement.

There was a lot that was really hard for Don at the Academy.  He spent a lot of time in his life thinking that people didn’t like him.  I think that may have been what kept him away after he was graduated.  I would have liked to have gone with him while he was still alive, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to go and see it for myself.

I think I’ll go back.  There are plenty of football games to see.  There are tailgate parties.  There are connections.  It’s another way to continue to feel close to Don.

Oh, and let me just say:  GO FALCONS!

That’s my mite.


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