A few days ago, about fifty people from our airport community gathered together to take part in a lifetime achievement ceremony for our neighbor and friend Dick Phillips. Everyone got dressed up, there were speeches and slide shows, humorous stories were told, and some very fun ones were whispered. At the end we all walked outside to stand there while a flight of homebuilts from our airport came by in a missing man formation as the bugler slowly played taps. Before that moment we were behaving just as Dick would have wanted it, an upbeat gathering of his friends, not a somber event. As the lone plane peeled away to the west the sailor from the honor guard knelt in front of Dick’s wife, handed her the flag and said “On behalf of a grateful nation…” I stared at the neatly folded blue triangle and wiped away my tears.
As we drove away, the gray clouds lifted and a bright blue sky showed itself. Driving back to the airport, the mood also lifted, and we returned to a remembrance of happy times shared with Dick. He truly was a larger than life guy. He made it all the way to 86, and he had one hell of a good ride. Bravo Zulu is Navy speak for “well done,” and looking at the life of Dick Phillips, this is the number one thing you could say about him. He was an enlisted man in WW II, an aircraft mechanic on the USS Bunker Hill. After the war he became an officer and stayed in naval aviation for a full 30 years. In the 1960s he joined the EAA and subsequently built a number of homebuilts. He was always in love with flying, and took great pleasure in promoting a facade of a curmudgeon while actually directly supporting anyone interested in aviation.
I only knew him the last 6 years, but it was a timely overlap. He was getting to the point in life where he was in a mood to speak of things in his life experience, reaching out to share some things that he probably was moving too fast to previously think much about, and I was at a point in life where I could take the hours to get to get to know a neighbor in a way that could teach me something of life. He was our EAA chapter’s tech counselor, a task he took very seriously. Over time he passed this to me, and I took his insights on how to get homebuilders to do better work as very valuable lessons in dealing with people. But the greatest thing that Dick offered anyone in his world was a first class example how to aggressively get the most out of every day you are alive, no matter how old you are. A particular set of events in his youth made him this way, and I don’t think he would mind if I shared them here.
Above, Dick in the 1960s. He was a tough kid from Brooklyn. He joined the Navy after his 17th birthday, at the height of WW II.
Above, Dick’s ship, the USS Bunker Hill, hit by two Kamikaze off the coast of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. It was the worst single such strike of the war. 393 men on the ship perished, one out of every seven members of the crew. The ship did not sink because the crew fought like animals to save it. Dick was on board, likely in the hangar deck when this photo was taken.
2 Replies to “Dick Phillips – Bravo Zulu”
Dick Phillips was my mentor when I was building my Volksplane back in the 70’s
He also mentored me in becoming a man. He was a great person. Did you know he took care of his first wife until she died from Alzheimer’s Disease. He did not put her in a nursing home and forget about her. No Dick took very good care of her at home. He is a Saint.
Your so right about him and not liking so much time working on perfection that don’t mean a damn thing. When I was just about ready to fly my homebuilt Volksplane he gave me a yellow helmet with a painting on it of a mountain with a mole hill. He painted in Latin: HIC FACERE MONTIS EX TALPAE GROMUS Now some of the letters of spacing may be off because I put that helmet to good use and it received it’s share of scrapes and bumps. Basically is reads HE WHO MAKES MOUNTIANS OUT OF MOLE HILLS. I was one of those that spent useless time on things that made no difference. I worried about everything. Dick on the other hand would in his gruff manor make fun of me. He was a realist and was more concerned with glue joints and major stuff that made an aeroplane safe. He was EAA Chapter Prez of 193. I took over as Prez for the second time but had to step down and leave my position with the Jacksonville Sheriif Office because I had to move to work for the Government. When I came back to Jacksonville he would come by and help with the 1941 Aeronca Chief I was restoring. After a time I lost contact with him. I heard he remarried and moved down to where he had his hanger and Caliver aeroplane. I did not know that he went West until a fees years ago.
Dick Phillips was a great man and was so honoured that he took me under his wing.