I wrote this piece about my Father in December of 2009. It originally appeared on our main Web page, FlyCorvair.com. If you have joined the Corvair movement since then, please take a few minutes to read the story. Every good quality I may have is directly attributable to my parents. On this Father’s Day I share this story because my Father remains the hero of my life.
Many people in the Corvair movement have had a chance to meet the real William Wynne (Dad) at airshows or one of the 5 Corvair Colleges he has been to. Just today, Steve Glover called from California to fill me in on the Golden West Fly in. The first thing Steve shared was that he spent some time speaking with an aviator who knew my father in Vietnam. Dad has to take things a little slower these days, but we are working to have him at CC #24 in Barnwell, S.C., in November. I hope that everyone has a chance to spend some time with family on Father’s Day this year, and take a moment to consider the men who made us who we are today.-ww
This week marks the 84th Birthday of my Father, William Wynne Sr. To commemorate the day, we share three photos from the family archives. Above, on the left, my Father stands in the rubble of the AT&T building in downtown Seoul, Korea, in 1952. At the time, my Father was a company commander with ACB-ONE, a U.S. Navy Seabee battalion which landed at Inchon. The South Korean capitol is less than 50 miles from the border with the North. It began to resemble Leningrad because it changed hands several times during the War. In 1974, my family toured South Korea, and it was a bright, thriving country, without an external trace of the conflict it had survived. Its vibrant character was a testimony to its people.
George Orwell was thinking of Stalinist Russia when he wrote 1984. Seven decades later, I think North Korea is actually the country that bears the greatest likeness to 1984. Kim Il Sung really is “Big Brother,” and just about every facet of the book is a fair description of life in the North. The North Koreans live under a maniacal regime that controls every detail of life, squandering its meager wealth on nuclear weapons and missiles while its people starve in the cold. In utter contrast, the South Koreans live in a society with a first world standard of living and freedom undreamed of by their Northern brothers. The Koreans suffered horrific losses during the War, and their dead were joined by 38,000 Americans whose sacrifices prevented the North from enslaving the South in their nightmare.
My Father’s 33 years in uniform were guided by a single principal: No human being, regardless of race, faith or nationality, deserves to live in a totalitarian police state. While most people would agree with this, my Father is one of the men who care if this is happening to families on the other side of the globe, even if they are not Christians, don’t speak English and don’t have anything America needs. Just being a human trying to raise a family in peace is enough. My Father is a realist who understands that the last resort will always be free men with weapons meeting the totalitarians in battle. Since he joined the U.S. Navy at age 17, he has been willing to be one of these men. Yet my Father did not fight with just the tools of war. He felt that ending a violent communist insurgency in Northern Thailand in 1972 was a major triumph. His “weapon” that gained the loyalty of the Hill Tribes was providing medical care for their families.
Most Americans of a certain age can recall some of President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” These were not mere words to men of my Father’s profession, it was a cause to pledge your very life to. My Father did not care if the poor of the world chose collective farming or workers wanted social reforms. He just recognized that political systems that don’t value individuals always degenerate to Gestapos, concentration camps, gulags and mass graves. My Father fought to stop the spread of these things.
In the china cabinet of my parents home in New Jersey sits an engraved brass plate. It was given to my Father in 1974 by Commodore Vong Sarendy, Chief of Naval Operations for the Khmer (Cambodian) Navy, to thank my Father for his efforts to thwart the communists in Cambodia. Before his acceptance speech, my Father was warned by the U.S. State Department that he could not promise further aid. It had only been 13 years since we promised to “pay any price,” but Washington had changed. The Commodore bitterly understood this, and told my Father that the Americans could go home, but he and his family would fight to the death. They did. Within a year, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge controlled the country and exterminated several million people. Being able to read and write was cause for being sent to the killing fields. I love my country, but holding that brass plate in your hands, it is easy to understand that our two biggest flaws are a short national memory and the fact that the average American has no idea what the term “totalitarian police state” means. People who have never read A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich think you can understand what cold is by watching the Weather Channel; people afraid of the dentist glibly discuss torture in foreign places; TV commentators call each other Nazis over pathetic small differences while a tiny group of elderly Americans with small numbers tattooed on their forearms know the real definition of the word.
In the above photo, my Father stands with my brother Michael and sister Melissa in front of the world’s first atomic power station, Shippingport, Pennsylvania. The photo is from 1959. The reactor was tha same design that the U.S. Navy used in its ships and submarines. My Father was the project officer working directly under Admiral Hyman Rickover. My Father has been a stalwart proponent of nuclear power for the past 60 years. It was a very different time in America when a town was proud to be chosen for such a project of national importance.
After retiring from the Navy in 1976, my Father went to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The project was the world’s first fusion reactor. Few people in the general public understood the potential of fusion to produce unfathomable power without generating radioactive waste. After Three Mile Island, the public turned against atomic power of all types, and the country blindly went back to building coal and oil-fired powerplants. Many of the anti-nuke protesters of 1979 are now climate change activists, missing the role they played in the U.S. staying dependent on fossil fuels that are at the forefront of the climate debate. If you have ever wondered how France, a country of 60 million people with no hydro power, nor coal or oil reserves, can afford to be a tireless critic of U.S. Middle East policy, the answer is simple: Virtually all of the electricity produced in France is generated in nuclear plants.
By far, the greatest joy of my Father’s life has been being married to my Mother for 59 years. The above photo was taken circa 1949. They met at the New Jersey Shore just after World War II. Throughout my entire adult life, whenever I encounter anyone in difficult straights or a terrible position, my first thought is always “without the luck of being born to my parents, that could be me.” It is not possible to overstate the positive role my parents have played in any qualities of character I have. In this Holiday Season, I have a multitude of things to be thankful for, but this always is first on my list.
“Real freedom is the sustained act of being an individual.” WW – 2009