Today, my brother, Michael Wynne, turns 60. Although few of the aircraft builders we work with have met him in person, I can make a very good case that all Corvair builders are direct beneficiaries of his. My brother has been the largest influence in my life steering me into the mechanical world, and he has demonstrated by example how goals in life are to be accomplished. He is nine-and-a-half years older than me. He is the leading edge of our family and I am the trailing. This is a good analogy to express my brother’s leadership position as the pathfinder in our family. He is also the eldest of all of the cousins. He made everything we have done, going to college, getting married, you name it, much easier to do by the simple example of doing all of these things first.
But my own connection goes far further than this: My love of airplanes was derived from his; I love machines, craftsmanship and tools because he did first; I became a motorhead because he was first. I love GM stuff because he did first. These are just mechanical examples. I love the outdoors and travel because he does. I know every song by The Doors, Hendrix, CCR, Grand Funk and Steppenwolf, bands 10 years before my time, simply because this was music that he listened to, and thus so did I. My definition of what it means to be an American is clearly patterned after his. Normally such blind emulation might lead to trouble later, but not for me, as my brother is an outstanding human being, and the parts of me that are a low quality imitation of him are better than the parts I came up with on my own. I am not the only one in the family who feels this way. The three other kids in our family will gladly concede that he is the best child our family produced.
Above, the six original members of my family (we are all married now), left to right above, Alison, Michael, Mom, Dad, myself and Melissa, at mom’s 80th birthday in 2007.
Above, a photo of my parents on the beach at Coronado, Calif., in 1952. The smiles don’t speak of my father, a young Navy officer in amphibious warfare, having just returned from his first tour in the Korean War. He had left from San Francisco in 1951. My mother, 24 years old, had seen him off and boarded a Martin 4-0-4 for the flight back to San Diego. In flight, the plane had a terrific engine fire on her side. It was a rocky start to a long year, but my mother made the strongest friends with other Navy wives, awaiting and praying for the safe return of husbands from the new war.
The story of my brother’s arrival in ’53 is integral to understanding the history of my family. On New Year’s Eve 1952, my father received an emergency notice recalling him to Korea. My mother, expecting her first child, had the option to return to her caring family on the east coast, but instead chose to stay in Coronado with the other young wives, women who shared the same struggles.
Above, my father stands in the rubble of Seoul, the capital of Korea. My brother came more than a month early. At that moment, my father was near Wolmi-do island with the 1st Marine Division, under communist air attack. My mother had not heard from him in weeks, went to the delivery room knowing only that he was in an area of hard fighting. Ten days later my father’s unit was withdrawn to Japan.
By chance, a friend said that there had been a message for him. A search of hundreds of notes in the com center revealed one that only said “Lt. j.g. Wynne: Boy. Wife, baby, doing well.” A drive to another base finds a Ham radio operator, then a clear connection to another Ham in California, and a phone link. My mother tells him she has chosen to name the boy Michael Christopher Wynne. My father is very moved; it is his own father’s name.
It is several months before he can come back. It was a difficult birth, and my brother is born with terrible colic. My mother is exhausted when he arrives, and collapses in sleep. Here is my father’s home-coming from his first war: He is a new father, rocking his son to sleep in a quiet apartment in California. This tiny boy in his arms is named for his own father, the hero of my father’s world, a man who is fading in a long twilight of his life. On this evening in August of 1953, my father certainly understands how fortunate he is. He is married to a very strong person; he has survived a war that others have not; and he holds his own son in his arms. In the coming years it will take all of these blessings to sustain him through the agonizingly slow loss of his own father.
Above is a photo of all of us in 1964. (That’s me in the middle.) At first glance, we are sitting for a Christmas card picture. But if you look a little closer, it is easy to see that my brother, just 11 here, is already looking over us as the responsible oldest child. A few years after this, when Michael is barely a teenager, my father leaves for Vietnam. Before departing, he explains to my brother what is expected of young men in his position, and that there is a possibility he will not return. We do not see him or have a single call for 14 months. Yet my brother needs no further words to guide nor reinforce him. It is the beginning of a lifetime of always being willing to accept a responsibility and execute it faithfully.
When I was small, my brother was a shining star I was happy just to admire. When I was a teenager, with a myopic self-absorbed view of the world, I was quietly envious of what I perceived to be disproportionate attention that had been focused on my brother’s youth; perhaps this is every youngest child’s view of the eldest. To this day I remain embarrassed to how slowly I woke up to the reality that my brother’s youth had not been the paradise I had selfishly imagined. It had expectations and burdens that, as the youngest child, I was well insulated from. My parents set high expectations for us, and my brother met them. Much later I understood my parents were kind enough to lower the bar for the end of the line that might not have met these standards.
Above, Michael, myself and our father horsing around on Michael’s 30th birthday in ’83. Many builders have met my father at Corvair Colleges and air shows, and read many of the things I have written about him. I carry my father’s name, but truth be told, Michael is much more like my father than I am. In all the ways that count, all the qualities of character, my brother’s life is a much better tribute to the sterling example that our father gave to both of us.
Many people know that my father is a lifelong engineer, trained at the Naval academy, RPI and Columbia. In our generation, it is my brother who has carried on this tradition. When our family departed for duty in Thailand, my brother stayed 10,000 miles behind and started his engineering work at Lehigh. In the summers he came to Asia and volunteered for assignments on infrastructure projects in Cambodia and Vietnam. He often flew to sites in Barons and King Airs with my father.
Arriving at a remote site in Cambodia, my father had the pilot orbit above for a look. A moment later an identical plane flies a straight-in approach and is shot down by a hail of small arms fire off the end of the runway. There are no survivors. My mother explains that she can accept that she may one day lose my father, but she can not lose both of them. My father understands. They do not fly on the same aircraft again.
My brother studies oceanography at the university of Hawaii before moving into environmental engineering. An important part of his work is ensuring that large corporations work in compliance with established laws and standards. When a younger generation in our family was speaking of “protecting the environment,” I pointed out that they could do “gestures” like wearing t-shirts, going on marches or sending e-mails, or they could do something real like Michael has, by having the commitment to become educated and do the long-term hard work that will have an actual effect to protect the environment.
My brother would gladly tell anyone that the best thing that ever happened to him is being married to his lovely wife Louise. In her he found a soulmate with the same energy and values. Louise has played much the same role in her own family that Michael has in ours. The photo is from when they were first married 25 years ago. I had the honor of being Michael’s best man. Seventeen years later, he returned this as the best man at my wedding.
Above, dad with his first grandchild, Michael Jr. in 1986. Thirty three years earlier, upon his return from Korea, dad held Michael Sr. in the same arms. Fate had robbed my father from sharing his sons’ lives with his own father. As a great blessing, this generation has been spared. My brother’s family lives only 15 miles from my parents, and my brother has had many days of joy with his two sons in the company of our father. Both Michael Jr. and Brian have followed their parents’ example of taking family responsiblity seriously, and they both put a lot of effort into taking care of their grandparents.
Above, Michael with his two sons, Michael Jr. and Brian, when the boys were young. I have written about the America of the Stand by Me and October Sky generation. This had passed by the time of my youth in the ’70s, but it was the America that my brother grew up in. My brother earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1970. In Hawaii he was my assistant Scout Master. He has standards that dictate that any form of favoritism is vile corruption. I jokingly point out that me getting to Tenderfoot in his troop was as easy as a recruit getting through bootcamp on Parris Island. He went on to many years of service as Scout Master in his sons’ troop. His sons both went all the way to Eagle Scout. Let me attest, he made them earn it to the highest standards.
Today, both Michael Jr. and Brian are both college graduates, one from Boston University, the other from Boston College. They are brothers, but different men. A testimonial to being raised in a home where they were taught to think for themselves, not what to think.
Above, Michael and I stand behind his Corvette. Funny family story: one day Louise is at the Chevy dealer having routine service done on their Suburban. She walks into the showroom and looks at Corvettes for a few minutes, asks the salesman only one question about colors and bought one on the spot for my brother. To the salesman, he thought he was looking at an impulse buy from one of the greatest spouses ever. In reality, Louise had long known my brother wanted one, but put it off for other responsibilities. She just thought he deserved it. Everyone agreed.
Many people today are obsessed with making deals, finding the short cut, the exception, the flexible rule, the gray area. My brother Michael is the anthesis of this. He is always willing to do more than his part, even when no one notices. He would rather spend the time putting in the genuine effort than asking for a break. He doesn’t think there is anything wrong with paying your dues. He doesn’t need special treatment, he will do just fine playing by the rules. He is the kind of American we nostalgically like to think grew on trees here. In reality, people like him have always been rare, and in my book he deserves every good thing that has, can and will happen in is life.