Ernie Brace, American Aviator, dead at 83

Builders,

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I opened a letter from my Father today, and the only thing inside was a newspaper clipping. It was the New York Times obituary of an American aviator.  A man with a rare depth of human will. His name was Ernest Brace.

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Briefly: He enlisted in the Marines at age 15; In the Korean war he is the first man to fly 100 attack missions; a decade later in a moment of despair he leaves the scene of a plane he crashed alone and goes AWOL, is thrown out of the Marines. To recover his reputation he goes to Laos and files covert missions as a civilian for the CIA; he is captured and tortured, spends years alone in a tiny bamboo cage in the jungle; No word of his capture is known, his family assumes him to be dead, his wife marries another man; He is transferred to the Hanoi Hilton, but never sees the face of another American; When his is contacted by tap code, the years of isolation have reduced him to only being able to tap out the single phrase “My name is Ernest Brace” for many weeks; US POWs McCain and Stockdale uphold Brace as the example of how an American is to comport himself in conflict; He is released in 1973 after 2,868 days in captivity;  Then he is told his wife has remarried; He is crippled, has a 100% VA disability rating, but rejects this to restart his life; President Ford awards Brace a full pardon and honorable discharge for the incident 15 years earlier. Brace goes on to a full life, is married again, works in aviation globally for Sikorski, the State Department and Evergreen; he passes from this earth, 5 December 2014, he was 83 years old.

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How this relates to the homebuilt plane in your shop:

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In the years that you will work on your creation, you will have at least 200 people tell you that you are doing the wrong thing. you should quit. This will not just be in the form of a coworker or a brother in law calling your creation a ‘death trap’ repeatedly. It will also come in the form of other fliers who are EAA members, but would never even fly in a homebuilt, far less create one, telling you just to buy a plane, to give up on self reliant craftsmanship, just because  they did.

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When people offer you this unsolicited advice, trying to have you quit, think of a man, with a destroyed reputation, with no one looking for him, held captive and tortured in the jungle for years with out a single act of kindness or human compassion shown to him, not a single friendly word spoken to him. All he had was his inner belief that he was on the right path. Politely nod and ignore them, and to yourself think “My name is “ and “I am a Homebuilder.”

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In the celebrity obsessed country that physically surrounds us, fills every popular magazine, advertisement, film, website, book and broadcast, we are presented a distorted group of lives as admirable for a meaningless collection of supposed ‘talents’, all to get people to compulsively buy some product.

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In the America that exists in my heart, school children learn the name Ernest Brace, and it is lovingly taught that all humans have faults, but they will be fairly measured against supreme acts of will and courage. In the country of my heart there is a long marble path in a quiet green park with bronze statues of a pantheon of Americans truly to be admired. On this foggy day I walk past many statues with names like Grissom, Loring, Sijan and Stockdale, to one newly emplaced. I lay a wreath of admiration at the base which simply states:

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“Ernest Brace -American Aviator”

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Ernie Brace (without helmet) in Korea with an AD-1 Skyraider. Note the number of missions marked on the fuselage. You can read his very moving memoir, “A Code to Keep.

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Further reading:

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Robert Hedrix, Aviator, Nha Trang, 1975

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James Stockdale – Philosophy

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A Father’s Day Story – Lance Sijan

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Charles Poland Jr., An American of whom you could be proud.

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