30 years since the loss of the Challenger

Builders,

On January 28 1986, I, like several hundred thousand other people in Florida,watched the Challenger lift off in perfect cold blue skies. A little more than a minute later it was over, a stunning loss to our nation.

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It is hard to explain to people outside the state just how many people saw this. If you were never fortunate enough to see a Shuttle launch, it is hard to conceive of an aviation event that can easily be seen with the naked eye at a radius of 120 miles. That morning the Challenger made it to more than 60,000′ and was already above the speed of sound. Florida’s has flat terrain, clear skies, and many businesses and schools had people stand outside to watch. I doubt that any other aviation disaster has ever had as many eyewitnesses. People who were watching were silent, as it was very obvious that something had gone terribly wrong. The only other time I have stood among hundreds of people in such silence was standing at Washington Rock, watching NYC burn on 9/12/o1.

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In our national anthem, it calls us the “Land of the Free and the Home of the brave.” A nice ideal that as a country, we fall well short of. If you want to find out how few people understand risk, courage and achievement, just tell 100 average people you are building a plane in your garage which you intend to fly yourself. It will be a sobering reminder that most people are conditioned to live their entire life in fear, usually of things that have no chance of actually happening.

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  But if I were to make a case that we still had Americans among us who lived up to the anthem, “Home of the Brave.” I would point out to the people of America’s Space program. Below is a photo I took with Grace of the 2006 return to flight after the Columbia loss:

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From 2006: “Grace and I took time out Saturday night to watch the Space Shuttle’s first night launch in four years. This can easily be seen from a hundred miles in every direction. In America today, sadly, most people are convinced to be afraid of many things. My personal definition of courage is volunteering to get in the type of vehicle that has killed all of its occupants before, twice. The courage of our astronauts and the trust they have in their co-workers in the space program personally moves me. The view above is from the Titusville U.S. 1 bridge 15 miles from the pad.”

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As a homebuilder, you have made the decision that your place will not be “With the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”. By choosing the demanding challenge of building and flying your own aircraft, you have made a decision to set your life apart from others who have succumbed to the message to live in fear. Because you have made this choice, your life will have some real understanding of the adventurers who have pushed the boundaries of flight….. and at times paid a terrible price for it.

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I have very strong objections to our National air and Space Museum being called the “Udvar-Hazy Center”. Steven Udvar-Hazy’s only contribution to aviation is manipulating the leasing of commercial aircraft to make himself a billionaire. His $66 million contribution to the museum sounds big until you realize that it was only 1.5% of his estimated net worth.

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No National landmark in this country should be named for people who donated money.  It is as demeaning as naming the Lincoln Memorial the ‘Walmart memorial’. It is un-American to measure the value of a man by the thickness of his wallet. It is for precisely this reason that Americans triumphed in flight. Our system recognized and advanced the best, brightest and courageous. It placed no value on class, connection or wealth.

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If the Air and Space museum is to be named for the highest bidder, I can think of 100 names off the top of my head like, Sijan, Grissom, Loring, Scobee, Luke, Husband….American Aviators who gave 100% of everything they had or would ever have for this country, paying a price that makes any financial contribution meaningless.

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“If we die we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” – Gus Grissom.

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“They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind’s final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived.”

-statement left on the remains of Launch Pad 34.

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Francis Richard Dick Scobee Gravesite

Dick Scobee’s head stone at Arlington.

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-ww.

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College and western tour update #2

Builders:

Last week I posted this update: College and Western Tour update, about the sign up rate for our 2016 Corvair Colleges, showing that they are steadily filling, and noting that the first sign up, for College #36 in Texas, will close in slightly over  a month.  I have always given our regular builders first shot at signing up before widening net to new builders, primarily by releasing the College sign up information to the EAA’s membership division. After this weekend, I am going to take that step, so if you planning on attending a College, but have not signed up, I suggest doing so before Monday.

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 The sign up links for Corvair Colleges #36, #37 , #38 and #39 has been up for 18 days, you can read the story here: 2016 Corvair College registration pages.

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Spectator or Builder? Last night, this webpage past 1,200,000 page reads. I balance the idea of this being a small, but steady and significant readership of the stories, concepts and ideas here, with the reality that any idiot celebrity with a ‘reality’ tv show could accomplish the same thing in 36 hours rather than 36 months. I am glad we have a steady readership, but I feel pretty well protected against becoming mainstream, even in the tiny segment of aviation.

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While I am glad to have anyone here who gets something out of reading the ideas, including disagreeing with many of them, the question remains, what should people do with these thoughts? My suggestion is simple: If you have read the stories and found yourself identifying with the self-reliant learn build and fly message that we offer a great number of ways to explore and express, but you are not yet sure of making the move to start physically building a plane and an engine, then sign up for a college. You can read a lot, but this is no substitute for attending a college, wading in among builders, and finding out in person if you feel a strong calling to learn, build and fly. It is your life, and if you have the feeling that you might act on this ‘one day’, I suggest that you should know that the  sooner, and with greater certainty you know, the better off you will be. The simple solution for knowing is to sign up for and attend a College in 2016.

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While I have written a few things critical of the decisions of the very top management off the EAA, I want everyone to understand that I have, and continue to support the mission of the EAA. I am a loyal member since 1989, and my previous comments should be taken as trying to get the membership to consider and express what the basic mission of their membership organization should be. If anyone mistook me for being negative on the EAA, I suggest reading my words on it’s founder: Speaking of Paul Poberezny.

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The EAA, particularly it’s director of homebuilt services Charlie Becker, have been very supportive of Corvairs, and the best example of this is when they flew in a film crew to Corvair College #27 to make this film. Make sure you watch the last minute and consider the words of Barton Reddit on the human value homebuilding.

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New EAA video on Corvair College#27, Barnwell 2013.

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From Oshkosh 2015: Above, Zenith 750 builder Joe Sarcione, The EAA’s Charlie Becker and Grace hanging out at our tent for the night airshow. Charlie is the director of the homebuilt elements of the EAA. He very effectively represents and serves the interests of everyone who self-identifies as a “homebuilder”. He is the key man behind important projects such as the “One week wonder”.  Although he is a skilled pilot and a real homebuilder, my respect for him and his work on behalf of homebuilding is centered on his exemplary personal integrity.

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-ww.

 

 

Thought for the Day: “My Dreams”

Take a moment to contrast the lives of two human beings, both living in New York City on Sunday, Christmas day, 2011:

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the 20 wealthiest people who has ever lived, is serving his third term. This was made possible because he spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to erase the long established two term limit. His 2001 and 2005 campaigns each broke the record for spending for any elected office in the history of the state. While his net worth of 30 billion dollars allows him to consume any beverage he desires, he was the primary supporter of dictating a limit on the size of a soft drink people could drink in the city. He would set the limit for everyone. This was one of his dreams. Today he announced that being President of America is another one of his dreams, and he is willing to spend a billion dollars to buy the job.

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Donna Fountain, a 38 year old single mother from Brooklyn, one of the millions of working people in New York who struggle to stay above poverty, was walking to her job as a health care assistant at 7:30 Christmas morning. Her plan was to be home that afternoon and share it with her eight year old son Elijah.  She never got there, instead she was mortally wounded by a hit and run driver, and died at the hospital without ever seeing her son again. The car was found, but no one was ever charged.

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Looking for her identity, police found a simple hand written note in her purse, titled “My Dreams.” It spoke of working on getting a better job, buying a home, things she would like to do for others, falling in love, and ended with her fervent wish that her son Elijah graduate from college.  Friends later reveal that Donna carried this note everywhere she went, and, in spite of her very humble circumstances, was determined to see her dreams become reality.

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Above is a photo of Donna Fountain’s note. I find it very moving that most of what she worked for were things for other people.  She did not dream of wealth or power, nor using these things to control the lives and dreams of others.

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Your Aviation Connection: I highly encourage builders to actually write down their aviation dream. A dream written down is already being formed into a plan; a plan with a time line is a goal, and the building blocks are the defined achievements which are milestones along the path. The dream can be inspirational, but it really starts with a plan on a piece of paper in your pocket.

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I am often accused of being opinionated, mostly by people who have never spent a day with me.  In polite response, I point out there are nearly 1,000 stories on our two websites, and yet I challenge anyone to say what political party I belong to, what faith I hold, or where I stand on any social issue. I have never endorsed any cause, forwarded any story by any organization, nor approved of anyone’s claim of being exclusively right. I may sound opinionated, but in reality I never share much on typical topics, because I don’t see my perspective as being valid for anyone but me.

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All of the thought for the day stories include my wish that they be “thought provoking, not thought providing.” The first pages of my manual specify that I “reserve the right to get smarter”, and I not only promote that, I exercise it.

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The only belief that I will always openly champion, the belief that is at the central core of the story above, is my unshakeable faith in the goodness of common, decent people.  I have no interest in the people the media tells us to worship, the rich, the powerful, the famous, the celebrity.

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Instead, I choose to reserve my admiration for those people in our everyday world who quietly lead decent lives. If I have criticized anyone’s favorite celebrity, I apologize, I was focused on people like:

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The old man who lived next to us:

What the 4th of July means to me.

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A homeless man with two dogs:

A thought on Easter….

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A School bus driver who sacraficed his life:

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

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A very spiritual woman:

In defense of plain speaking……

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A man who abandoned popularity for personal ethics:

Risk Management, Experience vs Judgement.

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A simple friend:

Thinking of Mike Holey, an Aviator and a friend.

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-ww.

 

 

College and Western Tour update

Builders,

I have spent the first weeks of this year focused on shop work and shipping parts, and thus writing has been on the back burner. But I did want to post this note about Colleges. The sign up links for Corvair Colleges #36, #37 , #38 and #39 has been up for ten days, you can read the story here: 2016 Corvair College registration pages.

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The Colleges are steadily filling, and be advised not to delay signing up if you are considering attending. A quick look at the numbers:

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Texas College 35% full, sign up closes when it is full, or on 1st of March, which ever happens first;

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Chino College: 40% full

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Cloverdale College 30% full (be advised, limited space means it can fill much quicker than other Colleges)

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November College in Barnwell, 20%

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One of the goals of the tour is to meet as many builders as possible. Beyond the colleges, I want to have at least 10 “Night Schools”, like we did on this tour:  : A decade later: Midwest tour, winter 2005.  I also plan to visit many builders projects like this House Call on Pat Green’s 1,000 Hour Pietenpol and this Corvair House Call, Range: 335 miles. Below are some of the proposed stops the driving legs. If you are not too far off the route, and considering hosting a night school or would like a house call, write it in the comments section, or send me an email with “Tour” in the subject line.

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The travel route and some of the proposed stops:

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Leg One: Austin to Chino, April 5-20

Santa Fe NM

Yuma AZ

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Leg Two: Chino to Cloverdale April 25-May 5

Hanford CA

San Jose CA

Vacaville CA

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Leg Three: Cloverdale to Portland OR. May 10-15

Spencer Rice’s shop, Portland OR.

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Leg Four: Portland to North Dakota.

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Leg Five: North Dakota to Mexico MO

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Real grass roots homebuilding: Above is the collection of Iowa builders who showed up for the Night School in Dr. Steve’s Minart’s garage on a very chilly night in the winter of 2005. While most experimental aviation companies tout their ‘customer service’, there probably isn’t another company in experimental aviation that can match our decades long tradition of meeting homebuilders in the field to teach what we have learned. Although I am a prolific writer of both websites and paper books, I can conclusively state that I have taught more builders important techniques in person than with words. Builders need both, but almost no companies offer hands on training at many locations each year, and none of them do it for free like I do.

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….BTW, Steve has been flying the engine in the picture for nine years.

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ww.

2016 Corvair College registration pages

Builders,

Here are the individual links for the 2016 College sign up pages. The sign ups are open now, if the link is active, there are workspaces available at the event.

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CC #36 April 1-3, San Marcos Texas:

https://corviarcollegeregistration.wufoo.com/forms/cc36/

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Website story: Outlook 2016, College #36 and Western building tour

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CC #37, April 22-25 Chino California:

https://corviarcollegeregistration.wufoo.com/forms/cc37/

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website story: Outlook 2016, Corvair College #37 Chino CA, 4/22/16

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CC #38, May 6-8 Cloverdale California:

https://corviarcollegeregistration.wufoo.com/forms/cc38/

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Website story: Outlook 2016, Corvair College #38, Cloverdale CA, 5/6/16

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CC #39, November 11-13, Barnwell South Carolina:

https://corviarcollegeregistration.wufoo.com/forms/cc39/

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Website story: Outlook 2016, Corvair College #39, Barnwell SC, 11/11/16

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Above, Tom Cummings of LA, on the left, stands with me in front of my Pietenpol at Corvair College #1. The event was in May of 2000. Tom was the very first guy to show up at the very first College.

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-ww.

“S-R-B” Dick Otto, Zenith builder, nears 95th B-day

Builders:

An Email came in tonight from our “Senior Ranking Builder” (S-R-B) Dick Otto in California. At the end of this month, he will be 95 years old. I have known Dick for a number of years, and we have links below to some of the past stories about him. Builders at west cost events like CC#11, have had a chance to meet him in person. He is an inspiration because he didn’t get into homebuilding until he was 86 years old! Not an issue, and neither  is being a student pilot, as he enjoys flight training. Dick built his own 2700cc Corvair with a Dan bearing, and is now nearing completion of his 601XL airframe he started in 2008. Sure that is a few years, but keep in mind that Dick is a busy guy, and most of his plane was built from plans.

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From Dick’s latest letter:

“I  am on the last leg now. The wings, ailerons, and flaps are finished and painted waiting in my hanger for the fuselage. I do not know if Woody told you but I built it from the plans buying only the steel welded parts, landing gear and canopy from Zenith. I have primed the fuselage and will paint it before going to the hanger. Contra Costa County the owner of the airport and hangers does not allow painting in the hangers. The rudder, elevator and stabilizer are still in need of painting. I hope to have the plane to be all put together this summer. I will then go over the whole plane to see where I forgot a cotter pin or safety wire some nuts. All in all I have enjoyed the  project and the learning experience. The only part that is hard for me is getting out of the cockpit. It takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to get out. My next project is going to be the 701 or 750. I will be 95 at the end of the month. I am taking lessons to fly with the Travis Aero Club at the Rio Vista Airport. My instructor required 3 good landings in a row. My first two were OK but I could not come up with the third one. I did manage to do about 2 good ones about 30 times. I want to let you know that I go to Fly Corvair . net every morning after breakfast and read your writings. Surprisingly I agree with you at least 95% of what you say.”

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One of the great things about having Dick as our soon to be 95 year old builder is having an occasional 65 year old guy ask me if he is too old to get into building and flying, and being able to show him Dick’s project and say, “You better hurry, you may only have 30 years left.”

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Thanks for the update Dick, keep us all in the loop. For any of you guys who want to write Dick personally, or wish him an early birthday, his email is: dickotto10@gmail.com .

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050213otto

 Above, Dick and his 601XL with a running 2700/Dan bearing engine on the front. The picture is from last year during the first start. The plane is plans built. I refer to Dick as our “SRB.” read: Dick Otto in California, S.R.B. (Senior Ranking Builder)

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From Corvair College #11, 2007. “Standing beside me at right above is Dick Otto, Corvair builder from Northern California. Although Dick just got into Corvairs this year, he brought an entire collection of engine parts meticulously prepped. We used his stuff to demonstrate case assembly and installing the piston-rings-cylinder assemblies. Dick was a real trooper, working during the chilly mornings and staying late into the night. He drove about 100 miles to get to the College, and to stay close to the action, he chose to camp out near the airport. As it was Veterans Day, Dick shared with us the experience of crewing a self-propelled 105 mm in a U.S. Division drive into Germany in Spring 1945. Now read this sentence slowly: Dick Otto is 86 years old. He logged time in the mid-1930s, but has not piloted an aircraft since. He has a common story where a youthful love of aviation is interrupted by the responsibilities of a family life. But he’s absolutely serious about returning to aviation after a short 70-year break. If his prep work for the College is any indication, I’d say he’s a strong bet to take to the air again.”

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For a look at some of Dick’s thoughts:

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Mail Sack – Letter of the month – Dick Otto, 601XL Calif.

and:

Letter From S.R.B., Dick Otto, 601XL

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-ww.

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A clarification and a century old story.

Builders,

In yesterday’s story, Testing my “Great Political Theory” I used the incendiary pejorative term “draft dodger” to describe both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Today I would like to share a century old family story, one that will hopefully demonstrate to readers that I have a far more nuanced understanding of national loyalty than most people who use the term “draft dodger”.  If any of my previous writing left anyone with the impression that I come from a militaristic family and mindset, this should cause some reconsideration.

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img005Above, My Father as a 17 year old enlisted man in WWII. He stands between his beloved pony Bob, his constant companion since he was a little boy, and his own father. My grandfather served on the Passaic NJ police department from patrolman to Assistant Chief. Above, he is in plain clothes, as Chief of Detectives. Passaic was an industrial city with a serious organized crime problem. My Grandfather was a hard man who didn’t shrink from duty even when this brought shootouts with criminals and death threats against his children.

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In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson executed what may have been the largest flip-flop in executive branch history when he pushed the US to enter WWI, after campaigning on the pledge to never do so. He went so far to support the criminalization of even speaking out against the war, something he was doing only months before. With debate effectively outlawed, the US went to mobilizing a million  men and deploying them to Europe. Among them was a 23 year old sergeant in the 78th division named Michael Wynne. His diary indicates that when he deployed, he felt stopping the Kaiser was a valid goal.

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In a four year war, the US forces saw just 100 days of combat, but they were costly days, and each one of them took an astounding 1,000 American lives. My Grandfather kept very detailed notes on his three months in an eerie hell, fighting in places like St. Mihiel.  He survived a poison gas attack that killed most of his unit, shelling that left bits of steel in his body, days laying among unburied corpses and three separate trips “over the top.” There is no indication in his diaries, letters nor my fathers recollections, that my Grandfather had a single positive thing to say about warfare.  The closest he came were several long passages about French infantry, who’s courage to directly advance into withering fire stood out above all others.

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My grandfather came home and went back to work as a policeman. He was a devout Irish Catholic, but in 1922 he followed his heart and married a Jewish girl named Rita Smith. Most of both families disowned them. Perhaps because he had seen quite enough hatred, my Grandfather didn’t care, and went on with his life. Fortune brought his only son in 1925, my father. 1929 brought his only daughter, my aunt Eileen.

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When the world slowly slid into WWII, my Grandfather kept his most fervent wish private; all he wanted was that his own son would never see what he had seen in the trenches 22 years earlier. Keep in mind, he was no pacifist, nor was he afraid of conflict.

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Before their children were born, my grandparents had taken in a young teenager named Frank Ryan, who lived with them for a number of years before beginning long service in the Navy. A childhood filled with idealized stories of Pacific fleet cruises led my father to join the Navy as an enlisted man in 1943 after he turned 17.  He expected his father to be proud, but instead he was very angry with Frank Ryan, who was home recovering from the sinking of his ship, CA-44 the Vincennes.  My grandfather knew Frank had encouraged my father, and he was livid about it, perhaps because he thought Frank would understand better after his ship went down with 322 shipmates. Perhaps Frank could only see my father as a kid brother, he didn’t see him as another man’s son.

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In the spring of 1945, before the war in Europe was over, my father was accepted to the Naval Academy for the class of 1949. Retrospectively, my father later understood how much this relieved my grandfather. The war would certainly be over, his son would live, their lives would go on. My grandfathers prayers had been answered. For now.

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In 1950 the Korean war started, and my father, now an officer in amphibious warfare, felt it was his calling to fight in a conflict against totalitarians. He returned after a first deployment, and was actually sitting down to dinner with his parents in the family home. Without question, my grandfather was relieved to have him back. A telegram arrived, saying all leave cancelled, and my father must immediately return on the next flight.  He packed and rushed out of the house in a few minutes, saying goodbye to my mother and grandmother on the porch.

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Before getting in the taxi, he realized that he had not said goodbye to his father. He rushed into the house, but initially could not find him. A moment later, he found his father, a very hard man who was never emotional, standing in in the walk in closet, sobbing. He could not bear to see my father return to the war. He didn’t want his son to see him this way, he didn’t look at my father, he just said “Take care of yourself.” My father, then 26, knowing nothing else to do, followed his fathers words, and badly shaken, got into the taxi. It was the last real moment they would have together. Before my father returned, my grandfather had a terrible stroke, and was never the same again.

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My father has never been able to tell me the story about that day in words. He has never been able to speak about it, but he did write about it in a very detailed letter to me. He gave it to me when I turned 18, when I was going down to the post office to sign up for the selective service. It came with no moral instructions, just the understanding that you don’t know what lives in another man’s heart.

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My father didn’t teach me the phrase “draft dodger”, in fact I am pretty sure I have never heard him use it. In the 1970s he didn’t have much to say about the 125,000 people who went to Canada, and around our home we were taught to be sparing on judgments. As years have past, I have become less hardened in my opinions not more. I have drawn great personal solace from Tim O’Brien’s book, The things they carried, and central to the narrative is the fact that O’Brien considered going to Canada, but didn’t, (for what he feels were social pressures on his family in a small town) ended up in Vietnam, and morally regrets killing an enemy soldier with a grenade. I have also read many times, the Zumwalt book, My Father , My Son, a memoir of how the son, Elmo jr, took the most dangerous job in Vietnam, because his father was head of the Navy there, and he felt morally obligated to go if his father had to send anyone. The book was written as he was dying of Lymphoma, likely caused by agent orange, which his father ordered the use of. Admiral Zumwalt was a personal friend of my fathers, and dad could not bear to read it.  While a part of my father deeply wanted one of his sons to attend the Naval Academy, neither of us did. (My brother passed the entrance exam easily, but turned out to be color blind, I was not qualified by high school rank to take the test.) What ever disappointment he may have felt was probably exceeded by a relief his own father breifly knew.

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I have no issue with war protesters, for Charles Lindbergh, was once one. Neither do I have any problem with pacifists, as my understaning of ethics is heavily influenced by the Dali Lama.  My own personal distaste on the issue of national service is strictly limited to today’s professional politicians , who manipulated the system, often many times, but today want to be seen as only playing by the rules, when they were clearly willing to send another man’s son in their place, they were just not willing to admit this, then or now.

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If you would like a different example of privilged sons and ethics, The first few pages of my manual contain a picture of Quentin Roosevelt, who felt that his family’s advocacy of entering WWI required him taking the most dangerous job, flying a Neiuport 28. He paid for this with his life on 7/14/18.

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His father, T.R., a man tough enough to have been shot in the chest with a .38/44 at point blank range, and then give a 90 minute speech while campaigning just 6 years earlier, found that his type of toughness was no defense against matters of guilt and heartache. He personally held Kaiser Wilhelm II, a man he had met in person in 1910, responsible for his son’s death. When a reporter asked what the Kaiser could do for forgiveness, Roosevelt said The Kaiser could take his six healthy sons, untouched by WWI, and he could find a well defended allied position, and then could storm it, and all be shot dead while doing so. Roosevelt thought the proper atonement for starting a war that took millions of other peoples sons would start with the deaths of the Kaiser’s own sons.   The venom in the comment speaks of how he was tormented by the loss of a son who was really living up to his father’s ideals.

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In the end, the Kaiser lived 22 more years in exile, but Teddy died of a broken heart a few months after his son. He was just 60 years old.

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-ww.