Late in the afternoon, on my last load of the day, with enough fuel to safely make the trip, I headed north. The other SEATs had either had to stop for fuel, leaving them with insufficient time to fuel, get a load of retardant, and return to the fire.
The air was smooth. The smoke column was stable, and the ridge that we had been “painting” was acquiring its red coat along the spine.
The drop was successful, earning a “perfect” from Air Attack. Done for the day, cruising back to the base, my thoughts ran to my Dad. He is nearing his last flight of the day. Age 93, recently widowed, but still with plenty of fuel. He has increased his exercise, loves his video calls, and looks healthier than he has for several years.
A combination of chance/luck/contacts during a fly-over in the Corsair had led to a movie contract. Not a hero role, simply a “stunt pilot” (their definition) role, doing maneuvers along a beach. The movie script, about a Korean war era combat group, flying Corsairs, had become a big role over the past months.
The movie script, in turn, had caused me to read the book on which the movie was based. While I had heard a few things about the Korean conflict from my Dad, and others, and had even flown a C-46 over Washington, DC in commemoration of that forgotten war…I had not understood the depths of the suffering the soldiers, marines, and other combatants had suffered.
Dad never liked to be cold after he got back from Korea. As a child, I loved cold weather, and I loved chocolate. Dad eschewed both. Reading the description of the cold, and survival only on chocolate candy because the cold ruined the rations, I began to understand. I never suffered in the military. My brief stint in the Air National Guard was laughably easy, compared to his role.
The love affair with aviation, and ex-military airplanes had led me down the road to flying WWII planes, and some had been used later, in Korea. Now, with an understanding of the scenario in which he found himself, and knowing the environment in which he served, I find a kinship that I had not previously experienced.
Video calls, in which the bluetooth connection to his hearing aids seems completely random, have become a frequent occurrence. He seems genuinely happy to talk…(for years, he would talk for a minute, then hand the phone to mom)….now, he chats away.
Some of the obstacles we have had seem to have faded. Philosophical differences, career questions….all drift aside as we talk of his past. He is facing some of the last “flights” of his life…but he is facing them with a smile, with plenty of “fuel”, and joy.