Sun 'N Fun 2010 Report
Oshkosh, Corvair Colleges 18 and 19
Oshkosh looms only two months away. In past years, this required a tremendous effort to arrange from remote Florida. While it has always been great to see people,
and it is a worthy 3,000 mile road trip, I will honestly confess that I did not look forward to the effort required in past years. We certainly had a good number of people from the
Corvair movement assist us in many ways in years past, but the lion's share of the work was enough to take some of the wind out of your sails.
Last year, this changed. Instead of appearing in the Zenith booth like we had the previous five years, we rented our own booth and took a big step forward. What made this work
was the Corvair All Stars: Mark Petniunas from Falcon, Roy Szarafinski and Dan Weseman. These guys put a lot of effort into all the details of setting up tents, filing forms, getting permits,
unloading and of course speaking with countless builders. I could give a lot of sound business reasons why the concept of having all the experts in one tent made a lot of sense, and
how unique it is to have a number of people work beyond any potential overlap to put the long term interests of builders and the Corvair movement first. But for me, after 20 years of
promoting the affordable and reliable powerplant, it was very relaxing to have the company of good friends who each had their own incentive to be there and do an excellent job. Close friends
understand that I am a harsh judge of my own work, not always pleased with it, and mostly see myself as facilitaing the Corvair movement, not the center of it. This said, last year at Oshkosh,
in the middle of the week when the tent was packed with builders asking questions, learning, laughing and making friends, I stood about 30 feet away and watched Mark, Roy and Dan
cover the questions and tell stories that made every guy in the tent want to be a motorhead, build an engine, come to Colleges and fly as many places as Mark Langford. For 15 minutes I sipped a coffee and watched the exact
Corvair movement I always wanted to see. I am not a great pilot, nor machinist nor draftsman, but I do possess an odd set of skills that made me the right person to launch the modern
Corvair movement, and looking in the tent, I will honestly say that I am pleased with where it went. I called my father later that night and told him that I might have actually
accomplished something important.
This year, we are poised to continue this success. The major roles are going to be played by Mark from Falcon, Roy Szarafinski, Grace and myself. We will also have stuff from Dan and
his family on hand, and some of Brady McCormick's components. A big group of flyers will be there, and the rest of the usual suspects. If you are planning on a trip to Oshkosh, you can count on us to be there,
and we will have all the details on this Web site in next month's update.
The weekend before Oshkosh is Brodhead, the Pietenpol gathering, about 75 miles to the southwest. It is our favorite airport in the world. If I won the lottery (which is an impossibility
because I have never bought a ticket), many things in my life might change (I have always wanted a PBY), but I would still go to Brodhead every year. It is the one place where everyone
still remembers the golden rule that the most freedom in flying is in the simplest of machines, in the most basic of settings. I spoke with Doc Mosher, 1/2 of the team that produces the Brodhead Pietenpol News,
last week. He set up the forums schedule so that I am in my traditional position of the anchorman on Saturday afternoon. If you are yet to go to Brodhead, take a look at the past
years of August updates on the bottom of this page. You will have a better understanding of this commercial free immersion experience of pure flying. See you there.
Corvair College #18: We have not picked out the exact date, but the host, location and time window are known. Rick Lindstrom, the same person who hosted
#13, will do it again at his shop,
First Light Aviation Group (F.L.A.G.) in Livermore, California, in the fall. Again, we will have a lot more fine details on our Web site next month, including an online registration.
It will be a full blown College, with the All Stars on hand, lots of engine building, flying planes, fully catered food and drink, and late night camaraderie. If you are planning on making progress on your
West Coast project, get a game plan started now. If you have a dirty core in your shop, go out several evenings this week and dig in. Get the crank on the way to Moldex, sort the parts, clean the case.
Invest the time and start thinking about what you want to get done. We will have more info next mont, but knowing the exact date today isn't the key to getting the most out of the
event. Breaking inertia and getting your "Builder in Command" mindset on is.
Corvair College #19: This is slated for Veterans Day weekend in South Carolina. The last two we have had there, #12 and #16, were both
at Ed Fisher's airport. Because of the size of Ed's hangar
and the residential nature of the airpark, we were limited to about 60 people, and it isn't possible to have a mass scale, CC#17 style campout at night. The fact that we had eight
Corvair powered planes fly into #16 showed the great interest in the region. The adjustment is to find another airport in that area which will accommodate everything we had fun doing at CC #17, without
losing any of the close knit feel of #12 and #16. I have two places picked out, and we are going to make a quick recon trip there before Oshkosh to select one. Again, the exact
location isn't the main factor of concern for people planning on attending. The main issue is to get your plan in gear, and have some steam up when we get the final details worked out.
November sounds like a long way off, but decide tonight that your engine will run there, and go turn a wrench on it tonight to make it happen.
Shop notes: Other than being in New Jersey for six days for my parents' 60th wedding anniversary, I have been spending a lot of time doing straight work in the shop. I have laid off all the
writing for the CorvairCraft Internet group, made a lot less calls to friends, shortened the buisness calls, and sworn off all forms of TV (I had previously quit watching news
15 or 20 times in the past decade) and just gone back to basic craftsmanship and all day work. When I am welding, I let the machine pick up the phone because otherwise you have to
drop the gloves, torch, rod, helmet, glasses and walk over, often to find out the person calling was soliciting for the local fire department (which is funny because we don't have one).
I am glad to take calls, but if you get the machine, please leave one message and leave me a number and a good time to call back, preferably after dinner. I don't weld in the evenings,
and I can speak to people on the phone at length while doing mundane tasks like putting away tools, sweeping and cleaning parts. I have had a number of people say "I called you 30 times."
Yes, but if you never left a message, it was not possible for me to call back. If what we do were not useful, not wanted, not popular, nor a good value, I could sit by the phone and answer
it on the first ring every time, and there would be the illusion of service. Real service is doing things that make it possible for people to learn, build and fly. Likewise, if you prefer
to e-mail, good. But I will honestly say that when I get an e-mail from a guy that does not include a full name, has no location it was sent from, but has questions, I often disregard it.
I don't need a life story, but something that says "I am Bob Jones from Sherman Oaks, CA, I am thinking of building a xxx and wanted to know ... Thanks, if you want to call me between 6 and 9 p.m.
PST try my cell 311-234-xxxx" is about 100 times more likely to get an answer from me than anything that just says "Sent from the Blackberry of Flyboy26" at the bottom. I still treat e-mail
like regular mail, meaning I read it at a sensible point in the productive day and try to put some real thought into it, before answering it.
I am well aware that the rest of America
treats e-mail like instant messages, where they compulsively respond and if no answer is sent in an hour the recipient is assumed to be deceased. This type of behavior makes a
good case for the existence of a condition called "Adult Attention Defecit Disorder." I understand that it is treatable, and they have pills for it. Before they had a way to
make money off this behavior it was just called "Acting Foolish." A few years ago I was at the wedding of a good friend. While he was walking down the aisle, I noticed that his
adult son in front of me was reading text messages from friends on an iPhone. The kind, gentile side of me took him aside at the reception and told him that most of the young men
in the world would consider it a blessing from God to have a father like his, and maybe he should drop the BS behavior and try for 5 minutes to act like the son my friend believes
he is, and he could save the little hurt look for the TV reality rehab show try out. This is all pretty far away from airplane building, but it ties in like this: To build a plane,
you have to learn new skills and consistently apply serious effort, paitence and persistence to see the reward. The kind of mindset where people are so addicted to instant
gratification with electronics will never be compatible with the qualities of aircraft building. I have a mission to help people build planes. I work at it. With some very small adjustments
most people can get a lot out of the years of experience I offer. I just politely ask that reasonable people work with me on this. If your goal is to build and fly a Corvair powered plane,
I am still the best asset you can have.
From the Flightline
We have picked up a lot of mail from people flying their planes in the past month. As spring is giving way to hours of warm summer evenings and late sunsets, people are finishing and flying
their planes. One that sticks out from the collection is from Kevin Purtee, whose Pietenpol is shown above:
"The bone-simple, black-smithed eyebrow cowls appear to be working pretty well.
I've flown the piet 98 hours in 8 months. Wanted more but the plane was 3 hours away for a good portion of that time. My circa 2005 per-the-plans WW motor ticks
along with no drama.
"I appreciate all that you and your crew do.
"Take care, Kevin"
Our update next month will feature a lot of the stories of Corvair powered planes that are just getting into the air. This update is already long, and I want to take the time to get
more technical details on builders' planes than you normally get with a quick post. Among these planes, we have Don Taylor's two-place all-metal Flybaby, Karl Henning's 1/3 Vair-powered
Team Airbike, and a Davis DA-2 which is the first flying Corvair with EFI. I also want to post a lot of the notes on all the 601s getting airborne again after the airframe upgrade.
Sun 'N Fun 2010
2010 was my 22nd consecutive year at Sun 'N Fun at Lakeland (Fla.) Linder Airport. As you look at the following photos, note they're almost all of people. While I love most things
about the machinery of aviation, after two decades, the people remain continuously interesting to me, while the vast majority of equipment is unchanged from
years before. It took three years of attending Sun 'N Fun before I made a single friend I could eat lunch with and share the day. Over the years, we've come
to know countless people in every corner of an air show like Sun 'N Fun. But I can still remember how much it added to attending Sun 'N Fun when I got to make
my first friends there. When we meet someone who's on their first or second visit, I make a point of introducing them to a number of the regulars, bringing them
along to cookouts and vendor visits. Every enthusiastic person should get to know some fellow builders of all experience levels. It's the best reward of
When it comes to meeting new people, it helps to have a good personality. Grace has a knack for meeting new people wherever we go. Sun 'N Fun has a more casual
atmosphere than Oshkosh. At Grace's first Sun 'N Fun, she met Duane Cole, Bob Hoover and Paul and Audrey Poberezny. Most displays at Oshkosh focus on a high
degree of professionalism. Conversely, a number of the Sun 'N Fun displays are much more relaxed. Above is Grace with new friend Karen at the Grand Champion Stearman display on
the flight line. Karen was part of a group from a major airline who came to SNF just to have fun.
We had this sign constructed to explain our work with the Zenith 701. This year marked the 7th consecutive Sun 'N Fun where our Corvair work has been displayed
in the Zenith Company booth. This longstanding position of trust is something that we take as a very serious compliment to our efforts to bring very affordable
engines to Zenith builders. Every year, a new crop of here-today-gone-tommorrow LLCs show up offering all type and manner of alternative engines, almost always
displayed on non-flying mockup aircraft. Conversely, the 701 we displayed has been flying for two years. It is a good indication of how seriously we take testing
One of the events we look forward to every year at Sun 'N Fun is the Zenith Builders Barbecue hosted by Mark Townsend of Can-Zac Aviation, Zenith's Canadian
distributor, who also happens to have a Corvair on the front of his own 601. In the photo above, Mark makes introductions as everyone takes a break from some
At the Zenith barbecue, from left to right above, Roy Szarafinski, Antonio Panzera, Contact! magazine Editor Pat Panzera and 750 builder Jimmy Young. Both Roy and Jimmy were at
Corvair College #17 a month previous.
Above, Jon Croke, who is well known to many homebuilders as the man behind the Homebuilt Help DVD series. He is a seriously accomplished builder who also has
mad skills behind the camera. He also attended Corvair College #17. He later confessed to previously having the vague notion that Corvair College
was akin to a technial seminar held in the banquet room of a Holiday Inn. CC #17 was his first Corvair event, and he was rapidly re-educated to experience how fun and
productive Corvair Colleges really are. His Web site, HomebuiltHelp.com, now has an Intro to Corvair College DVD available to show other people the real story.
Above, Grace Ellen with Corvair/601 builder/pilot Lynn Dingfelder of Corry, Pa. Lynn is most of the way through his upgrade on the airframe and used the time to also install a
Weseman 5th bearing. Last year, he conducted tests that surprised a lot of people, demonstrating how well the 601/Corvair combination climbs at altitude.
Above, Corvair builder/pilot Alan Uhr and son from Tampa, Fla., at the Zenith Builders Barbecue. Alan attended CC#9, and purchased
all the components from us to install a Corvair in his 601.
His airframe upgrade is underway now. His previous experience in aircraft is mostly in gyros.
Above, Corvair/601 builder/pilot Gary Thomas, who flew his bird to Corvair College #16, checks out our flying Corvair powered 701 in the
Zenith Aircraft Company booth. He lives in the US, but is a native of Bath, England.
nVAero.com is a Southern California based business run by our friend and all around good guy, Steve Glover. The business was formed to market all things KR on behalf of
Rand Robison, the company run by Ken Rand's family. Steve is the factory-authorized outlet for KR parts, kits, information, wing skins, etc. An accomplished builder in his
own right, Steve is also a well known pilot of experimentals and alternative engines. No Johnny-Come-Lately, he has been around the KR world for many years,
and enjoys the support of many friends in the KR community. 2010 marked Steve's first year at Sun 'N Fun. He flew out commercial with a lot of stuff to display, but
called on Joe Horton, Corvair/KR pilot extraordinaire, to display his aircraft in the nVAero.com booth. It garnered a lot of attention, including pieces for magazines and
cable television coverage. I've known Steve for years, and he's attended many Corvair Colleges. He's currently building a Corvair-powered KR-2S that
will highlight his Quick Build Kit and molded wing skins with the new airfoil. This aircraft will feature our KR-2 Motor Mount, Intake, Exhaust
System and Cowling, which all are compatible with Steve's products.
The Pietenpol pictured above belongs to Harold Johnson of the Big Piet Group. Almost all of the Big Piets are flying now, and Harold and Bruce flew theirs down to
Sun 'N Fun to rave reviews. Also on hand was Big Piet builder Barry Davis, who was recently elected to the EAA Board of Directors, a very good thing for homebuilders.
The Big Piet Builders chose Corvair power long ago. They made a special trip to our old Spruce Creek hangar in 2003. Their engines are based on designs we developed
in the Black Hub era. The engines and aircraft feature a lot of individual touches while certainly remaining sister ships. Harold won the Sun
'N Fun 2010 Trophy for Best Automotive Installation, a good beginning for years of flying and going to shows. Look for them at Brodhead.
Another look at our 701 testbed in the Zenith booth at Sun 'N Fun. The plane was lightly polished before the show and we put some modest graphics on it to make it look
a little sharper. In the weeks before the show, Dan Weseman and I worked to upgrade the aircraft with one of his families' 5th bearings. When we built the plane several years
ago, 5th bearings were just geting started. All of the flying with the aircraft done to this point was without a bearing. Here is a very important point for Zenith 701 and
750 builders to understand: It is my strongest recommendation that builders of these two airframes use 5th bearings. Our flight testing, particularly the very high angle of
attack stuff that these planes are capable of, has clearly revealed that the resulting angle of attack differential between the ascending and descending prop blades generates
the kind of loads that 5th bearings are designed to deal with. With a great number of airframes, the choice to use a 5th bearing or not is a personal one. With these two planes,
I consider it mandatory. This is the real value of flight testing by educated people. At SNF I explained this to builders. Not a big deal to our guys because the handful of engines
we assembled destined for these airframes all had Dan or Roy bearings. The customer built engines intended for 701s can all be equipped with Dan bearings as a retrofit. The one guy
who didn't like the news had bought an $8,000 engine from a now broke LLC that had no 5th bearing, nor was the crank tapped for a Safety Shaft, precluding it from any kind of an
upgrade. I took the time to explain the technical reasons why he was SOL. Usually I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who make every decision based on bargain hunting, but it
was tough to watch a guy come to learn that a very poor choice on his part probably was the moment that determined that he will never fly his plane.
Grace shot this photo while driving through the National Forest on her way to SNF. Grace had missed the last two years, but was determined to come out and have a good time with
everyone this year. Roy Szarafinski and I had driven down the day before to set up and Grace and the dog came the next day. The drive through the Forest is one of the most scenic roads
in Florida, and a good reminder of how much empty space there is in the state.
This is Scoob E setting a new record for quickest drive to Sun 'N Fun. Florida is a big place, and SNF is about 175 miles from our home base. Without a trailer nor traffic, Grace
made the trip in half the normal alloted time. Driving is big fun for Scoob E. He will gladly go anywhere. Dogs are allowed in the campground at SNF, and he had a very
good time at the show.
Steve Glover of nVAero.com on the left, and Joe Horton of Pennsylvania on the right, with his KR-2S. Compared to Oshkosh, the night schedule is a lot more laid back at SNF. As a group, a lot
of us had a chance to eat dinner together, and catch up several nights in a row. Often at Oshkosh, the giant size of the place makes it hard to find your friends at the end of the day.
We have known both Joe and Steve for many years, and they are both excellent dinner company. I would much rather laugh around a smokey campfire eating burned marshmallows with
guys like these than dine at Sardi's with people of lesser character.
Above, a photo from one of the forums I gave in the Engine Tent. The engine forums are organized by Pat Panzera, editor of Contact! and Experimenter magazines. This was the 14th year in
a row that I gave forums on the Corvair at SNF. At a typical forum, there are always a number of experienced Corvair pilots on hand to introduce, and a number of well known builders.
But, in the back of my mind, I think about the people who are attending their first Corvair forum. What will time show their accomplishments to be? Who among them will build? Who will fly?
Over all the years, I have learned that successful builders don't fit any easily identifiable look or background, but they do have attitudes and traits in common. Mostly, these are a positive outlook by nature.
It was in this forum tent at SNF 1999 that I met Mark Langford, who has gone on to be one of the most influential builders and pilots in the Corvair movement. I think that every new guy who
walks into the tent has the same shot at making such a contribution to the World of Flying Corvairs. No one can do the work for you, but many people have paved the way and will
be there to congratulate you when you make it.
Grace takes a break at a friendly tent at the show. The cow is saying "Got Stearman?" instead of "Got Milk?"
I don't watch much of the airshow. There are only so many years of T-6s with overspeeding props I can take. But one routine that catches my eye is the Beech 18. After a while, I came
to the conclusion that part of the appeal for me was the plane's period paint job in place of a cell phone advertisement. You can look up at this plane fly and imagine you are at the
National Air Races in the late 1930s.
I often reference my years at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A small number of people dislike this, because they feel I am trying to tell people how smart I am. I will gladly tell anyone that I'm
not really clever, and when viewed in the larger group of educated aviation professionals, I hold only working class guy status. Want to know what a really brilliant aeronautical engineer with a lifetime of experience looks like?
Above is Joe Martin, with his lovely wife Mary. Joe was, and is, my mentor in structural analysis of aircraft. His years as a professor at Embry-Riddle capped a career that started with
bucking rivets on the F-104 production line. He put himself through night school and went on to a distinguished engineering career, mostly with Convair and General Dynamics. Want to know
the mathematical models used to analyze the F-106 wing? Anything you want to know about F-111s? Wind tunnels? Close coupled canards? Semi tension fields? Indeterminate structures?
Where Fortan 77 is still a viable tool? When you're all done talking, he will take you out to the shop and show you how rivets are set to Lockheed standards.
Joe's background extends to very practical matters on light aircraft. He did the structural analysis on the Stewart-51 Mustang, and has designed a number of other light aircraft. In 1997, I was making
new landing gear for our Pietenpol. The legs were 4" taller and had steel springs in place of the bungees. Joe's hangar was next to ours, and I wanted to have him check the tear out strength
on the connection bolts for me. I came back from dinner and found a very neat hand calculation of the forces done by Joe on a little piece of paper. It was sitting on my cowl held
down by an empty Pabst Blue Ribbon can, and on the bottom it had the date, a line that said "it checks ok," and the initials "JM." A visitor to the hangar who also had been at dinner
was alarmed, and said they would never trust such a person, and that the empty can was "a bad image." I told them that I felt sorry for anyone who went through life more concerned about
the right image instead of the right answer.
Many years ago, I used to sit in on a Tai Chi class. Our instructor was African American, who had the improbable path of growing up impoverished in the U.S., joining the Navy, visiting
Okinawa, and later returning to spend 15 years adopted into a monastery on the island, where he began intense martial arts study. When entering the room, he demonstrated how we were to bow slightly and say "Sir." One night a visiting
middle aged woman, with a certain dress and manner that implied she was worldly, open minded and enlightened, walked in and gave a full five minute dissertation to the instructor on
how she didn't accept the "Paradigm of a male centric world" and that she was in no way obligated to bow to him, and that years of sisterhood allowed her to unlearn "self nullifying behavior,"
shaving her legs and saying thank you to men who opened the door for her. When she was all done, he simply said that it was a sign of respect for his instructor and his adopted family in Okinawa, and it had
nothing to do with him. Her entire response was to say "Ohh..." When I speak about my alma mater, I am not congratulating myself for attendance, I am really just making a note of thanks
to the professors like Joe Martin who made a very large difference in my life.
I stand next to Corvair College #17 graduates Ray Fuenzalida, center above, and Jared Schexnaydre. Both of these guys call New Orleans home. We have had some very serious conversations about having a Corvair College there in Spring 2011.
(That's less than a year away.) CC #17 was a landmark of intense fun. Working off this experience, these guys want to host an event which has its onwn angle, atracting the better
half of builders also. We are seriously considering
ideas like chartering a bus to take everyone down to the French Quarter so we can have a very classy Saturday night dinner. However it works out, it is a great example of the
kind of people who are attracted to the Corvair movement, and the possibilities well beyond an affordable, reliable powerplant.
Above right, Eric Demaray, and his father. Eric has been a lifelong flyer, as his dad got him started early in Pacers and Tailwinds. Eric and I have been friends back to 1993, when we worked on the first V-8
Lancairs. Eric edited my first Corvair Conversion Manual. His father camped out all week at SNF 1997, and spoke about things that still stick in my mind 13 years later. They flew to SNF
this year in Eric's Tailwind, which he handed over to the new owner (his father), who then flew it all the way back to the West Coast. In the past 13 years, I have spent maybe two or three days with Eric, and I have not seen
his father once. But there is something about the people in aviation that once you get to know them, you can pick right back up where you were. The passage of time doesn't erode the
connections you have with people with whom you share a very strong calling (like aviation).
A look inside the cockpit of Scott Vanderveen's Corvair Personal Cruiser. He won the long distance award by flying down from just north of Chicago. He also spent a few days
in the campground, and we did some catching up late at night. He flew down in a day, leaving early and arriving before dinner. It is well over 1,000 miles, and he made the trip on 30 gallons of fuel.
A side view of the Corvair Cruiser on the flightline. The weather you see in the photo was typical of the whole week, clear and sunny. It only drizzled for an hour one night. It
was the best weather at SNF in the past 10 years.
Scott next to the Corvair Personal Cruiser.
Rick Lindstrom came out to cover SNF for Kitplanes magazine. Rick is in the middle of upgrading his own Corvair powered 601 XL at his hangar in Livermore, Calif.
Corvair College #18 is going to be at Rick's place in the fall. We will have more information as soon as we nail down the exact date. We had a very large and fun crowd at
Rick's for CC #13, and we are
shooting to up the ante, and have every member of the Corvair All Stars present, and a good collection of flying planes on hand.
Corvair powered 601 XL builder and pilot Zersis Mehta and his lovely wife Jennifer. They were married last year, and are expecting this year. If you would like to read a fun story,
check out this link: Sun 'N Fun 2009
After SNF, Roy Szarafinski spent a few days at our place coordinating some work leading to Oshkosh. Roy picked up an enclosed trailer to take to Colleges and shows, so he will
be able to bring more of his tools and bearing stuff to share with builders. In the above photo, he is in our front yard preflighting his trusty Northstar Caddy that had carried him to many Colleges.
If you look closely, you can see Scoob E in the same position supervising.
Grace, Roy and Scoob E just before Roy headed north.
Two weeks ago, Grace, Scoob E and I flew to New Jersey for a week, to spend it with family in celebration of my parents' 60th anniversary. The above photo is of my parents when they were first engaged, taken at the U.S. Naval Academy.
One morning before the big gathering, I drove my mother to her hair salon. Because it was going to be a very dressy event, with all my siblings and lots of photos for my parents to later enjoy, I thought it made a lot of sense
to sit in the chair myself and let the guy chop off my ponytail length hair. Although she didn't say so, this pleased my mother. No big deal, it had only taken three years to grow out. After every great event, when everyone else
had been taken back to the airport, we looked at the photos and found out that I wasn't in any of them. The last time I cut my hair before Oshkosh dozens of people walked right up to me and asked, "Where's William?" I will just make sure
I have a name tag on this year.
Thinking of Memorial day. McClellan Gate in 1987.
You can open the paper and read a ton of commerical ads for things to buy on sale this weekend, but it is worth considering that the Day was originally reserved to
remember those who lost their lives in the service of this country. Grace and I like to spend the Day with friends, but toward the end of the day I gave some thought to what some families lost,
and what the rest of us can be thankful for. Some of my strongest memories of Memorial Day are from 1987. Today I looked through an old photo album and pulled out two pictures from
half my lifetime ago.
In the summer of 1986 I lost the best friend I ever had. He took his own life at age 23. A year later, with the anniversay coming up, I was in New Jersey and feeling uncomfortable with the approaching day.
It had been a regular year outwardly, full of work and day to day stuff, but inside I was in the same spot. I decided to drive back to Florida. I am sure I had some small surface reason, but I was
really just running away, trying to put a little distance between myself and being in the same place a year later. I got in my truck, and headed south on I-95.
I spent a few hours driving south down the Turnpike and past Maryland house, and got stuck in Beltway traffic on the west side of D.C. Without thinking too much, I ended up driving
to Arlington National Cemetery. It was late afternoon, but the guard said that they really didn't
close on Memorial Day. I spent a few hours wandering around reading tombstones. Up on the hill where the sailors from the Maine are buried, I spent a long time looking at the marker for the youngest
member of the crew, who was 13 or 14. It simply said "A boy of great promise." As the sun was setting, I noticed that most of the people there were alone also. Looking at them, they
were mostly women who were either in their 40s or 60s. They were not walking around, they were returning to a spot they seemed to know. They were the wives of people who never came back.
It didn't matter how many years it had been, or how many other good things had happend since. I looked at them, alone, and wondered if they had any friends who really understood
how they felt, what they had lost. Maybe not. Maybe after a lot of years, no one asked what they did every Memorial Day.
I was 24 years old, and as hard as it is to remember, there was a time before this, when my youthful outlook on life felt that I could have everything in life, that the possibilities were endless,
that everything was going to be ok. There, in front of me, was all the evidence I needed to know I was wrong. Time had done nothing to heal these wounds. It was my first real understanding
that there are things in life that can't be made right; that don't heal and that you can't evade or bypass. These women were going to come back to Arlington every Memorial Day to spend a few hours
with a person who they felt had held great promise. It would never be ok for them, and it wasn't going to be ok for me either. I knew that day I would be sorry for the rest of my life,
and 23 years later, I still am.
Joe Louis' grave in 1987. He had been laid to rest six years eariler. Few men have loved the ideals of this country as much while simultaneously suffering from its faults.
When he was criticized for promoting service in a segregated army in WWII, he calmly said, "Lot's of things wrong with America, but Hitler ain't going to fix them." He had lived through
racism and yet was later called an Uncle Tom. He had donated his money to Navy Relief and the USO, but was hounded by the IRS for the taxes on it. Through it all, he did not utter
a negative word against his home. He had enlisted in the Army in WWII, but was not technically eligible to be buried in Arlington. Offering a small correction at the end of Louis' life,
President Reagan signed an Exucitve Order to allow his burial at the cemetery.
We live in a small town in North Florida, and I'm sure it is a lot like many other towns of the same size, places that are not really on the way to anywhere, crossroads that haven't changed much
over the years. It has a hardware store, post office and diner. It has a little Christmas parade with most of the kids from the high school in it. Last year the parade was on a warm sunny day.
I sat on the sidewalk and watched, and tried to imagine this place as my hometown. I live here, but it doesn't live in me, the way that it does for a 19-year-old who has lived
here every day of his life. From little towns like this come salt of the earth people with simple, uncluttered perspectives. When our nation goes to war, in many cases it is
people from towns like ours that go overseas and sometimes die.
Every Memorial Day, our little town puts out a cross in the park for each of its sons and daughters that it lost in years past. It's not as bad as it looks from across the street. Yes, there are a lot of crosses
for a small town, but the city fathers actually put out one for each person who was from our county. The county seat is here, but the real reason is probably that the gesture seems more at home
in this quiet little place. When you walk up close, and read the name, and wonder how young they were, if they died instantly or suffered, if they had kids old enough to know them or if their fathers
tried not to cry at their funerals and if their parents live at the same house, and if they do, how dated are the things they had tacked up on their old bedroom walls, and if their mother still has their bicycle in the garage.
When you think about stuff like that it really does seem like a lot of crosses, and you begin to think that paying your respects from across the street had been an emotionally safer idea.
Among the crosses, this one. He went to school near here, and by all accounts was a great person. He was shot down the first day of the first Gulf War. There was great hope that he had ejected.
A huge effort was put forth to find him. There were clues that the Iraqis captured him. Weeks bled into months, and then years. In 2003, before the invasion, many people wanted to
see Saddam Hussein's regime toppled. In our area, there were a few people who were hoping against hope that Scott would be found alive in some Iraqi prison. Nothing. Last year, the trail
lead all the way back to a spot near the crash site, uncovered by sands. It revealed that he had been dead all along. Thousands of people lined the route in Jacksonville when his remains
were returned, 18 years after he died. I was there and heard a very moving speech from the Governor and saw the spot on the Memorial Wall where his name is engraved. On that day, there were a lot of well meaning
people who said something about closure and the last chapter, but looking at this white cross you realize that the story isn't over until all the people who really loved him are gone also.
"Real freedom is the sustained act of being an individual." WW - 2009
Now At The Hangar
June 2011 At The Hangar
May 2011 At The Hangar
April 2011 At The Hangar
March 2011 At The Hangar
January 2011 At The Hangar
December 2010 At The Hangar
November 2010 At The Hangar
October 2010 At The Hangar
August 2010 At The Hangar
July 2010 At The Hangar
April 2010 At The Hangar
January 2010 At The Hangar
December 2009 At The Hangar
November 2009 At The Hangar
October 2009 At The Hangar
September 2009 At The Hangar
August 2009 At The Hangar
July 2009 At The Hangar
June 2009 At The Hangar
May 2009 At The Hangar
April 2009 At The Hangar
March 2009 At The Hangar
January 2009 At The Hangar
December 2008 At The Hangar
October 2008 At The Hangar
September 2008 At The Hangar
August 2008 At The Hangar
July 2008 At The Hangar
June 2008 At The Hangar
May 2008 At The Hangar
April 2008 At The Hangar
March 2008 At The Hangar
February 2008 At The Hangar
January 2008 At The Hangar
Christmas 2007 At The Hangar
November 2007 At The Hangar
October 2007 At The Hangar
September 2007 At The Hangar
August 2007 At The Hangar
July 2007 At The Hangar
June 2007 At The Hangar
April 2007 At The Hangar
March 2007 At The Hangar
February 2007 At The Hangar
January 2007 At The Hangar
December 2006 At The Hangar Part 1
December 2006 At The Hangar Part 2
December 2006 At The Hangar Part 3
December 2006 At The Hangar Part 4
November 2006 At The Hangar
October 2006 At The Hangar
September 2006 At The Hangar
August 2006 At The Hangar
July 2006 At The Hangar
June 2006 At The Hangar
May 2006 At The Hangar
At The Hangar In April 2006
At The Hangar In March 2006
At The Hangar In February 2006
At The Hangar In January 2006
At The Hangar In December 2005
At The Hangar In November 2005
At The Hangar In October 2005
At The Hangar In September 2005
At The Hangar In July 2005
OSH, Illinois and SAA June 13, 2005
At The Hangar June 13, 2005 Part II
At The Hangar In May 2005
At The Hangar In April 2005