Are gone now. In the blink of an eye, almost, into a fallow field among the flattened hills and shallow valleys of north central Washington state. Not in combat or at sea out on the forward edges where diplomacy and power merge. Not on work-ups or COMPTUEX. It was a Replacement Air Group (RAG) instructional hop, almost at the end of the years-long training pipeline for a couple of Fleet Replacement fliers and their instructor, along with another bird. Along a very familiar Visual Route that so many of us who have flown out of Whidbey Island at some time or another know well. Less than a week after many of us who post here and so many of you who stop by to read our thoughts and stories noted the Annum past since our friend Lex went west.
For many of us with a certain amount of time and distance behind us, when we got the news, we no longer had to ask ourselves instantly who we knew flying Prowlers or Growlers at the present time. That hard burden now lays with those many of us trained, or mentored or who we know distantly. It now is for their Year Groups to look around themselves, count the numbers and note them lessened. For “PETA” (his tactical call-sign, not the organization, thank you) this one has been a personal loss. Sadly not his first, for his graduating class from the past decade at the Naval Academy was a “Wartime Class,” and several of his classmates have already given the last, full measure of devotion. So while he is already accustomed to the final exit, this marks something so many of us know is very different, somehow more visceral; it is someone with whom you have shared schoolhouse and ready room and flight line. This time, it is indeed personal. His words follow:
I can’t tell you exactly how much we miss you because the quantity is indescribable. Your unwavering compassion for others was only matched by the character in which you delivered it day in and out to everyone around you. Dedicated, hardworking determination. coupled with a smile and caring hand to anyone that asked. Your dignified constancy in the den of unruly student aviators was a feat that you made look easy. In and out of the squadron you were yourself and we loved you for that. You were a lover of life, science, flying and compassion. Those whom you could guide or help, you would or even anyone who just looked to you. Who did I call when I moved to Meridian for the gouge on where to live and how to prepare? You kept your head when we all knowingly or unknowing lost ours either in town or in the ready room. “Mom” was the most affectionate yet ribbing call-sign I think we could conjure. How can you tease a Saint?
Val, in the din of a restaurant in San Diego after a rough day at the range and for you just finished at the boat we had the conversation of “what ifs” and how to remember each in the most dark of moments. Feeling low, it seemed appropriate that even though it wasn’t the best day it could have always have been worse. A petty way to cheer ourselves though hyperbole and until the fantastic dinner and vino did its work to comfort. I never thought I’d be fulfilling your wishes for at least another 70 years. This weekend I’ll find that expensive white wine and watch the sun go below the horizon westward over the water. It seemed poetic to look over the water I never asked why, but where the Severn overlooks the bay always calmed me and so through the unspoken meaning it was understood that’s what I’d do. On the lacrosse field you had that view every day at practice; it’s why you and Sean and many of us from the boat school loved running at Bonita lakes in Meridian. The water and the lights were a reminder of hospital point and of the place that brought us together. I understand now.
That thought of remembering was simple but so poetic and meaningful. A beauty and lover of life and of the good and beauty in all of us. A trait that by comparison to many other strike and Naval aviators seems angelic and so refreshing. You demanded perfection of everyone and strive everyday to meet it like all of us did. You just made it look easier than we knew it was.
It’s incredibly unfair that it was you. I’d give anything to see that it wasn’t but it’s a selfish notion to think that. It is without a doubt that you are one of a kind; I can truly understand the meanings of “priceless” and “irreplaceable.” It’s a gap that can’t be filled. You can now be forever skyward watching us, guiding and urging us as you always did. Until it’s my turn, I’ll be meeting you for the CV and you can lead me to the gates for my Charlie time with that LSO of a gate keeper, St. Peter. Then we’ll have that incredible meal with all the different french sauteed greens and salmon like you prefer and a bottle of great white wine in the O-club in the sky. All will be right. Until then you are in our hearts.
We miss you Val.
Requiescant in pace