Posted on January 16, 2006
Interesting read yesterday in the San Diego Union-Tribune on the Greek tragedy which has become the life of Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
“Everybody knew he was a nice guy and an above-average pilot,” said Clement, 56, now a FedEx pilot who lives near Memphis, Tenn. “But as for leading a squadron, he didn’t have those skills.”
Back then, before he retired from the Navy and ran for Congress, Cunningham was known to the general public as a war hero. He was the gutsy fighter pilot who shot down five enemy aircraft during the Vietnam War, thereby becoming the only Vietnam-era naval aviator to earn the coveted title of ace.
But among his fellow officers and pilots, Cunningham – who pleaded guilty last month to taking $2.4 million in bribes as a congressman – had a somewhat different reputation. He was considered a bit buffoonish, a solid pilot but a less-than-stellar officer, a guy with a knack for self-promotion but not much talent for military leadership.
Few of his fellow officers considered Cunningham a shining intellect, and they had varying degrees of patience for his long-winded stories and occasional acts of insubordination. Despite his Vietnam medals, he had difficulty advancing in his 20-year Navy career, several officers who served with him said.
Regular readers are aware of the fact that your correspondent, although not of Cunningham’s generation, felt more than a little let down by his behavior in office. Even having said that though, I can’t escape sensing a whiff of schadenfreude in the tone of some of those quoted, a sense almost of unseemly, wounded score-settling – for all his faults and manifest flaws, the man still has five more MiG kills than most of his critics.
And even if all of this were true, this whittling down of an already beaten man’s only remaining source of pride to less heroic proportions, it feels a bit like kicking him when he’s down. And it’s not just anyone they’re kicking, and not for his crimes in office, but a former shipmate, someone the critics served with and fought with.
We can be pretty hard on each other, but we usually keep it in the family.
This isn’t how it’s done.