To the reader: Some years ago, one of Lex’s friends wrote a beautiful tribute to him. With his permission, here it is.
The NTSB has now posted a FACTUAL report on the accident.
I find it difficult to read and digest a cold bureaucratic report that assesses “causation” for an event that took from me, and from all of us, a friend, a confidant, and one of the most interesting, warm and knowledgeable individuals I’ve ever been privileged to know.
I am comforted, however, because I know that Lex left us doing the thing he loved best. I know that he adored Mary and the girls and that he loved and had immense pride in Chris. His family always came first, but his mistress was the joy of flight. Many of us have spent a career doing jobs we could barely stand. A few have been fortunate enough to find careers that we really liked. But everything Lex said and wrote about flying resonated with how central it was to his very being.
When he retired from the Navy and seemed headed to the Purgatory of cubicle life it didn’t take long for him to find new ways to get back into the air. Whether it was getting time in puddle jumpers, becoming qualified in tail draggers, or flying civilians in 1 v 1 dogfights, we knew that he was back in his natural element and loving life again.
I remember when the possibility of the job with ATAC came up that Lex was as excited as a six-year-old on Christmas Eve. Only a very small number of us ever get the chance to get called back to our great love in life. You get the final salute and take off the uniform for the final time and it all becomes a warm and cherished memory. You miss the closeness and camaraderie of the squadron. You yearn for the freedom when the wheels come up and you fly free through the limitless vastness of the sky. And you miss the pure unadulterated joy of being able to test your skills against all comers knowing that you are among the very best of the best.
When ATAC brought him on board I was happy for Lex. He could once more do things that young boys can only dream of and old men can only remember with great fondness for the lost days of their youth. He would be able, once again, to light his hair on fire and stalk the skies for adversaries. And what more could any man ask than to be called back and to relive the days of his youth?
And then, on one terrible morning, the sky fell upon him. The weather, with the swiftness of a meteor, fell apart and his options deteriorated more rapidly that anyone could imagine. Being the great aviator that he was Lex did everything possible to make it home safely, but on that fateful day the odds were too great. All of his piloting skills were unable to overcome the deteriorating weather and he ran out of altitude and options just yards from the runway. But in my heart I know that he never gave up. He never accepted that he wasn’t going to make it.
So while I read the cold dry words of a bureaucratic report of an accident that occurred more than two years ago I remember the Lex I knew. He was always the funny, intelligent, articulate warrior who had a well-reasoned opinion about all things and who welcomed discussion so long as you could keep a civil tongue. We didn’t always agree on everything but he was never disagreeable. He was thoughtful in a way I aspire to be. He wrote about his aeronautical mistress in a way that would have made Antoine de Saint-Exupéry jealous. He reminded me of the Will Rodgers quote – “He never met a man he didn’t like.”
To some the report will bring closure. But I prefer to remember the Lex who loved life, his wife, his family, and flying. For so long as there are those who remember him and who cherish his words he is not gone. His spirit lives on in his writings and his ideals. I know that I am a better man for having known him and been his friend and I know he had the same effect on many others. What finer legacy than that could any man hope for? And regardless of what the bureaucrats in Washington might think, the real cause of that accident was that God was lonely for someone interesting to discuss the day’s events, and he called the most interesting person I’ve ever known.
And so my friend, this is not closure, and this is not a farewell. This is merely au revoir, until that day when I too cross the bar, and can join the discussion with you once more.