Farewell, Great American

It is a blessing to be part of an institution where your best people can be described as a great American, a good s#hit, or in some rare cases, both. The gentleman you see above is both.

I chose this picture for one simple reason. He is kneeling down to engage with our nation’s future. He is making eye contact. He is spending his time not with those who can do the most for him in return, but rather with those to whom it means the most.

CAPT Greg McWherter, former and twice Commanding Officer of the Blue Angels, retired today in a Pensacola-based ceremony. It ended where it began. What started with shenanigans at Mustin Beach will finish with quality family time and what is sure to be unrivaled commercial success. Every winter eventually gives way to a spring bloom. This is just a new chapter in an already incredible book.

Greg gave more than 25 years in faithful service. As the kids would say, he crushed it. The Navy was lucky to have him that long. There is no doubt that greener pastures lie ahead. He has earned them, as have K, W and K (only initials for the sake of privacy).

Those who benefited the most from Greg’s time in the Navy are the Sailors who were entrusted into his care. It’s logical to think, because so many of them were young, that they didn’t know how good they had it. I think they knew, and I hope they have a profound appreciation for it even today. The only category of people more fortunate than the aforementioned young Sailors is those of us who could call him both squadron-mate and friend. I know how good I had it, and I know how good I have it still.

My brother, thank you for the learning, camaraderie, and most of all, the fun. Always fun. I will forever remember and always cherish stories about the splitter fairy, various formations, and Majors who forget (or do not feel inclined) to knock. I don’t know how the apple pie got so mangled. Maybe it just came that way when we bought it?

Boss, you are cleeeeeeaaaaared for takeooooooooooooooff.

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It’s Time We Have an Honest Talk About This

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I keep a list of potential blog topics on my iPhone. These ideas can come from anywhere. They typically spring from something I’ve seen, read or experienced. Sometimes my ideas come from readers; thank you for that. When life overtakes me, as it has done of late, my ideas sit unattended. Even with the benefit of a time surplus, many fledgling blog posts never hatch. That’s just the way it goes. For me, anyway. I might get to them on a rainy day. Often enough, the central theme of my intended topic is no longer relevant and so the notes section of my iPhone is reduced by one line.

About two months ago, I traveled to the Southeastern United States. I dutifully proceeded to the rental car agency to pick up my vehicle. I got an epic upgrade. This made me smile. I started driving, eventually making my way to an interstate. Along the side of the interstate, just beyond the frontage road, was a humble home adorned in a curious manner. The home didn’t stand out in any way save for the enormous Confederate Flag flapping in the breeze on an industrial grade flag-pole. This did not make me smile. Quite the opposite, actually. It felt like a world-class gut punch. More accurately, and for the benefit of those who played football in the 70s or 80s, it felt like I went up to block a field goal with arms extended, and an opposing player buried the crown of his helmet directly below my sternum.

Perhaps I’ve tipped my hand. If you already think you disagree based on my reaction, I can only ask that you keep reading.

So there it sat. On my iPhone. My great idea for a passionate blog post. Confederate Flag is how it read. It sat some more. I stared at it most every day. Now there is a substantial row in the wake of a tragedy. My hesitation has made me appear, not as a visionary, but as a reactionary. For that, I apologize, and I ask that you further indulge me.

I’m compelled to tell you that my recently frenetic pace has not permitted me the luxury of reading any of the numerous articles on this topic. From what I gather, they are focusing on the states’ use of the flag in one form or another. I’ve also avoided reading these articles in order to maintain some purity of thought. I want my raw thoughts on the matter to be fully exposed. If that means I’m not as well researched or polished, so be it. I hope you’ll be accommodating regardless.

What happened to me on that surprisingly cool but characteristically humid day in SEC territory? I was upset. I was upset because I couldn’t think of one valid reason for the man/woman/family or whomever lived in that house to fly that flag. Not a single one. Do they have the right to fly that flag free from criminal harassment? You better believe it. But I also have the right to voice my opinion on the matter, on this blog or elsewhere. They have their freedom; I have mine. I’ve fought to defend both.

My next order of business is to fly a lead-pursuit profile to intercept my soon-to-be antagonists. They will claim I am using generalities to cast aspersions on the South and those who inhabit her. I am doing no such thing. One of my two parental units is very Southern. I spent parts of my youth and every summer with her family in the deep South. I loved it. The landscape, the people, and the way of life have more admirable qualities than I could ever recount here. People smile and exhibit tremendous hospitality. The food is awful for you but it tastes so wonderful. Southerners know how to slow life down so it can be savored like a tall glass of sweet-tea. They know when to ditch out of work early to go fishing. The men wear a coat and tie to church, even when the heat is stifling.

I would even wager that there are a great many African Americans who are proud to be from the South, and who also embody the incredible qualities I detailed above. Several come to mind immediately.

But that’s not the entire story. In another time, quality of life in that part of the country was not at all evenly distributed. I cannot put that any more gently. You know what happened. I know what happened. There is no reason for any of us to pretend otherwise. That pain lives on, and the widespread presence of the Confederate Flag perpetuates it. You will notice that I did not talk about the battle flag of Northern Virginia (or whatever). Although that might be a worthy discussion in another venue, in this example, such pedantry is nothing more than a mechanism for avoiding the real issue.

In my worldview, there are only two reasons to fly the Confederate Flag. There is legitimate preservation of history, and there is everything else. Legitimate preservation of history is a valid reason. Everything else is rubbish. If you are conducting a Civil War reenactment in a gray uniform, fly those colors. If you work at Gettysburg or any other sacred site where so much American blood was spilled, fly those colors. If you are tending to a graveyard for Confederate soldiers, fly those colors (please fly the American flag as well). There is no reason to run from our history. Instead, we should preserve it and remember it so we never allow ourselves to return to such an awful place. While this awful time in our history should be acknowledged, it’s something entirely different to celebrate it.

My everything else (and hence rubbish) category consists of any Confederate flag on a tattoo, on the back window of a car or truck, at a home, or any other similar display. Germane to the current media landscape is my firm belief that there is no possible explanation for why the Confederate flag should be flown over any government building, be it local, state or federal. Save me the states’ rights and “heritage not hate” discussion. It’s hollow. You can be justifiably proud of ancestors who served or died on the side of the Confederacy without lifting up their cause. I do not think all Confederate soldiers were evil and seditious any more than I think all Union soldiers were magnanimous and righteous. Do you honestly believe there weren’t soldiers in blue uniforms who were every bit as racist as their adversaries in gray? Maybe more? Vast numbers of those young man were involuntarily pressed into service based on where they lived and nothing more.

Moving to the modern day, I don’t believe that everyone with a Confederate flag on the back window of their pickup truck is a racist. I believe some of them are. I believe the rest have a misguided view of what heritage means and have failed to consider the perspective of those who don’t look upon that era with such fondness. Shackles, bondage, beatings and oppression can have that effect. It is time we move away from that darkness, and not back toward it.


 

This is a sensitive and passionate topic. Please share your opinions with respect. Contrarian views are acceptable, hate is not. Simply be kind, and all will be well.

 

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I Identify as Tom Brady

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I want the Super Bowl Rings. I want the huge house. I want the Uggs. I want it all. And I get to decide. That’s apparently how this works.

Through an unfortunate series of bizarre but comical events involving actual Twitter combat with keyboard warriors, I learned of a whole new world. It’s really not new. It was new to me. This world comes complete with its own language and ideology. I learned all about it. Let it suffice to say that when Bruce Jenner made his announcement, I was well prepared. The sentiments he expressed, and those who supported him expressed, were neither shocking nor disorienting. I will give you a primer.

They / Them: You will notice that I wrote the word “him” in reference to Bruce Jenner. Traditional pronouns such as “he” and “she” are considered disrespectful (if not offensive) to those who don’t align themselves directly with a particular gender. By using the above bolded pronouns, you don’t place people in uncomfortable silos. “They have such pretty hair, don’t they?”

AFAB: Assigned Female at Birth. The creator, if you believe in such a being, voted someone into life with the appropriate plumbing. But that was just the initial assignment. Follow-on gender assignment – through surgery, hormones, simple declaration, or a combination of all three – is entirely up to the human in question. “I was AFAB. Since then, I feel better as ________.”

Cisgender: Most humans likely fall into this category. Cisgender folk are those whose lifestyle is aligned with the plumbing they were assigned at birth.

Gender Binary: “The term gender binary describes the system in which a society splits its members of male and female sexes into gender roles, gender identities and attributes.” In the context of this discussion, it might be more illustrative to state that there are many who oppose the gender binary concept. They believe gender is an unnecessary categorization, and that one can fluidly move from one to the next because they are above all just a person, and not simply a man or a woman.

The theme I’m presenting here is that who and what you are is evolving toward self-determination. I’m not talking about working hard to become a lawyer or a banker. I’m talking about the boxes you check when filling out a job application. Female. Caucasian. Italian-American.

Which brings us to the beleaguered former-head of the Spokane NAACP, Rachel Dolezal. Although she never signed an affidavit stating she was African-American, she was marketed that way, she was aware she was being marketed that way, and she did nothing to stop it. Excepting the fact you don’t and shouldn’t need to be an African American to serve with the NAACP, she certainly played the part. Here is the before…..

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And here is the after…..

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Before the stones start flying, please give this woman credit for devoting much of her life to civil rights activism.

Her parents dispute this claim, but according to Dolezal, her struggle started early.

The clues can be found in her 5-year-old self-portraits, Dolezal explained. She recalled using brown crayon, rather than peach, to portray herself, and drawing herself with black, curly hair, not the straight, blonde locks she grew up with.

In an interview with MSNBC, Dolezal denied being a con artist while insisting she’s being true to herself after having been “socially conditioned (to) be limited to whatever biological identity was thrust upon me.”

Do you see the common thread here? We are still talking about assignment and identity, just in a different way. If you can swap genitalia and swallow bottles of hormone pills, why can’t you inject skin pigment and change your hairstyle? Do we not discuss it because the answers scare us? I really think we, as a society, need to deal with this movement consistently and uniformly. We either decide that you are what you are when you exit the birth canal, or we allow people to decide on their own via free will, technology and science.

In the case of the former, you would be welcome to gender reassignment surgery and whatever name changes the law allows, but on paper, you’re a man and you use the men’s restroom. When you apply for a research grant, you apply as a man. In the case of the latter, we scrub all distinctions and you are classified only as a human. We effectively become one large mass of homogenous people, none viewed any differently than the next. If we don’t remove all taxonomy, everyone will be free to float from one gender/ethnicity/race to the next as it best suits them for the situation at hand. That would be unfair. And besides, all the Asian kids getting turned away from Ivy League schools would identify as something else in order to gain admittance.

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Rest Peacefully, Doc Jacoby

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Use of my own platform to share this news is perhaps self-indulgent, but Mark was a good friend and fellow Rough Raider alum.

A man and his dog are dead following a single car rollover on June 7 on the 4WD road that goes from Sherwin Creek Road to Laurel Lakes, according to law enforcement authorities.

According to authorities, the man, identified as Mark Jacoby, a physician from Fresno, was driving his 2007 Toyota 4Runner eastbound on the road near Laurel Lakes at about 6:03 p.m. when for an unknown reason, the Toyota traveled off the road, which is steep, narrow and has multiple sharp turns. The Toyota then went down a steep, rocky mountainside, where it overturned several times.

Mark was a central valley kid who returned home, all of 40 miles up California State Route 41, to continue his career in medicine as a civilian. I’d wager a considerable sum that there are hundreds whose lives were extended by Mark’s expertise in Fresno’s emergency rooms.

I am grateful for my time with Mark; I’m a better person because of it, and because of him. May those whose hearts hurt the most right now find peace and comfort.

Thanks for keeping us flying, Doc. And thanks for maintaining a steady flow of 800 mg Motrin tablets to the Key West SDO desk. Should any angels find themselves in need of a flight surgeon, I’ll know just where to send them.

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We Have This Mess with the Duggars All Wrong

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19 Kids and Counting. That’s their show. It is so named because Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have 19 children. For the purposes of this story, the fact that they have 19 children is less important than the fact that they are devout Christians. Independent Baptists, to be exact. Independent Baptists differ from traditional or mainstream Baptists in that they have shunned any movement toward modernized beliefs and instead have clung to fundamentalism.

19 Kids and Counting is a TLC’s most popular show, which is a good thing for the Duggars. That’s a lot of college tuition.

The Duggar empire recently began unraveling amidst reports that their eldest son, Josh Duggar, who is now 27, inappropriately touched a few of his younger sisters when he was 15 years old. The details are murky, as they should be. There are no outstanding legal issues central to Josh’s behavior that require resolution. It’s done. Or should have been done. The Duggar family handled this situation well within the confines of their legal rights. You don’t have to agree with their approach, but that’s a different issue entirely. Perhaps you believe you would have shipped your 15 year-old son off to prison. That’s an easy decision to make when it’s someone else’s son.

The focus of the current swirl is whether or not release of these police reports was legal. Some “experts” say it was legal. Some say it was not.

John Tull, an attorney for the Arkansas Press Association who is an expert in the state’s FOI law, believes the release of the documents was legal.

See there? An attorney for the Arkansas Press Association says it was legal. Knock me over with a feather. That’s like a lion advising you not to outlaw meat.

What makes the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) determination difficult is that the police investigation occurred in 2006 when Josh was 18 years-old, but it was only pertinent to transgressions from three to four years prior, which means Josh was a juvenile at the time. According to the local county attorney, Steve Zega…

A juvenile record doesn’t cease to be a juvenile record when the person ceases to be a juvenile.

That’s logic I can follow.

The legal thrash and media circus surrounding this issue have distracted us from topics more worthy of discussion. The first of these is the public’s inexorable and unquenchable fascination with schadenfreude. When this story broke, you could hear the cheers erupt in many circles. Oh, the joy of learning that a reality TV family claiming to be devout in their Christian faith is tainted by sexual assault. Who on earth takes pleasure in that? If such news makes you happy, are you better or worse than the person who perpetrated the misdeed? It serves them right, they say. It does? I don’t get that. Never mind. I get it now. It serves them right because it makes them hypocrites.

Which is a perfect segue. It doesn’t make them hypocrites. It makes them human beings, and human beings are deeply flawed. They know that. They use their faith to protect against episodes like Josh’s and to work through them when they occur. And they will occur. They occur because no one is perfect, not even Christians. Many Christians have a shady past. Plenty of Christians have a shady current. They battle addictions. The routinely fall and try to get back to their feet. Being a Christian isn’t about perfection. It’s about forgiveness and the desire to live each day better than the last. It really is that simple.

In Touch magazine is the “news outlet” that filed the FOIA request for Josh Duggar’s police records and manufactured this scandal. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s hard to imagine they have standing FOIA requests in with every rural police department across the country. They got a tip from someone who was most likely jaded at one point or another, and I’m certain they paid handsomely for it.

Lest I be accused of insensitivity, I must make clear that Josh’s acts are inexcusable. It is not possible to explain them away or mitigate them in any manner. That said, the person who shopped this story and found a home for it is a despicable human being. S/he was motivated only by financial gain, and it didn’t matter how many people were hurt in the process. Do you think this person, or In Touch, cares at all about the victims? Of course not. They are content to force them to relive the harm they suffered over a decade ago. There is a special place with year-round temperatures in triple digits reserved for them. Long-term parking is free with validation.

Given what I wrote above, shouldn’t I be searching for a way to forgive these people? Yes, I should.

I’m a work in progress.

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Welcome Home, Chuckie V

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USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70), CVW-17, and the rest of the assets that comprise her carrier strike group completed their deployment today. It spanned nearly ten months. For perspective, that’s…

The human gestation period.

Not part of, but an entire school year.

4.5 inches of hair growth.

7 pounds and 2.5 inches of growth for an elementary school-aged child.

How long it takes the IRS to resolve a case of tax identity theft.

A one-way trip to Mars.

An awful long time to be on an aircraft carrier.

The accomplishments of those returning today are legion. The lessons learned will make their way around the Navy, both shopped and presented by the Admiral and his staff. The noteworthy statistics will make their way into the appropriate ledgers. We flew this many sorties and dropped this many bombs. Most of the statistics are meaningless but for the effects they created. These proud Americans took the fight to the enemy and sent a strong message. That is anything but meaningless.

This past week has been a whirlwind for those aboard the ship as she makes her way back to Sandy Eggo. The vessel itself is overrun by Tigers (friends and family who ride the ship for a week). God love them one and all, but it gets annoying. Please credit me for using the word “it” and not the word “they”. I was tempted. There are airshows that offer little more than a chance to become infamous. And perhaps most importantly, there is one final and Herculean effort to heave a couple of jets into the air that have sat for months in the hangar bay, their carcasses picked apart like those of slain wildebeests on the African savanna. If you don’t think your Maintenance Master Chief is the religious type, you’ve never seen him two days before the fly-off. It’s all over but the crying now. Tears of joy, one would hope.

Many of us (not the families) feel as though these Sailors just recently left. By contrast, they have forgotten what it feels like to drive a car. You done good, Gold Eagle and Team Quicksand. We are grateful for your commitment and sacrifice. It purchased the freedom we too often take for granted. Although we realize our last ten months went too quickly, we acknowledge that yours did not. So thank you.

Now kick up your feet. Watch meaningless television. Eat three cinnamon buns for dinner. Take a nap on the couch. Enjoy a 40 minute shower. You’ve earned it.

If you’d like, come on by the house. I’ve got ice in the shaker and the fire pit is blazing.

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Overdue Medals of Honor. Well done, Mr. President.

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Most everyone is familiar with our nation’s highest military honor. It is awarded to those who exhibit…

Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

It is not an award free from politics. Few are. There are arguably many more who deserve the award and didn’t get it than there are those didn’t deserve the award and got it anyway. But the stringent criteria help keep the award sacred lest it become a mere extension of the Navy Cross (or Distinguished Service Cross, etc.).

It’s bad enough when a deserving recipient goes unrecognized by omission. It’s worse yet when a deserving recipient goes unrecognized by commission. In two specific cases, we fixed that today.

Private Henry Johnson entered the Army in 1917 as part of an all-black National Guard unit from New York. His regiment was unofficially known as the Harlem Hell-fighters. During a German ambush in the Argonne Forest, Johnson, although wounded himself,  protected a fellow wounded soldier with only a knife. Johnson’s wound was just one of 21 combat injuries he would suffer during WWI.

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Sergeant William Shemin was a Jewish-American who, like Johnson, also hailed from New York. During his service, he participated in the Aisne-Marne Offensive as an Army Rifleman. Shemin…

repeatedly left the safety of his platoon’s trench to recover wounded soldiers amid a barrage of machine-gun fire and artillery shells. He was hit by shrapnel, and a bullet pierced his helmet, lodging behind his left ear.

Aside from conspicuous gallantry, what these two men had in common is that they both served a country that only conditionally embraced them in return. I’m proud of what we did today; sometimes we get it right.

From the President,

“It takes our nation too long, sometimes, to (express its gratitude). We have work to do as a nation to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told.

They both left us decades ago, before we could give them the full recognition that they deserve. But it’s never too late to say thank you.”

No, sir. It never is.

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Cruise Quotes

Or brief exchanges. Or in some cases, full-blown dialogue. That the world’s greatest comedy emerges from the bleakest of circumstance is beautiful irony.

1. After lethal weapons employment in actual combat. During the tape review…

Pilot 1: “Great hit. Good secondaries. You do realize that’s an unauthorized mode of the weapon, don’t you?”

Pilot 2: “You know, I was thinking at the time that I probably shouldn’t be doing that.”

2. Australia. Just because.

Pilot 1: “Beam and Coke?”

Pilot 2: “Sure. Why not? We’ve only had like, fourteen. Each.”

3. “I was, uhhhh, keeping up strike group relations. Hey, cruiser chicks need love too!”

4. “7171. Dial it up!”

5. “Yes, officer. There are two bikes right here in this 7-11 parking lot. They appear to have been stolen. I have no idea how they got here.”

6. “Do you guys want to debrief for the next four hours or just get started planning tomorrow’s re-fly?”

7. “Young man, it’s going to work out better for all of us if you don’t ring that bell and announce my arrival over the 1MC. Please.”

8. “No, sir. I’ve not been to legal school. I have been in jail. Does that count?

9. “That’s a cool looking island. Which one is that? (pause) Oh, God.”

10. As said to shore patrol. “The one they are fishing out of the harbor there? It’s okay. He’s one of mine.”

It’s Friday, and you know I want to read yours.

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Faces to go with Names

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A reader was kind enough to send me a photo of this scrapbook page. This is how I remember them, them being the two awesome gentlemen I referenced in my recent memorial day post.

I’d wager a fair sum that those pictures were taken at the Atsugi Airshow.

There is a phenomenon by which our mind ages friends from our earlier years. My first thought upon seeing their pictures was that they look so young. They look so young because they were so young. I’ve always imagined them getting older and more distinguished looking, just like me. If only they had.

I’m attaching a scribd link for anyone wants to download the picture and see it with more fidelity.

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Happy Memorial Day

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The word is out. Thanks to a widespread campaign that has at times bordered on militancy, the public is surely grasping that Veterans Day is for those who’ve served, and Memorial Day is for those who’ve served and made the ultimate sacrifice. Those you honor on Memorial Day should also be honored on Veteran’s Day. The opposite is not true in all cases.

We are potentially over-correcting in this public relations effort. No one wants to be scolded for offering well-meaning thanks and praise. And a wise-man turned blog-father often advised me to take no offense where none was intended. So I don’t. The uncomfortable reaction, though, is understandable. No rational person wants to take credit when it is not his due. I’ve served, and I’ve deployed enough times to miss a school play or two. The difference is that I will make the next one. Those we salute on Memorial Day will miss them all. What therefore distinguishes the two categories is not insignificant.

For reasons that have not yet made themselves clear to me, my heart and mind have brought me to the memory of two great young men, alongside whom I served in the land of the rising sun. They left us much too soon in a tragic mishap when their A-6 intruder collided with inland water on the island of Shikoku.

VA-115 was our one and only A-6 squadron in CVW-5. It was not a good squadron. It was a great squadron. There were two primary reasons for this.

  1. The A-6 was in the sundown process (platform retiring). That gave the squadron the luxury of cherry-picking the very best people in their community. It also gave them access to an unprecedented inventory of spare parts. Awesome people. Up jets. You do the math.
  2. The Eagles, as they were and are called, embraced Japan like no other squadron. When everyone else was sitting in their BOQ room complaining about the weather  and cable TV programming, these guys were crammed into mini-vans on their way to go skiing in the Japanese Alps. To them, misery was optional.

No two officers better embodied bullets one and two above than LT Eric “Hambone” Hamm and LT John “Chowda” Dunne. For the sake of posterity, let it be known that “Hambone” was often truncated to just “Bone”, and “Chowda” frequently showed up in written form as “Chowdah”. The latter callsign was graced with an additional ‘h’ to more properly represent John’s God-awful, obnoxious New England accent. Some accents are cute or pleasant. His was neither.

These two were not only crewed together in the A-6, they were also sewn together at the hip, a fact well-suited for the Intruder’s side-by-side seating arrangement. They lived with the throttle wide open. Bone was good for Chowdah in that he adroitly filled the role of governor for him, thus preventing a repeating series of over-speed conditions. Then again, Bone neutralizing Chowdah was like kerosene neutralizing gasoline. Thanks to them, if ever I’m asked, “Have you ever seen two grown men sprinting around the desert of a Muslim nation wearing nothing but sneakers and a beer in each hand?”, I will have to answer in the affirmative. I tried not to look.

Bone and Chowdah made me smile and laugh a lot. I wasn’t the only one.

As you enjoy this weekend, please take a moment to remember. Don’t feel guilty about having a barbecue with family and friends. Isn’t that how those who made such a poignant sacrifice would want you to celebrate? In my mind, it is. You are enjoying the freedom that they so selflessly purchased on our behalf. Just remember them. Remind yourself that there are those for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness, and for whom Take-Dad-to-School day is anything but joyful.

Bone and Chowdah were great human beings, outstanding aviators, and devoted patriots who died in the service of this great country. On this Memorial Day, I will especially cherish my memories of them, but I will remember them all.

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