Thursday, June 28, 2007

To Dream of Flight

My dad flew in the Navy in attack jets. He flew multiple tours over Vietnam, was shot down once (made it out okay) and crashed off the carrier once (made it out that time, too). He retired with a chestful of medals, many of which he won multiple times. He was a scrappy, 5'8" wiry terrier of a guy, a Golden Gloves bantamweight boxer in his youth. He left home when he was 16 and lied about his age to get into the Navy. He became a nurse after retiring from the Navy, specializing in Geriatrics throughout his career. He was a warrior and he was a minister of mercy. I knew almost nothing about his heroics, trials, ordeals, defeats and triumphs until after his death from cancer in 2001, when I "inherited" his service records and papers.

He is more of a hero now to me than he was in life. And he was my number one hero in life.

Dad always missed flying. He spoke often of his love for it: the freedom, the noise, the speed, the smell of jet exhaust, the thrill of the catapult shot, the sense of duty and honor he carried with him to the grave. Even after the Navy forced him out of the cockpit, he still loved flight.

I caught the bug myself. I wanted to be a Naval Aviator... but not enough to work hard in school. The closest I got to slipping the surly bonds of earth was when I slipped the surly bonds of a C-130 as I, along with 60-odd other paratroopers, were unceremoniously shat out of the "Herky Bird's" tail end. Bird droppings, indeed.

I often flew with a friend in his private plane. The moment we broke ground, he'd tap me on the knee and say, "You got 'er." I flew the small single engine plane around the Puget Sound, banking along the clouds, navigating by way of familiar landmarks and the "concrete compass" (the Interstate highway) below us. As the sun slid toward the horizon and the shadows grew long, we would wing our way home. When we slid into the final leg, my friend would say, "I got 'er" and land us safely.

I never got a chance to get my own pilot's license. I still want to, but it isn't a priority right now, and I haven't got the time.

But when I became a nurse, the thought crossed my mind: Why not become a flight nurse? I shelved the idea, of course.

But I have a friend who, it turns out, trains flight nurses for the local life flight organization. We ended up talking about flight nursing and I mentioned my dream of flight, but ended by saying that I doubted if it could ever be done at this stage in my life.

My friend laughed, "Why the hell NOT!?"

"I'm forty-two!" I replied rather defensively. "I have a wife and kids. I don't have time to go for that now."

"Crap. Nonsense," my friend retorted. How old do you think the average Life Flight nurse is?"

"I dunno," I said, preparing myself for an alswer that would make me look like a fool.

"Late thirties to mid-fifties- even older, if you are in good shape."

"Really?" I asked, not daring to hope.

"Really. Go for it!" He said.

Well, I talked to my wife about it tonight. She snorted, "Why not!? You always wanted to fly, didn't you?" I guess that means she has given me her blessing.

I wonder if I'll get my own helmet?