grandfather flying

March 22, 2012
By , palatine, IL
I never really got to know my grandfather that well. He died when I was four years old from lung cancer, but at least he died peacefully in the comfort of his children’s home. I only possess faint memories of Papa (the name I called him), like rushing up to his room when I was little to wake him up, but each story my father tells me brings me a bit closer to him. Towards the last years of his life, my grandfather wrote memoirs about hundreds of events he has gone through, each one containing a different message. The story I am about to write tells about a time when Papa was young, and it is one of my favorites. It is told through his eyes.

Scary is one thing; petrified is another. I was about twenty five years old and I had just joined the navy. The patriotism for my beloved United States was at an all time high, and I felt like I needed to show it. One of the first things that new members had to do was partake in a training flight, and my first training flight from Andria Air force Base, Italy to Scottfield, IL. It will be forever engraved in my mind. Our pilot, a six foot five Texas Boy, had the controls of the aircraft and I could tell he was nervous. This was only his second flight, but he was already an expert flyer. As the flight droned on and on, he got more and more relaxed. On his left side were a row of silent magnet switches which were equivalent to the ignition in an automobile. His legs opened up and rested against the side, but he inadvertently switched off the two left wing engines which threw us all in a panic. Our plane could maintain altitude with one engine on each side but not with both out on one wing. We immediately began throwing everything not nailed down out the side door to lighten the plane to at least make it back to land, as we were about twenty five miles out over the Gulf of Mexico.

After all was thrown overboard, the next order came to abandon the plane by parachute and hopefully the coast guard, who had by now been alerted of our situation, would be there to pick us up. One by one the crew went out until only the pilot, crew chief, and I remained. I stood in the doorway I can remember the crew chief telling me to count to ten before pulling the rip cord. Hell, there was no way I was going to count to ten. However, I found myself holding onto the side mount and not being able to let go. I looked down and realized that there was no way I could do this. Finally the crew chief, recognizing my dilemma, simply put his foot in the small of my back and yelled, “Geronimo,” and out I went.

I fell for what seemed to be an eternity. Hands shaking, I pulled the cord to my parachute when it was appropriate, thus starting my subtle descend down to the Gulf of Mexico. My wind burned face crashed into the icy, cold ocean and goose bumps immediately encompassed my entire body. There was no way I would have been able to endure this without the help of my navy buddies who had jumped out before me. We knew that the coast guard had been informed of our situation while still on the plane, but they were nowhere in sight. I remember thinking, “It’s a good thing my mom made me take those swimming lessons when I was young, or else this would be a lot harder than it already is.” Soon after I had splashed into the water, our crew chief came crashing in telling us that the coast guard would be here in about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes? I thought the coast guard was supposed to be ready for any emergency in the water, but I guess not. Our crew stayed there, having to tread water in order to survive. It was a much more difficult task than it sounds.

Finally, we saw the coast guard’s helicopters flying towards us, and I don’t think I heard grown men scream in joy like that ever again. The helicopters slowly hovered lower, creating ripples in the ocean that went on forever. They sent out long rope ladders that we were able to climb up into the helicopter, and trust me, climbing one of those ladders is extremely difficult. Once I was able to sit down in the safety of that helicopter, the thought hit me that this event could have been the end of my life, and I instantly thanked God for his guidance. We flew back to the coast guard’s base in Arizona, and then they promptly sent me on a flight back to Chicago, where I was going to be able to see my newlywed wife.

The face that my wife made when she heard the story will be with me for as long as I live. She was more panicked than I was when I was actually experiencing everything. Because of her, I had to drop out of the navy forever, even though I wanted to express my patriotism to America. I guess I’ll never know what the life of true navy member would be, but I know what a life of a proud father and husband has been.

Every time my father reads me this story, it brings a smile to my face. I know Papa was a courageous person just from this event although I barely remember his time spent with me as a young boy. This story made me realize that your life must be lived to the fullest, because you never know when something like cancer could end it. I know there are many stories that my father still has of him, and I can’t to hear them throughout my life and get to know my grandfather better with each one of them.





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