Monday, October 26, 2009

A Fighter Pilot's Life (Fiction)

He was just a boy of 10. It was 1933. He was sitting on a stone wall looking out at the wheat field of his family farm. All he knew up to this point in his life was living and working on the farm and he didn’t have a problem with that. His name was Tom. His full name was Thomas B. Fuller. The “B” stood for Bennett, his mother’s maiden name. Nobody called him Thomas except his mother and that was only when she wanted his attention or when he was in some kind of trouble, which wasn’t very often. He wasn’t called Tommy either, just Tom. Tom realized the country was in the depths of a depression but his family was getting by. The Fuller Family had lived on and ran this farm in Nebraska for over 80 years. Even though they would have been considered poor Tom didn’t think so. He had a family that loved him, had a roof over his head and clothes on his back. Since he lived on a farm, they had wheat, vegetables, cows, pigs, and chickens so he never wanted for food.

On that day sitting on the stone wall Tom heard a sound overhead, looked up and saw an airplane. He had never seen one before. He had heard about airplanes from Pete Smith when he went to town. Pete was known as ‘Ole Pete’ but Tom didn’t know why because Pete didn’t seem that old. Pete had served as a Fighter Pilot in WWI, but didn’t like to talk about the war. When Tom would ask Pete what it was like to fly an airplane Pete’s eyes would light up. Pete would describe the joy and exhilaration of flying, and what is was like to be free from the bonds of earth. When Tom saw that airplane flying through the sky he started to run, following it, waving his arms wildly. The pilot dipped his wings acknowledging Tom. At that moment Tom vowed that someday he would be a pilot.

Tom’s schooling was uneventful; his math skills could have been a little stronger. He was also a little on the shy side, not a social butterfly, but he was friendly. When he graduated from high school in 1941 he knew that his family didn’t have the money to send him to college but that didn’t matter to Tom. Then on that fateful day, in December when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the whole world and Tom’s life changed. The next day Tom went to town and signed up for the Army. After his basic training Tom was sent to San Antonio, Texas to start his training in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The training wasn’t easy. But his instructor told him he was one of the best stick-and-rudder men he had ever seen. Tom was sent to Europe. He flew the P-51 Mustang. It was a fast, stunningly beautiful airplane and he loved flying it. Even though flying provided Tom with much happiness the job he was assigned to do would not be considered a happy one. He was fully aware that Nazi Germany was evil and the allies were fighting on the side of good. He would escort bombers, because the P-51 fighters were known as ‘little friends’. He would shoot at German Fighters to protect the bombers. With the four 50 caliber machine guns, the enemy’s airplanes would sustain very heavy damage. Tom was also tasked with strafing ground positions such as troop trains, aircraft hangars, trucks, tanks, and columns of enemy troops. When they say war is hell, it is true.

After the war Tom went back to the family farm. It was now 1948, Tom was 25, and he decided he would take advantage of the G.I. Bill and go to college. He liked History and decided to major in that. In a very short time history was to take a big part in Tom’s life again. The Korean Conflict started in 1950. Since Tom was a WWII Veteran and had already flown in combat he again found himself in an airplane, this time as an F-86 Sabre pilot. The U.S. Army Air Corps was now the United States Air Force. He flew over the Yalu River in Northwestern North Korea in an area known as MiG Alley. The ‘dogfights’ were a big part of being an F-86 Sabre fighter pilot. He would also strafe ground targets and provide Close Air Support. The war was over in 1953 and Tom went home. He had made a promise to himself that he would finish his college education and get a teaching degree in History. Tom found a job working at the hardware store in town and the owner let him live in the small apartment upstairs. Now he was settled down at home during peacetime with a job and attending college. After completing college he got a history teaching position at a local community college. So instead of participating in history as he had in WWII and the Korean Conflict he was teaching it to young people. That is where Tom met the most beautiful woman in the world – her name was Mary. Mary Ellen Palmer to be exact. They met on a cool autumn day in October of 1955 and they started dating. Before long they had a full-time relationship. They were very much in love. A couple of years went by and Tom and Mary decided to get married. They planned on getting married in 1958 on the 12th of June. Tom was 34 now and Mary was 33. They weren’t a rich couple and didn’t have a lot of material things but they were happy. It was now the 1960’s and it seemed that anything was possible. The country had a young president and human beings were beginning to explore space. Tom and Mary were now thinking of having children as Mary was now 36. They had a 5-1/2 pound baby boy on May 12th 1961 and his name was Charles Daniel Fuller. They called him Charlie.

As the years went buy Charlie grew older and Tom and Mary’s marriage kept growing stronger. It was now 1969 and Tom had become a Professor of History at the University and he was working on writing a book. The year 1969 was a year of wonder with man landing on the moon and it also was a year of trouble and strife with the war in Vietnam and the protests at home. In 1973 Tom turned 50 and his book “Homeward Journey” was published. It was a story about war veterans coming home. Tom himself had close friends from two wars that did not make it home. Tom and Mary now had a little more disposable income and decided to take a vacation to Tahiti. It was now 1978 and they had been married for 20-years so they felt they deserved the vacation. The next year, 1979, when Charlie turned 18, he joined the Air Force. He applied to Officers Candidate School (OCS) and was accepted. After he became a 2nd Lieutenant he applied for Flight School. It wasn’t easy getting accepted even with his father’s service. But he eventually got accepted. The Flight School took a little over a year and it was hard work. Tom was so proud of him when he received his pilot’s wings. Charlie learned how to fly an F-15 Eagle and was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Then in August of 1990 he was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. Tom thought that things had now come full circle.