I hope you enjoy my blog, a collection of articles and thoughts regarding my interests. I'm a married father of two that loves to write about gliding, hunting, fishing, camping and any outdoor passion. Oh yah, I'm a quadriplegic. I hope this is informative to some, entertaining to others, and interesting to all. Let me know what you think. If you'd like an article for your publication, I've got words I haven't even used yet!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Everybody Has A Story

We were camping in southern Texas a  few years ago, and right next to the campground was a channel that led from the Gulf of Mexico to the city of Brownsville. There was always lots of interesting boats travelling up this channel. Sometimes there were shrimp boats, sometimes there were fishing boats, and sometimes large ships. In the city of Brownsville there are facilities to build and repair huge oceangoing oil rigs. One morning while I was sitting out in front of our camper enjoying the morning sunrise and a cup of coffee under a palm tree, I noticed a large drilling rig looming in the distance. I pointed it out to my wife and daughter, asked for my video camera, and off I went to watch the rig travel by. I zipped up the walking trail to a vantage point overlooking the channel, and parked right beside a vacant bench. Soon a car pulled up and parked, and an elderly gentleman got out and slowly and laboriously made his way over to me with the help of his cane.

"That looks like a big rig," he said, sitting down on the bench while holding his cane in both hands.

"It sure is, look how many tugboats it takes to manoeuvre it. They're in front and behind!" I said.

"Are those rigs self-propelled?" He asked.

"Well I'm not sure, I'm not from these parts. I'm from Canada and this is my first time down here. This stuff is all new to me!"

"I'm not too familiar with this either, but it sure is interesting," he said.

One of the great things about travelling and camping in different places, is the people you meet. At my age I am learning from experience, and maybe from my situation, not to prejudge people. These days it seems like everybody I meet is interesting. It bothers me when I see elderly people walking around the mall and they are treated with disrespect by younger people. These older folks were the pinnacles of our society not so long ago, and they have a lot of lessons to teach to the new crowd that is coming up. When we are young we think that we are doing and learning new things, but we find out later that we are only reinventing the wheel. When you see an elderly person that is shuffling along doing as good as they can, you have no idea upon first glance if that person was a doctor or a lawyer, a farmer, a successful businessman or woman,  a great parent or grandparent, or a wonderful spouse unless you take the time to ask them about their story. I have come to believe that everybody has a story.

On that note, I continued the conversation with my new friend.

"So what is your story, what did you do?" I asked.

"Well," he said with a smile, "I spent my life in aviation."

He had my full attention now! It seems that anybody that is been bitten by the aviation bug can sit and chew the fat with anyone else that has the same affliction.

"What did you fly?"

"Well I flew a lot of different things," he said, "it started when I was a young fellow and joined the Air Force."

"Wow! You were in the Air Force?" I asked.

"I figured that if I had to join the military anyhow, I didn't really want to be on the ground, and that flying would be exciting. They started my training in the smaller airplanes, and it seemed like no time and I was sitting in the cockpit of an F4 Phantom in Vietnam. In those days they pushed us through quickly," he replied.

I was blown away, this friendly unassuming gentleman was in my eyes at the pinnacle of aviation, to me I might as well of been sitting beside a famous movie star or sports figure.

"I've had a little bit of experience with aviation, but nothing like you have!" I said.

"Now we weren't like the aircraft carrier guys," he said. "We had almost no experience, so they sent us over to Vietnam and built us a really long and wide runway. Then they loaded us with bombs and sent us straight in to drop them, and we flew straight home to land. The guys that were flying for the Navy off of the aircraft carriers, now those guys were pilots!"

"You guys must have been good pilots too." I said, sensing that he was downplaying his achievements.

"As we gained experience, we got to be better pilots, but those first few missions we were sure green!"

"So what did you do after the war?" I asked.

"Well, when we got back from Vietnam it seemed like the only thing I knew how to do was fly, so I became a flight instructor. After a while I started my own flight school, and then started a charter business flying people up north into Ontario for fishing and hunting. Well the business took off and I ended up owning my own airline in the end," he said matter-of-factly.

I was in awe of this man. People were walking by on the walking path looking at an old man talking to a handicapped guy in an electric wheelchair. I could see the condescending look. I wanted to stop them and say, 'Do you know who you're looking at here? This man is a fighter pilot and Vietnam Veteran. He is one of the top pilots in the world, and he risked his life so that we could have this freedom. He also is a flight instructor that built up his own airline!'

It seemed so unfair that at first glance people's first impression of him was that he was just a little old man, not worth giving the time of day. This man could write books on his experiences, I really hope that they are recorded somewhere. We chatted about his flying experiences for another half-hour or so.

"I guess I had better get going," he finally said, slowly getting up and walking with the help of his cane back to his car.

"What's your call sign?" I asked.

He stopped and paused, stood straight up with chest out, and slowly turned around with a proud smile.

"Wes," he said confidently, "my call sign's Wes."

"It was a pleasure to meet you Wes, I really enjoyed it." I replied.

Wes slowly turned around still beaming with pride, and made his way to his car. He got inside and closed the door, and I noticed him sitting and staring into space for a few seconds with a grin on his face. I imagined him at the controls of a powerful Air Force fighter jet. He started his car, and with a smile and a wave he pulled away.

I feel very lucky to have met Wes that day. It reminded me that when we meet people that seem to be elderly, disabled, or even just down on their luck, we cannot prejudge them. If I wouldn't have taken the time to ask, I never would've been fortunate enough to see a few pages of Wes' story.


Everybody has a story.