In The Triplet, Gil is an unlikely candidate for being used of God because he comes out of such a humble beginning. I can identify to a certain extent with him in that regard, as I’m sure many of you can as well. Chances are that our origins were not so humble as Gil’s but neither were we born with silver spoons in our mouths.
The photograph associated with this post is real but it’s also a joke because I never—not once in my life before it actually happened—imagined I would grow up to become a pilot.
I didn’t practice for it as a child (although a photographer obviously put me in a pose once upon a time) nor did I grow up with an ambition to punch holes in clouds. In fact, I had only been in an airplane once before I handled the controls of a Cessna 150 at take off in pilot training.
Joe Evans was a friend of my wife’s father. Her father pastored a church in Crestwood, Missouri (a St. Louis suburb) and Joe worked in some capacity with teen-agers and young adults in that church. I spent two summers in that area to be near Marilyn.
Joe offered to take some from the group up for a flight in his light aircraft. She went so I went. It was a night flight and I enjoyed looking down at the lights of St. Louis from the vantage point of his airplane.
Later, after graduation from college in 1967, Uncle Sam thought it was time for me to try on a nicely tailored military uniform so he sent me a draft notice.
I decided Uncle was serious as I was riding the bus into the city for my draft physical so I scheduled an appointment to visit an Air Force recruiter, who told me the Air Force didn’t need any more administrative junior officers at that particular time. Literally on my way out the door he called after me and asked, “By the way, have you ever thought about being a pilot?”
I answered (truthfully but perhaps foolishly), “No.”
He followed up with a second question, “Do you think you might like to be one?”
I responded with something like, “I don’t know. Maybe. I guess so. Why not?”
From that inauspicious beginning, one thing led to another. I passed all the entrance exams and went through OTS at Kelly AFB outside San Antonio in the heat of summer. My pilot training base assignment was Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas (which, by the way, I understand is now a prison facility).
There were approximately 80 or 85 of us that began our “year of 53 weeks” together in 1968. Several of them had long-held ambition to be pilots and some of them had licenses with instrument ratings. I felt some twinges of guilt when I did okay and a few of them washed out for one reason or another. Actually, I thought the whole experience was quite a bit of fun mixed in with all the work.
The program was in three phases:
- Introductory training with civilian instructors in the Cessna 150s
- First jet, the T-37 (Tweet) with military instructors
- Longest part of the year in high-performance T-38 jets that included formation flights
About 50 of us successfully made it through the well-designed program and had wings pinned on our chests. As the old saying goes, “Who would-a thunk it?”