Walk into Hacienda del Sol on a Friday noon and you will see a table of anywhere between 12 and 20 men. They are older, late 60s to mid-80s, balding, for the most part trim, some lean forward to hear. Viewed from a distance you would probably classify them as “duffers;” how wrong you would be.
Move closer, listen. The first thing you notice is laughter, camaraderie. Listen carefully and you will hear stories; stories that amaze you. By any measure this is an exceptional group of men. They were pilots; pilots that flew in the old days; the old airplanes; the early jets. They have been to war. They have crashed and burned. They have run through jungles from the enemy and parachuted into oceans. They have been blown out of the sky, captured, imprisoned and horribly tortured. They have ridden huge rockets into space and orbited the earth. They have run large companies. They have been rich and they have been poor. There are pilots who finished their careers as generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors and even captains. There are fighter pilots and bomber pilots and airline pilots and corporate pilots and astronauts and men who have owned airplane companies and been senior executives of corporations and on boards, and men who have landed gear-down and gear-up. They have landed on Navy carriers. They have been married and they have been divorced. They have had children that are successful, some that were problems and some have lost children.
But, listen more closely. The stories are not about their flying, their wars, their accomplishments. There are heroes at this table, but none will admit it. They will tell you they have flown with heroes. The conversation is about the latest University of Arizona basketball victory, colonoscopies, Viagra jokes, trouble peeing, being bald, friends having a tough time, chemotherapy, wives that have passed.
Their stories are about growing up in a different world at a different time when life was both simpler and harder. The airplanes were dangerous and there were no precision or stand-off weapons. Real men flew to far off places trying to win wars and dove down through AAA and avoided SAM missiles and paid for it mentally, physically and with their lives. Men blasted into space and docked with the Lunar Lander.
They do not look impressive but these are real men. They flew in the old days before political correctness, back when men were men and women were women and giants roamed the earth. They are oldtimers – come have lunch with them.
These are the Friday Pilots who have passed away…”we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”
Louis L. Wilson