My Last Helicopter Flight
I send my four children a letter each month which includes a personal story from my days in the military. This is one of those stories.
The Persian Gulf War ended with a ceasefire treaty signed in Iraq on February 28, 1991 (Iraqi time) which was the evening of February 27 back in the United States (my birthday). I thought it was a very nice birthday present. At the time, I was leading a convoy of vehicles into Iraq, and when I bedded the unit down for the night we were still at war. When I woke up the next morning, the war was over. As I looked at the barren desert around me, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would be going home to my family.
Of course, nothing happens quickly, and we still had a lot of dangerous flying to do. In fact, my company had its only helicopter destroyed after the war ended. We had flown our helicopters so hard and in such bad weather (ie; dust storms) without adequate maintenance that the poor birds were just tired. When one of our crews took off about a week after the war ended, they got about 50 feet above the ground when their engine stopped working. The helicopter fell to the ground hard and was totally destroyed. It didn’t catch fire, and no one died, but all of the soldiers on the helicopter were hurt pretty badly. The copilot was a friend, and it was tough seeing him lying there in the hospital before he got shipped back to the states.
Eventually all things come to an end, and in April 1991, we’d finally got all our gear cleaned and boxed up for shipment back to the states. The only thing left to do was fly our helicopters from our desert location back to a port in Saudi Arabia where they would be covered in plastic, loaded on a cargo ship, and sent back to the good old USA. We were short pilots by that time (not from combat loses, but because they’d already shipped out), so I was assigned a copilot from another company to make the flight to the seaport. I remember the day like it was yesterday. The sky was bright blue with no clouds. We were flying at about a 1000 feet since we no longer had to worry about getting shot down. I let my copilot fly the helicopter while I navigated. From our height, I finally got a good look at what we had been fighting to protect. Since it wasn’t my home, all I saw was a lot of sand, rocks, and small towns located around oasis, and that’s about it. I’d never understood why we were there to be honest (of course if I’d been born there and lived there my whole life, I’m sure I would have felt differently). Anyway, the point of the story is I found myself flying on my last flight. After about an hour, we saw the ocean ahead. Very, very blue is my memory of it. We landed right on the dock (the advantage of flying helicopters). Once we shut down the engine and did our post flight inspection, I thanked my copilot and wished him luck. I mentioned that this had been my very last military helicopter flight because I would be retiring from the army as soon as I got back stateside.
My copilot said, “You should have told me. You should have been flying.”
I said something to the effect of, “No. I’ve done my share of flying. My time as a pilot is over. It’s time to move on to something new.”
Moral of the Story – Everyone’s life has phases. When one phase ends another begins. Some people try to hold onto the old things thinking they can continue to live in that phase of their life, but it’s not possible. When a new door opens, we have to step through to the next phase of our life. We can and should hold on to the good memories of our previous phases of life, but we shouldn’t try to continue living in the past. I’ve come to the conclusion over the past 60 some years that it’s important to enjoy the phase of life you’re in and to make good memories while you can with those around you, because one day that phase of life will end, and you can never get it back. All you will have is your memories of that time. That’s why I believe it’s important to make those memories happy ones for both you and those you love, because you will never tread that way again.