My “Hun” on a Pedestal

March 17, 2016
F100 on stick Lakenheath
F-100 at RAF Lakenheath, England  © Frank Duarte. Jr.

 

I just rediscovered another old love, so beautiful without bombs and rockets and drop tanks slung under her wings! She’s one of the “huns” (F-100) I flew in combat, who now spends her retirement years on a pedestal welcoming visitors to RAF Lakenheath, England, near Cambridge, my last duty station as a USAF fighter pilot and the birthplace of our son. My grey matter is more like charcoal matter these days, but I can still recall forty-seven years ago, in 1968-9, on the opposite side of the planet from Lakenheath, angel #048 took me into combat and brought me home safely every time I flew her, and if memory serves she was the one who even took a hit without flinching for me once. I was on a low angle strafing pass over the jungle of Southeast Asia when I took a 50-caliber slug in the left leading edge wing slat, three feet from the fuselage and six feet from the cockpit. I must have been diving right down the 50 cal gun barrel and it was part of my target, though I did not see its muzzle flashes nor realize I’d been hit.   

CIMG4623A 50-cal is a belt fed weapon that has downed a lot of planes in the history of air warfare. I doubt the gunner gave me “the whole nine yards” (27 feet of the ammo belt), but it’s a reasonable assumption, from where the bullet hit, that there was a lot of lead in the air in close proximity to my face that I was not aware of. But, as Stonewall Jackson proclaimed, God has numbered our days, and until they are up, he was safe in his saddle (and I in my cockpit) no matter how much lead (or steel) was in the air. I was firing four 20-mm cannon (the silver bullet above to the left of the belt of 50 cal bullets) at a rate of 1700 rounds per minute in his direction, and my bullets exploded on impact. I was doing 400 knots and jinking around while he was stationary. It was not a fair fight—the best kind in war. The enemy has my admiration for having the courage to stick to his post and fire away at me as I bore down on him. He was obviously a better than averageF-100 silhoutte headon shot—an F-100 head-on is a slender silhouette and he hit one of the slenderest parts—but I was a pretty fair shot too, so it was most likely the last thing he did on this earth. Our bombs and bullets made such a helter-skelter pile of smoldering kindling out of the jungle that we could not know for sure.

The copper-jacketed, steel-core 50-cal bullet jammed the left wing leading edge slat, rendering it inop, so my final approach to landing was a bit testy—my wounded angel kept wanting to roll left. I compensated with a few more knots of airspeed and right rudder and #048 kissed the concrete more passionately than normal, and all ended well by God’s grace. And today she resides on a well-earned pedestal and I in an easy chair, and it appears she is aging better than I.

 

 

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CANONS OF CODGER CONVERSATION

March 2, 2016

A random compilation for the amelioration of insufferable codger conversation, composed by the chief of codger conversational sinners.

  • As the codger conclave convenes, repeat to yourself three times: I will not interrupt.
  • No more than three sentences about health issues. Organ recitals are absolutely forbidden.
  • Serious talk is encouraged, grave talk is not.
  • Three sentences, maximum, about a grandchild. One grandchild, maximum, mentioned per conversation.
  • Be abstemious with first person pronouns and superlative adjectives.
  • Listen for edification, not for an inhalation break so you can slip a word in edgewise.
  • Do not jump on a word in the speaker’s sentence to take the conversation in a hard turn down a new topical bunny trail. It is maddeningly rude and cannot be excused under the cover of advanced years. (Perhaps the canon most often violated.)
  • If you cannot stick to the thread of the conversation, take another sip of coffee.
  • Humble brags are forbidden. Bald-faced brags are grounds for banishment.
  • The purpose of conversation is not to eradicate silence. If you abhor silence, you have not yet mastered the art of conversation, and time is running out.
  • When a conversational thread is exhausted, the best way to initiate a new one is to ask a question.
  • Listening, or better yet, interviewing, makes new friends and strengthens old friendships.
  • If you realize you are the only one laughing at your jokes, cease and desist. Perhaps one in ten self-diagnosed comedians really is. Observe with discernment: if the laughter of listeners sounds politely forced, it probably is. Apply the same remedy.
  • If the conversation is scintillating, ask more questions to keep it going. If it bores you, remain silent. When all listeners are mute and/or gazing about the room, a considerate codger will cease his monologue. Such discernment with the mouth engaged is a codger’s most challenging multi-task.
  • If your expressed original idea or analysis comes back to you as established knowledge at the next codger conclave, quietly congratulate yourself—do not try to claim the credit.
  • The following are banned:
    • A mid-sentence interruption correcting an insignificant, self-evident error in the speaker’s story—a codger conversation killer.
    • A pause, mid-sentence, followed by, “I’m having a senior moment.”
    • “That’s what I said.”
    • “That’s what you said.”
    • “I bought last time.”
  • The following are allowed:
    • “Tell me again your wife/son/daughter/brother/sister’s name.”
    • “Tell me your name again?” (allowed only for the most advanced codgers)
    • “What did we decide about________?”
    • “Who bought last time?”
    • A one word interjection, when it is apparent the speaker is having a senior moment, filling in the blank in the speaker’s sentence. (He’ll love you forever for demonstrating you are paying such close attention to his story.)
  • If you’ve heard the story before, casually raise your right hand, with only the index finger extended, even with your right ear. When all listeners have their hand in the air, the talker must stop. No exceptions.
  • Debrief yourself on the way  home. If you think you might have dominated the conversation, vow to amend your ways.
  • The toughest commandment of all the canons: Before opening your mouth, ask yourself, would a majority of this group give a hoot about this subject.

If every codger in the conclave can master these canons, they’ll be bosom buddies for life—candidates for sainthood.

Rhymes and Roses: A Personal Testimony

February 14, 2016

 

RHYMES AND ROSES

In my garden, I recall,

In the waning days of fall

My tea roses bloomed the most

Just before a killing frost.

Why it is I can’t explain:

Rhymes and roses flood my brain.

God ordains. I want to say

The metaphor’s untimely.

The back story:

Item #1. Thirty eight years ago, a move from Chicago to Florida ended my rose garden hobby. I had 59 unique plants—hybrid teas, floribundas, and climbers, all with individual name placards, a special underground watering system, and Styrofoam cones to protect them through the Midwest winter. They were labor intensive—a labor of love.

Item #2. Last summer, my literary endeavors began to rhyme. Perhaps it’s my DNA.  My mother wrote lots of poetry and I still have much of it in a three ring binder somewhere. Around the turn of the year, the periodic trickle of poems became a gusher, one or more a day some days, and all with a strong Christian message. Quality aside, I keep asking myself, why is this happening.  If my sphere of influence as a writer/witness for Christ is the metaphoric equivalent of a baseball (and that may be an exaggeration…), the potential for my poetry is the equivalent of #7.5 birdshot. I content myself with the thought that it is a good dementia antidote in my codgerhood. Most importantly, it causes me to focus more on the paramount priority of life—my relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. There really doesn’t have to be any more reason than that.

Item #3. Last fall, a Mayo Clinic doctor told me that my TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack with no permanent damage) was a precursor of a major stroke—a one in three chance within the next year. Well, that has a way of upping the motivation to live coram Deo, though certainly none should be required beyond God’s promises in Holy Writ. I am praying that if and when it happens it is a life-taker, not a vegetable-maker. And I think it’s a very good thing to live each day consciously aware that it may be your last, at any age. Since my days as a young combat fighter pilot, I have not feared death, looking with gratitude on my life as borrowed time, each day a gracious gift from a Sovereign God. With the passing of my beloved, godly brother last year-end, I find myself envious of his state. I so look forward to the day when I can be with Jesus and John and a couple of other famous John’s of the Bible, and other loved ones.

Item #4.  Between 3 and 4 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 10, 2016, in the twilight zone between asleep and awake, that 38-year-old memory of my rose garden came to mind, specifically the season mentioned in the first quatrain of the poem. My first thought was…bizarre! I began to construct it in my mind in poetic terms. Then that memory melded with items #2 and #3 and suddenly I was wide-eyed awake. Is this a metaphor for my stage of life? God talking? A premonition of my demise? Or just paranoia?

I got up, turned on my computer and both quatrains of the poem came together on my screen in not much more time that it took to type it. Extraordinary. I was standing at my stand-up/sit-down desk, and when I reread what I had written in a frenzy, I needed to sit down. I tweaked it a bit to make it a little less morbid, let it age two days, and posted it on Facebook February 12.

Time always adds perspective. A few days later I’m still here and thinking that one-in-three chance mentioned above means there’s a two-in-three chance this is paranoia. An objective observer who knows me might put the probability higher. But our Sovereign God laughs at statisticians.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The Apostle Paul spoke much more to the truth: Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5) One of my favorite Puritans, John Bunyan, made this impassioned plea: “Reader, whoever thou art, think of this, it is thy concern, therefore do it, and examine, and examine again, and look diligently to thy heart in thine examination, that it beguile thee not about this thy so great concern, as indeed the fear of God is.”  In the providence of God, I read that Bunyan quote the same morning I wrote the poem!

So, with a cloud of witnesses of that caliber behind me, I’m not calling this providence paranoia or even idle introspection. My self-examination leads me to credit Rhymes and Roses to the Holy Spirit that dwells within, inclining my will to live more coram Deo. I’ll get that confirmed one day, when faith becomes sight. Maybe the poetic metaphor is untimely. Maybe, at age 72, it is not. My Sovereign God knows.

That is how 8 rhyming lines of 7 syllables per line came to be. The Westminster Confession, Chapter Three, paragraph 1, declares “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass …”   Soli Deo gloria. 

JUMPMASTER

February 5, 2016

Jumpmaster 2

Three years and half-a-century ago I was a Jumpmaster in a new-fangled sport called skydiving. I worked hard to earn that title, and bore it with the arrogance of the young and immortal. In those ancient days only the 82nd Airborne jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, and that for a modest stipend. It was considered pretty radical to do it for the sheer thrill of freefalling at up to 180 mph for up to a minute, then, 14 seconds before life on earth would end abruptly, to pull the ripcord, endure a deceleration that  puts your chin on your chest, your feet over your head and sometimes black and blue brands on the body where the chute straps dig in, thereupon to float in silken serenity, the only sound being the pounding of your heart subsiding in your ears, on down to terra firma…and to pay the pilot for half-a-flight.  I suppose some unfortunate earthbound souls would still consider it radical, even though it’s become a common sport, and much safer with sophisticated, expensive parachutes and designer accessories. You can experience it with excellent HD videos all day long on YouTube from the safety of your sofa.

We used Army surplus parachutes—28-foot diameter C-9 chutes with 28-foot shroud lines, in those early days—and cut panels out and rigged a lanyard on each riser to make them somewhat steerable, about as rudimentary and effective as the Wright brothers pulling on a wire to bend the wings to make their plane turn. Perfect parachute landing falls (PLF’s) were paramount, because the missing panels allowed the parachute to  descend even faster than a normal WW II paratrooper’s chute. I am reasonably certain some of my codgerhood aches and pains have their roots in those whiplash chute openings and hard landings in the middle of the last century, but I have no regrets. When it comes to pre-jump butterflies, I doubt any of the players on the field awaiting the kickoff at the Super Bowl will match the butterfly population in my stomach the first 20-30 times I jumped.

As Jumpmaster we did not jump until I said it was time to jump. I guided the pilot of the plane to putCIMG4613 it in that precise point in the sky, calculated by me (as in the pic above, using thumb and index finger as a gauge), where skydivers would exit the airplane and end up as close as skill permitted to that big white X in some farmer’s pasture. And I taught like-minded crazies how to do it. It was pretty heady stuff for an aspiring fighter pilot who still measured his years in the teens.

After mastering the rudiments of falling in a controlled manner, a process not without its heart-stopping moments, it felt more like flying than falling. In fact it was important not to get so mesmerized with the flying aspect—time seemed to stand still—that you forgot about the ripcord thing. I dreamed of flying then, sometimes waking up in my bed on my stomach, my back arched my arms and feet spread wide and wishing I were a bird so I could do it forever.  There is a video clip of a dream in my grey matter archives that periodically bubbles to the surface (prompting this nostalgic tale), where I am doing loops and rolls over the barn on the western Illinois farm where I grew up…so vividly bizarre I haven’t forgotten it 50+ years later.

There are other images you have not dreamed of that periodically clarify in my fading memory. My mentor was my (not your average) dentist. Doc and I twice jumped into the Mississippi River from 12,000 MSL, one for a summer celebration in Burlington, IA, called Steamboat Days. At a mile wide and length to the horizon in both directions, the Mighty Mississippi was an easy target to hit. We wore US Army surplus smoke flares mounted with homemade brackets on our jump boots that day. Doc’s made red smoke and mine made white. We went out of the plane a second apart and pulled the lanyard on the flare canisters when safely away from it. We then joined up in freefall (not as easy as it might look on YouTube), head-to-head and holding wide-spread hands as we “flew” at 120 mph, turning like a merry-go-round, making a 1000-foot-tall barber pole in the sky with our smoke trails. As we fell face-to-face, Doc had a wide open-mouthed smile and the rushing air blew into his mouth, making his cheeks flap comically like an English bulldog’s jowls when he sticks his head out of a moving car’s window. (We wore goggles to keep our eyelids from fluttering in the same manner—not so comical.) There’s an archived video clip of that adrenaline-soaked moment in my mind that I see every time I think of my dear old friend, and I smile, long after I’ve forgotten the pain he inflicted on my teeth.

I was a founding member of the first Big Ten skydiving club, at the University of Illinois. It was a great date magnet, attracting curious co-eds when more mundane activities could not, especially with this socially-challenged country boy. In the history of depraved mankind the possibility of death in a spectacular fashion has always drawn spectators. I took a date up one Saturday afternoon to let her watch me show off from the perspective of the airplane. As I fell away from the plane, I rolled over on my back and waved.  She had a I’m-not-taking-this-guy-home-to-meet-Momma look on her face. And she was not exactly ecstatic about flying around in a little Cessna 172 with its (large!) passenger door and the right front passenger seat removed, but she was the star of the dinner hour at the sorority house that night.

Once my uncle approached me, shaking his head, as I folded my chute after jumping at a Fourth of July celebration outside a village near home, and boldly prophesied I would not see my 25th birthday.  He was no Isaiah—he was wrong by 47 years so far.

My AFROTC professor at the University asked me if I would teach his knockout teenaged daughter how to skydive. I couldn’t say yes fast enough—few (actually no) fathers threw their daughters at me in those days. His trust in me with such a priceless possession astounds me to this day. After a few weeks of quality time together in training, the big day came. At 2500 feet AGL she boldly eased out the open door of the plane, at my command, and put one foot on the step into the cockpit, the other on the plane’s tire, and leaned forward and grabbed the strut of the high-wing plane in a two-handed death grip as the prop wash tried to blow her off her precarious perch. I was right beside her in the open door, and in the fullness of time I forcefully slapped her fanny, another memorable moment—the noise and her positioning  precluded any other kind of communication—and she pushed off like a well-trained trooper. Her static line snapped taut and opened her orange and white chute a few feet below the plane, then I went up higher and made a free fall jump. When I rejoined her and her father, an Air Force pilot, on the ground, her pretty, smiling face, framed in long, disheveled black hair, was still flushed from the excitement. As he enthusiastically embraced her she said, “Daddy, I did it for you.” I got an easy A in that ROTC class, and graduated with a “regular” commission as a Second Lieutenant in the USAF, just like an Academy grad, rather than the usual “reserve” commission routinely given to ROTC grads. And it was all acquired while having more fun than any testosterone-driven young stud should be allowed to have. Only the LORD knows His mysterious ways.  

The skydiving experience was helpful a few years later when I flew 268 combat missions in Vietnam in an F-100 Super Sabre. I had no fear of the unknown, should I have to eject, where a millisecond’s hesitation could mean death, but by God’s grace I never had to log another parachute jump.

They were glory days, yet another chapter proving the sovereignty of a Gracious God in my life, in spite of my best efforts to shorten my allotted days. To Him be the glory.

ANCIENT OF DAYS

January 16, 2016

F-100F reborn

How old must you be if your airplane has outlived even the US Air Force’s massive “boneyard” of antique airplanes in the desert near Tucson, AZ? At the risk of being accused of spending my codgerhood focused on the rearview mirror, I find this story compelling enough to preserve for my posterity, if no one else.  I am sure my grandchildren will never read of it in any public school history book, for two sound reasons: 1) it is not politically correct and 2) they are, by God’s grace, homeschooled, for which I am forever grateful.  The following article with the picture above appeared January 12, 2015, in the Daily Air Force Magazine :

The last F-100 Super Sabre stored at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., recently left the boneyard for refurbishment and display outside the National Guard Bureau at JB Andrews, Md. The airframe was refurbished by the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing, which actually flew serial number 63-3880 in combat during Vietnam. The two-seat F-100F was repainted in honor of the “Misty” fast-forward air controller (FAC) who directed strikes on some of the most heavily defended targets during the Vietnam War. After retiring from the 185th TFW, the jet was converted into a QF-100F full-scale aerial target, but managed to survive to retirement, unscathed. The 185th ARW’s base at Sioux Gateway Airport is named in honor of Misty FAC pilot and Medal of Honor recipient Col. George “Bud” Day who began his career in the Iowa ANG. The F-100 is slated to arrive at Andrews for display in late January, according to a release. (See F-100 Airpower Classics.)

My life intersects with this story in a number of ways. I flew 268 combat missions in Vietnam in an F-100 (mostly the F-100D, the one seat version, though I flew the two-seat F-100F model across both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean and on a few  combat missions). A fictional version of that experience appears in my first book, Son of Thunder. (A novel, but the air combat scenes bear varying degrees of association with reality.) During my Vietnam tour of duty, the “Misty” fast forward air controller (FAC) program, mentioned in the article, was created to try to stem the losses from using slower-moving light planes as FACs. The guy in the back seat of the F-100F would do the looking and control the airstrikes while the guy in front would fire the smoke rockets to mark the targets while jinking—twisting and turning erratically—at very high speeds and low altitudes to keep them alive. The article says their mission was to “direct strikes on some of the most heavily defended targets during the Vietnam War.” The precise truth is their targets were along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in adjacent Laos and Cambodia, which were officially “neutral territory” by UN declaration. But any fighter pilot who found himself jinking in the crosshairs of brutal enemy AAA along that vital-to-the-enemy supply route would snicker and snort at such an outrageous fiction. Both sides officially denied their presence there.

When the call went out to F-100 pilots for volunteers for this most dangerous mission, I was stationed at Tuy Hoa Air Base and already flying half my missions “out-country,” that is over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, unlike half the F-100 wings located  further south in South Vietnam.  I chose not to volunteer because, in my young adrenalin-addicted, immortal ego I did not want to “direct” other F-100s’ strikes along The Trail. I was already living my fighter pilot dream, killing the bad guys and breaking their stuff on The Trail, and I much preferred to continue, not just locate targets for some other fighter pilot to ravage. I worked hard to get the “good missions,” that is, night patrol on The Trail, when the southbound supply truck traffic was heaviest. As Butch and Sundance justified robbing banks because that was where the money was, I justified the high-risk night missions because that was where the best targets were. It was relatively easy to talk the flight scheduler into assigning me those missions because I was eager to fly them, quickly became the most experienced at them and was smashing a lot of stuff. Besides, most of the other eligible pilots, older guys with families in my squadron, all knew that if God had wanted man to fly at night, he would have been born with a rotating red beacon mounted at the base of his tailbone. To this melancholy day I have vivid memories of dead friends, one whose spectacular demise I witnessed and some who just went out and never came back from those out-country missions, including some Misty friends, and have never been found. My roommate on the beach of the South China Sea, Lacy Veach, USAF Academy grad, future Thunderbird Team member and astronaut, did volunteer to be a Misty. A few months later, as I was coming off the target on a daytime mission in that neutral territory, I heard his voice over the emergency radio frequency, a few octaves higher than normal, swinging under his parachute hung up in one of the jungle’s taller trees, with his unrecognizable F-100F in a smoldering hole not far away. I flew “cap” for him, strafing the enemy soldiers trying to get to him as he anxiously awaited the Jolly Green helicopter’s  arrival (another group of incredibly brave pilots) to perform a daring, successful rescue. In my invincible mindset that was confirmation that I had made the right decision.

Fast forward 30 years, when I was a brand new author and the Misty pilots, now well-deserved legends, condescended to invite a regular old “poge” F-100 jock to speak at their annual gathering of eagles in Colorado Springs. I was humbled and excited beyond belief. Two of those alumni, Ron Fogelman and Merrill “Tony” McPeak, became Air Force Chiefs of Staff and Don Shepperd became director of the US Air National Guard. Bud Day was the first Misty commander who gained renown and a nation’s gratitude as a Medal of Honor winner as a long-time POW and the most highly decorated fighter pilot in US history, and who spent his retirement years fighting for veterans’ causes. Dick Rutan became the first pilot to fly around the world nonstop, non-refueled, and whose plane, built by his engineering genius brother, Burt, resides in the Smithsonian Air Museum. Ron Fogelman and Dick Rutan’s book cover endorsements of Son of Thunder had a great deal to do with its success.

In my introductory remarks to that august body of stick-and-rudder souls, I opined that it was the greatest concentration of heroes ever assembled in one room in the history of America, with the possible exception of when Bud Day dined alone in his cell at the Hanoi Hilton. Afterward Bud came up and shook my hand and said, “God bless your heart,” and I’m pretty sure God is blessing his heart right now in heaven. At the reception after my talk, Don Shepperd’s charming wife, Rose, tried to convince me to write the story of the Misty’s for posterity, but I begged off, sincerely declaring that I was unqualified. Don ended up writing that book himself. Actually he edited it. He wisely let most of the pilots tell their own story. I highly recommend it: Misty. A decade later, in our fulltime RV days, at lunch with Don on a balmy winter day in a Tucson restaurant, he affirmed that I had been correct to turn the assignment down. In telling their own stories, Don had the nearly impossible task of containing their pent-up disgust put on paper at the political micro-mismanagement of that sad chapter in our nation’s history. As an insider he was able—barely—to convince them to tone down their lifetime of frustration. The F-100F in the story above is a tribute to Major General Donald Shepperd, to be placed outside Shepperd Hall, the Air National Guard Readiness Center at  JB Andrews, MD, and his name is now painted on the side.

One final intersection of my life with this story: A year-and-a-half after my tour of duty in Vietnam, while assigned to an F-100 wing in Torrejon, Spain, I was tasked, along with others, to fly an F-100F back to the States and deliver it to…wait for it…the Iowa Air National Guard at Sioux City, Iowa. I’m pretty sure it was not the exact one in the picture, though I did not keep detailed flight logs like some of my friends, and the supply of F-100F models was pretty small by then, due primarily to Misty’s loss rates, the highest of any fixed wing unit in the war.  But by luck, as John Calvin would say (not!), my flight path to Sioux City, with only some minor ad hoc rerouting on my part, passed right over my home town, a village in western Illinois. I got to fulfill another fighter pilot’s dream and buzz my hometown at an altitude approximating the village water tower, then pulled up and did victory rolls till out of sight. For years after, when I visited, townfolks and nearby farmers would be eager to tell me what they saw that day, and no two stories had it quite the same…nor quite right. Over the years the story got embellished in the retelling, and I confess I never let the truth stand in the way of the legend. When I was recently home to bury my beloved brother, so many years after that blatant proof of pride, the essence of original sin (as Augustine diagnosed it and Packer reported it), the witnesses were mostly under the grass in the local cemetery and those still topside are no longer reliable sources.  Now they ask, “Did you really do that?” As Roger Miller summed it up, ‘Kansas City Star, that’s what I are,’ but on a micro scale … and yet another one of countless reasons for repentance in my codgerhood.  Now I know that song really dates me, but I don’t mind. My dearly beloved grandkids think I am so ancient I must have flown top cover at the crucifixion. And that’s okay, too, as long as they know, by the gift of faith, that  Christ died there for their sins and mine  so we could spend eternity with Him in bliss beyond the power of words to convey. Thank you, Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9), for giving me grandchildren and great, consequential friends, and for blessing me with a long life, so undeserved, that I tried so many times to shorten.

And should you, dear reader, in your travels in the USA, come across one of these Super Sabres planted around the country, say a quick prayer of thanksgiving for the pilots, that our Creator chose to make such men for America, just one segment of a vast number who have served our country in war. I’m so grateful our Sovereign God let me hold the stick and dance the wild blue with an inanimate angel for a little while.

ON THE “WRONG” SIDE IN TWO WARS

May 7, 2015

 

Fuzzy tiger shot smallThanks to that internet haven of narcissistic silliness called Facebook, I recently reconnected with a friend I flew F-100’s with 46 years ago in Vietnam.jd tiger shot bw (2) We discovered we live 4 miles apart. Bob Fosnot (left) had a great career flying jet fighters, while early on I (right) gave up racing the wind and opted to race the rats down Wall Street and LaSalle Street. Foz’s career was more fun—no contest.

The camaraderie of fighter pilots, who must put their lives in one another’s hands, endures even in a vacuum, and with the first sip of dark roast at the local coffee house that 46-year hiatus disappeared. After a quick mutual debrief of our post-war lives, the best of our airborne joint ventures came to the fore. The two of us had been scrambled off the alert pad in the middle of the night to aid a remote Special Forces outpost being overrun by the enemy. It was the scariest kind of graveyard shift work. It entailed adrenaline-drenched, bullet-sweating stick and rudder work in very close proximity to the irregular treetops of the jungle, under appallingly poor visibility conditions—flares floating down under small parachutes in an inky sky. We dropped napalm bombs at a very shallow dive angle very near the ground, inducing a rolling fireball that instantly incinerated all in its path. With friendly troops hunkered in their trenches 50 meters from where we were dropping, precision was paramount.  Intense focus on the job at hand was essential, while ignoring the fireflies in the jungle—the muzzle flashes of AK-47’s aimed at us. It was like performing heart surgery by candlelight with lethal mosquitoes swarming in your face.

We whupped ‘em.

SOT for homepage Xmas 11The flight home, as dawn was breaking, was a thrilling celebration of survival, what Churchill called the exhilaration of being shot at and missed. And there is no greater job satisfaction than saving the lives of America’s mighty men of valor. The sun came up over the South China Sea in a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, like God himself was smiling on our endeavors. I managed to take a picture of Foz in his F-100 against that glorious dawn with a newly purchased camera that did all the thinking for me. It made the cover of the first book I ever wrote, though neither of us will ever need a visual aid to remember that flight home.

At Dusty’s Pub, the junior officers’ hangout on the beach of the South China SeaDustys PubTuyHoaAB, where humility was an unknown attribute, we never credited our killed-by-air and busted enemy asset tallies to anything other than superior skill and cunning, and in a single-seat jet no one else would know what panic and pandemonium may have taken place in that mini-mobile office in the heat of battle. Now, well into codgerhood, Foz and I readily agreed it was by God’s grace Foz and Wetalone that we survived not only the best the enemy could throw at us, but also our own adrenaline addiction.  Nothing fed that addiction like laying napalm down at 50 feet above the ground and 400 knots, walking 20-millimeter exploding bullets through an enemy force coming through the concertina wire of a friendly base camp, or jinking in the crosshairs of enemy AAA. Gen. Robert E. Lee was a kindred spirit in this regard: “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

Driving home from our joyous reunion, and well into the wee hours, with the lid blown off the archives in my mind, I pondered how much life has changed since Wet and Foz flew into combat for God and country, and my joy was sorely tested. America won every major battle but lost that war, and we are still paying for it in so many ways. Today Ho Chi Minh has a dozen imitators thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam, with similar results. Vietnam vets came home to a different culture, shockingly hostile to many of us in some quarters, and adrift from its moorings. Half a lifetime later the drift has become a riptide. My post-war biography is a testimony to amazing grace, but the culture appears to be under the judgment of an angry God. What I have steadfastly, mundanely been for 46 years is now reclassified as counter-culture … or worse—a no-remorse Vietnam veteran; a devout Christian, and therefore a proponent of the sanctity of heterosexual monogamy as the clear, exclusive biblical model of marriage, and an opponent of killing unborn defenseless children; and an unabashed, proven patriot ashamed of the politicians in charge. Freedom of religion, if it is orthodox Christianity, is under vicious attack. In 268 combat missions I was miraculously spared from becoming a prisoner-of war, but that is far from a preposterous possibility, given my worldview, in this increasingly hostile culture war. A renowned preacher friend told us listeners recently that he expected to be “running an in-house prison ministry in five years.”

But my Bible-based worldview, shared by all of my favorite theologians, from R. C. Sproul to Jonathan Edwards to John Knox to one-hundred-fifty 17th Century Westminster Divines to Martin Luther to John Calvin to the Apostles Paul, Peter, James and John, holds that, in reality, it’s a cosmic war of biblical proportions with a foreordained outcome. God wins. That makes me a joyful warrior who fears not, even in the face of hostility in his own country.

I’ve been on the “wrong” side of two wars in one lifetime, and it’s still the noblest calling, and now the holiest calling. I am forever grateful that a sovereign God drew me irresistibly to Him in spite of my best efforts to the contrary (John 6:44). If you’re wavering, dear reader, as to which side of this culture war you should fight on, consider a modernized version of Pascal’s Wager: If I’m wrong, I’ve wasted a lifetime. If you choose the other side and are wrong, you’ve wasted an eternity.

Meantime, onward Christian soldiers. Put on the whole armor of God and prepare for persecution.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9).

THE MAKING OF A NOVEL

March 22, 2015

ITPOJ small coverMy fifth book, second novel, went on sale at Amazon this week. The back cover blurb reads as follows:

Unlike John Bunyan’s 17th century pilgrim, who fled the City of Destruction for the Celestial City, JD Wetterling’s 20th century pilgrim is reverse-wired. He’s an unwilling pilgrim dragged toward the Celestial City while doggedly fighting to return to the City of Destruction. IN THE PLACE OF JUSTICE is an adult Christian worldview novel about a wealthy financier who lives large on a sailboat but has an empty soul.  He struggles under a heavy burden, from Chicago’s futures trading pits—capitalism’s octagonal altars to the goddess of greed—to the Vanity Fair of Washington DC and slothful Sarasota to the poverty-stricken, saint-inhabited mission fields of Haiti. Jack’s pilgrimage through a fallen world meets tribulation with every step, and then he’s forced to run for his life from an evil man sworn to kill him. It’s an action/adventure, love-at-all-levels story for the ages. 

Here’s how this story came about: Since I don’t find book research all that much fun, the settings in this novel are all places where I’ve spent various periods of my life—uncommon, even exotic places, to be sure. Sailboats have been my passion, along with airplanes, since adolescence, and I’ve owned, enjoyed, and terrified myself with both on more than one occasion.  They play a key role in this story. After my fighter pilot days, I spent 7 years at one of planet’s largest commodity futures exchanges in Chicago as a trader/broker in the organized chaos of the trading floor, and was elected a member of the exchange board of directors. A fictional re-creation of the exchange is the foundational setting of this novel. I spent a fair amount of time on Capitol Hill, representing the industry’s interests in Washington DC, also a significant venue in this story. The supercharged air one inhales in that center of the universe intoxicates the power-hungry souls who gather there, some of whom (imaginary), make an appearance in this tale.

I then lived for over a decade on the delightful, slothful shores of Siesta Key, Sarasota, FL, the opening scene in the story. While living there I sat on the board of a small non-profit that flew mail and supplies to the missionaries in Haiti. It was on flights to that poverty-stricken, saint-inhabited island that I learned what real Christians do with their lives. I’ve been wrestling with my conscience ever since about how I’ve squandered my allotted days, the vast majority of which have been exceedingly self-centered.

All that was needed to create a fictional drama out of these fascinating places were some interesting characters who could inhabit them, so I ransacked my soul and found some. There are varying degrees of the author in all of these characters, from the lovable to the loathsome. Then I just tried to keep up with them on my keyboard as they went about their “lives.” What I ended up with was a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that’s what makes a story.

A writing professor at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop said, “For the writing to be good, the reader must be able to feel the pressure of the soul behind the words.” IN THE PLACE OF JUSTICE grew out of such pressure. Deo volente, you will feel it, too.

Go to Amazon, click on “Look inside,” and read the first 2.5 chapters.

A Psychotic Art

February 15, 2015

Thanks to about five degrees less than good beach bum weather in South Florida this winter, my keyboard has been my favorite winter venue, and unreal characters have begun to show up on my computer screen. I love it when that happens! Fiction writing is a psychotic art–delusions are the stock in trade–but it can be a lovely place to spend the day. It is amazing to me how created characters can become so real to the writer, at least this writer. (The challenge, of course, is to make them real to the reader.) Sometime in the late last century I noodled around with a short story that never got beyond a few close friends. Today those characters comprise a whole novel with a whole ‘nother plot, soon to see the light of day. They’ve been joined by a delightful character who had a cameo in Son of Thunder, written in the last decade of the last century, and has refused to go quietly into the night. Now I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to see what they are going to do next.  Some writers plot, but I just let the characters talk to me. If it takes a plot outline and summary sheet to write a bestseller, then I’m just banging away for my own pleasure and that of a few friends. It’s sure a fun way to pass my codgerhood. Thank God I’m not doing it for a living. The novel should be out next month.  It’s entitled, In the Place of Justice, and you can get a few hints about it by following the link.

Amazon is offering my memoir, Grace in the Growing Season, (2nd edition, 2015), Kindle version, FREE today and tomorrow, Feb. 15-16. Please check it out. It may be worth no more to you than you what paid for it, but you never know.

A Christmas Gift For My Friends

December 19, 2014

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:3 et al).

It’s as far from a trite salutation as words can get. The Apostle Paul used this salutation in all twelve of his New Testament epistles. He meant it to be a startling announcement. It played off the Jewish salutation, the Hebrew word shalom, which has a much richer connotation than the English translation “peace.” It meant not merely an absence of conflict and turmoil, but also the great blessing of a right relationship with God. By adding the word grace before peace, Paul is telling his readers how the peace of a right relationship with God is attained, and it is not by human effort. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s God’s work entirely, God’s grace alone. For centuries Israel had been trying by human effort and failing to keep the Ten Commandments. For centuries they had daily sacrificed burnt offering of cows and goats and sheep and doves trying to atone for the sin that kept them from that right relationship with God. And here Paul comes along and says it’s free, a gift by God’s grace! Is it any wonder his preaching sometimes started riots?

Martin Luther says these two terms—grace and peace—constitute Christianity. Luther’s refreshingly simple one-sentence explanation, found in his classic work, Commentary on Galatians, is this: “Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience.” Grace is not a commodity. It’s God’s exclusive work. Louis Berkhof said it well: grace is “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” John MacArthur defines it in more modern terms as “the free and benevolent influence of a Holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.” It’s divinely guaranteed result is the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings, such as the peace of God which surpasses all understanding… (Philippians 4:7). There is no greater peace. It’s a thunderclap of a salutation, an inscribed trumpet call that declares the solution to the most important concern that can ever run through the mind of man—his justification before an infinitely Holy God who controls his next breath. Grace to you and peace.

So, to rephrase Luther’s pithy tweet, “Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience,” we could say grace cancels the penalty for sin and consequently pacifies a tormented conscience. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t have a tormented conscious, I’m a pretty decent sort. I’m good enough to get into heaven.” I’ve heard that too often from unsaved friends, and it breaks my heart. At the risk of ruining your Advent, if that’s what you think, you have a grossly inadequate concept of sin, and your soul is in grave peril, dear friend, and eternity is a very long time…. Read Luther’s partial catalogue of sin listed in his Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 1, any single one of which is sufficient to keep you out of heaven:

The truth is I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table [the first four Ten Commandments] unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His word, etc.; and sins against the second table [the last six Ten Commandments], dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in my heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.   [Q: Does the shoe fit? A: It fits everyone.]

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification are rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son gave Himself unto death for my sins. To believe this is eternal life.”

And even that belief is grace, a free gift from our sovereign God—He inclines your will to believe, as R.C. Sproul says. Now think about God’s punishment for sin—it should strike terror in your heart. Think about that babe in a manger, God’s Son sent to die a horrible death on a cross that you might escape that punishment. Our sins clearly cannot be insignificant trifles. Luther said, “So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for it…Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.” If it’s a big deal with God who made you and numbered your days, shouldn’t it be a big deal with you? And what manner of love is this that He would put own His son through that for sinners who aren’t even looking for him? No one seeks God…no not even one (Romans 3:10-12). What other option for getting right with Him do you have but His grace, His free and benevolent working in your heart to give you spiritual rebirth (John 3:3), repentance, remission of sins and peace and joy that no one can take away (John 16:22)? There is no other way.

If you don’t know my Lord whose birth we celebrate this season, if you don’t know His grace and peace, why not ask for that free and benevolent working in your heart? Here’s a model prayer, or better yet pray from your own heart. It costs no more to ask than it costs to receive this priceless gift.

Dear friends and family, I think most of you know the Giver of Grace and Peace, but for those who do not, my Christmas gift to each of you is my beggar’s prayer to our Sovereign God, that He would bestow grace to you and peace, the finest gift, the greatest treasure you could ever receive. And for those of you who do know our Giver of Grace and Peace, I pray your New Year will be filled to overflowing with more grace and peace. Everything else in life is just details.

A Christmas Devotional:The Word Became Flesh

December 17, 2014

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of truth and grace. (John 1:14).

Of all the gospel narratives of the Christmas story, these words of John the Apostle are my favorite. But why did John call Christ the Word? His Gospel begins that way: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…. (John 1-3a) It is certainly crystal clear that “Word” means Christ. No one argues with that. In the beginning was [Christ], and [Christ] was with God and [Christ] was God….[Christ] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John’s objective in writing his gospel was to prove that Christ was God. But John must have been trying to convey more or he would have used the word Christ. What might that be?

        There appear to be two reasons why John used Word instead of Christ. He was speaking to two audiences, the Jews, of course, and Greeks and Greek-speaking gentiles. He was writing in Greek, after all. The Greek language gets much more mileage out of words, and since it is the original language of the New Testament, preachers begin their seminary studies with courses in Greek.

The Jewish audience would have understood, In the beginning was the Word, as a clear reference to Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And how did he do that? He created them thru the power of his word. Let there be light and there was light. Such is the power of God’s word. Isaiah 55:11 says so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. A word spoken by God is a deed done. And Christ was the last and most important word of God the Father. We will not find God apart from Christ.

For the Greeks “Word” had even more meaning. Logos, the original Greek word for “word" took on vastly more meaning through the studies of a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus who lived in Ephesus in the 6th century BC. He was the guy who said “You can’t step into the same river twice.” You can put your foot into the water of the river and take it out but when you put it back in the water has flowed on and it is different water that soaks your foot. His point was that all of life was in a state of change. As he pondered that he wondered, if everything was always changing why wasn’t the world in perpetual chaos. He concluded that it was because the constant change was not random change but ordered change. And if it was ordered change then there had to be a “divine plan” or “divine reason” for it. (Darwin should have read Heraclitus before he went off on his preposterous tangent.) The Greeks defined reason as “the word unspoken.” Heraclitus concluded that the reason, the unspoken word, God’s Logos, controlled all of creation, including all of history, and…listen carefully…the mental order that rules the minds of men. In summary, Logos, with a capital L, was the mind of God controlling this world and all men. This became standard philosophy among the Greeks, including Plato and Socrates and the Stoics. In fact Plato told his students, “It may be that someday there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Greeks were still pondering the Logos and writing about it 700 years later when John wrote his gospel. It was common knowledge. So when John said the Word, the Logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us, he was saying in response to Plato, “The Logos has come.”

As Dr. James Montgomery Boice tells it in Volume I of his commentary on John, the Apostle is saying, “Listen you Greeks, the very thing that has most occupied your philosophical thought and about which you have been writing for centuries, the Logos of God, this word, this controlling power of the universe and of man’s mind, has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.” Now wouldn’t that be a blockbuster revelation to the Greeks? It was a stroke of divine literary genius the way the Holy Spirit inspired John to write it.

God became man. Marvin Olasky says to think about man becoming a cockroach and you have the slightest inkling what it must have been like for God to become man. The Logos, the Word, the controlling power of the universe became a man, full of grace and truth, and to what end? John 1:12 tells us: …to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Dear Christian friends, all the gifts given in the world this season cannot equate to that gift of a baby born in barn in Bethlehem. What manner of love is this that we should be called children of God? What manner of love is this that God humiliated himself and became a man born in the lowest estate for us? What manner of love is this that would suffer a hideous death that we might live with him forever? It is the infinite love of Almighty God, the Logos who controls our life and breath and being…born this day in the city of David…and he is Christ the Lord.

Excerpt from Grace in the Growing Season


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