Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Personal Journey

This thank-you was a long time coming

A few months ago, I asked a writer who's doing a book on Beerbower to do an article on the triple-ace for my magazine, Flight Journal. A couple of weeks after that, he hit me with some incredibly surprising news:

He had called the number listed for Deeds and was talking to Dolores Deeds, Bud's wife, asking her questions about Bud's military service. Partway into the conversation, she said, "Why don't you ask my husband? He's right here." Bud Deeds was still alive! And in amazingly good health, considering the miles and the years! You could have knocked us both over with a feather.

Within minutes of getting that news, I decided that no matter what, I wasn't going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers again: I made airline reservations to head for Nebraska. I returned from that trip only a few days ago.

When I pulled into the little retirement village and parked my car, Dolores and Bud Deeds were already out on their patio. The short walk across the grass from the parking lot spanned 51 years, and I once again shook the hand of Fred "Bud" Deeds.

We spent the next two or three hours covering a wide range of subjects, but right up front, I said what I had come to say. "Thank you for taking the time to talk to me at a time when I seriously needed talking to."

In high school, I had been a whole lot less than a serious, or easy, student. Although I wasn't necessarily a delinquent, my fast mouth and don't-give-a-damned attitude toward schoolwork and authority didn't endear me to the faculty. Or anyone else, for that matter. I had a lot of growing up to do. Even so, for whatever reason, I was obsessed with aviation and, in fact, started taking flying lessons 30 miles away, while still a junior. A lot of bus riding, scooter driving and hitchhiking were involved.

Deeds must have thought me salvageable because he took the time to talk to me about something he also loved: flying. In fact, even then, I could sense that he really missed those years and, through his talks with me, he could reconnect with them just a little. Even sitting there in their tidy living room, a half century after our last conversation, his enthusiasm for his years as a fighter pilot was clearly evident. Right then, I realized that it's entirely possible to be an ex-pilot, but I don't think it's possible to be an ex-fighter pilot. At some level—in your soul—once you were a fighter pilot, you still are.

As our morning drew to a close, I once again tried to thank him, but the lump in my throat made me fumble the words. I can't exactly explain why, but it was an emotional moment for me. Maybe because it had been so long coming. Maybe because I was standing there, revisiting a time back when my life was just beginning to sprout. The concept was just a little bit humbling.

So, now I've said my thank-you, and I can't tell you what a load that is off my shoulders. It doesn't totally make up for those thank-yous that I didn't get to say to others, but it sure helps. There's a lesson here for every one of us, and I mention it often: Second chances to say thank you don't come around often. So, do it the first chance you get.


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