Chapter Eleven: The Best-laid Plans

The first thing Grandpa Gordon did Monday morning is report to his Commanding Officer. After all, it had been almost 3 1/2 years since he had taught his last class at the base. He was not sure how he would fit in now. He also wanted to discuss with his boss Colonel Frank Miller, his desire to transfer to a base closer to home. Maybe the best thing was to not even return to duty at the Nellis AFB, they after all had survived without him for 3 1/2 years already.

All these thoughts were going through his mind when he walked into the CO’s office. The Colonel stood up and greeted Grandpa Gordon after they had exchanged salutes. He shook hands and patted him on the back warmly. Then he motioned him to sit down. Colonel Miller started first and asked Gordon what he could do for him?

“Well, sir, it seems that my position as expected has been filled quite some time ago and I was wondering how I would fit in now?”

“About that”, said Colonel Miller, “there is no way I could hold your position open all that time. I held it open for the first couple of months that you were gone but when the war in Korea did not appear to be ending any time soon, I had no choice but to fill it. The person who replaced you is doing a fine job, while he doesn’t have your pedigree he still is doing exceptionally well and it would not be fare to him for me to bump him out of the position in lieu of you. I am sure you can understand my predicament.”

The Colonel continued to say, “Besides that, I checked your resume to update myself on your status, and I believe that returning as an instructor is not in your best interest. The typical career progression for a pilot as I am sure you are well aware of is first flight training, copilot/wingman, flight lead/aircraft commander, instructor pilot and then evaluator pilot. You have done everything according to your career progression except for evaluator pilot. Unfortunately we do not have an opening for those positions either.  Since our program is the top training program in the country for the Air Force, so transferring to another program in another state would be a step in the wrong direction.”

He furthermore added, “Unfortunately, you are a victim of your own success. You have done almost everything you can do as a pilot. You are an ace in two wars and are a decorated pilot and were an instructor for the most prestigious training school in the country. You have also been on the fast track for promotions. You have made the position of lieutenant colonel in near record time. So with that in mind, the only recommendation I can make for you is to transfer you to a new group that just formed in June of last year. They call the group The Thunderbirds. They are the 3600th Air Demonstration Team, and are stationed at Luke AFB in Arizona. They do over 50 Demonstration flights all over the country. They are absolutely the very best pilots in the world, as a matter of fact, you may have trained a few of them in our program.”

The Colonel just kept going and said, “With your record, any base in the country will accept you but in all good conscience this is the only position I can endorse for you. All the rest would be a step in the wrong direction.  They change out three demonstration pilots every ear, so there are openings right now. They are the best of the best and it is an honor to even be considered for one of these positions. This detail is grueling mainly becasue they do group flying which requires incredible coordination, training and continuous practice. So what do you think,Col. Gordon?”

Grandpa Gordon is finally able to reply, “Well, sir, to be honest with you I did not know what to expect with this meeting. My original plan was to ask for a transfer to a base in Minnesota, so I could be closer to my family and my girl. Your recommendation for me is something that I had never even considered or for that matter, even knew existed. I, thank you immensely for your ideas and recommendations for me. I will definitely follow up with them. The Thunderbirds seems like an excellent opportunity and a natural progression for my career. When will my transfer take effect?”

Col. Miller replied and said, “By the end of the week you will be in Arizona. Since you have not flown in over four months I want you to spend as much time in the air as possible.” Col Miller then shook his hand and wished him the best, they saluted and he left the colonel’s office.

Over the next four days he flew three and four flights each day. He flew with several senior pilots in the role of both wingman and lead. On the last day with Col. Miller’s permission, he flew a few mock dogfights. The flights were the talk of the base for the next few weeks even after Lt. Col. Gordon had left.

One evening after much soul-searching, he called Clara ‘s dorm so he could talk to her. He was put on hold while the student who answered the phone got her. He ended up talking close to an hour with her. I have included a synopsis of the conversation below.

Of course, the conversation started with all the typical fluffy stuff. Then it quickly got down to the meat and potatoes, so to speak. He told her what his orders were going to be. He explained to her about the Thunderbirds and what his assignment would be for the next two years and upon its completion he would be a Full Colonel. He explained to her that his base would be in Arizona but that he thought the squadron would eventually relocate to Nellis AFB in Nevada. He believed this to be so since all the advanced training took place there.

He expressed his feelings for her and how much she had been the center of his thoughts and he wished that she could be there with him. But after giving it a lot of thought and with the new squadron and all the training he would have to do to be ready to fly with them, he did not think that he would really have a lot of time to spend with her even if she was able to transfer out west. So as much as it pained him he felt that their best course of action would to stay on the path they were already taking. Which was to have her complete her nursing program in Minneapolis. He said that the sqaudron took off the whole month of December every year, so at least they would have that time together. Also they would be hitting several northern cities on their demonstration schedule, so maybe they could spend a little time together when he was in an area close by. As a matter of fact, maybe she could see him fly since their shows were always on weekends. Before he hung up he said that he loved and missed her very much.

By the end of the week, he had to admit that all of the flying he had done had really helped. He found that his skills and maneuvering had improved and he felt that he was flying better than he ever had before. He hoped he would be good enough to meet their standards in the Thunderbird squadron. For the first time, he was actually looking forward to going on a new assignment.