The later-in-life rewards of pursuing your passion(s)
Has anyone else besides me, especially but not limited to fellow writers, ever gotten the feeling that portions of your work experience from decades ago have prepared you perfectly to pursue your passion(s) in your 60s? Maybe if you're more fortunate than I am, in your 50s?
That feeling hit me this week as I entered the home stretch of writing the draft of my book, "Midway Bravery." Much work lies ahead before the book launch happens, first in Washington, D.C., during the first week of June and then in Montana later in the summer. What lies ahead first is to get a 60,000-plus word draft (about 47,000 words written now) in good shape, then hand it over to my top flight editor by the first of April so he can put a shine on the book.
Then I need to do the "heavy lifting" that's required for an independent publisher like me to put the book on the market in hardback, soft cover and e-book formats. That part is almost more challenging than the writing, but it's not overwhelming. Thank goodness I gained experience in this realm three years ago when I self-published my first book.
When I allow it, my mind wanders back to a pair of watershed events that resulted in stories I covered as a Billings Gazette reporter. Both occasions are relevant to my current project.
Flying with the Blues
First, in July 1988, I got to take a 45-minute ride with Navy Lt. Doug McClain in an F-18 Hornet fighter, which was a two-seat trainer version. This came about because the Blue Angels came to Billings for that summer's Big Sky International Airshow. Standard procedure for the Navy was, and I assume still is, is to offer local reporters a ride-along in a Hornet. The resulting press coverage just might encourage young people in a community to consider a Navy career.
In Billings, the Blue Angels advance team said three media representatives -- from print, TV and radio -- could go up in a Hornet. My beat then entailed covering City Hall in Billings, and Billings Logan International Airport was a municipal facility within my coverage responsibility. Also, in 1986, when the Italian Air Force team highlighted Billings' first air show in decades, I led the Gazette's coverage of the event. So it seemed natural for me to get the nod to ride with the Blues.
Here's a link to the story I wrote, which was published the next day. It was a kick in the pants! I've told people that no ride I've taken in any amusement park comes close to what I experienced that day. In fact, when I sat in my dentist's chair a few days later, he told me I was the envy of every man and boy in Billings and the enormous trade area in which the Gazette circulated. I hope some girls and women read the story and felt the same way.
Now, as I write the part of "Midway Bravery" that covers Jim Muri's time at Eglin Field, where he was commander of the torpedo training program from the fall of 1942 through the spring of 1944, I fully realize what a mecca for military fliers the Florida panhandle was then. And remains to this day.
Eglin lies about 45 air miles from the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where the Blue Angels are based and from where they fly to cities and towns across the U.S. every week during the airshow season.
Budget and time constraints will prevent me from visiting Eglin and Pensacola NAS before the launch of "Midway Bravery." Both places, however, are on the must-see list for this independent (not retired) person and his ultra-supportive wife.
Hitching a ride on a B-24
The other event that comes to mind occurred five years later when I got to fly in a legendary World War II plane. I hitched a ride on a B-24 Liberator from Big Timber, Montana, to Billings in early July 1993. The four-engine bomber came through Montana as part of the display of flyable war planes that happens across the U.S. every summer. The appearances are under the auspices of the Collings Foundation, a Stow, Mass.-based organization. They took place last summer in Bozeman, Billings and, I think but haven't checked, Missoula.
The B-24 wasn't scheduled to land in Big Timber, a town whose airport only had one runway -- I don't remember it being paved a quarter-century ago -- and a building or two. Other than a few private plane landings or takeoffs, it was a sedate place.
Working with Collings representatives, I arranged a ride in the Liberator. The catch was that I was attending a family reunion at a church camp in the Boulder Canyon, south of Big Timber, over the Fourth of July weekend, when the planes would come to Billings.
To make this work, I left my car in Billings and, with my then almost 4-year-old son, who turns 30 this August, caught a ride to the reunion with an uncle. A couple days later, with my kin still catching up on life, I caught a ride back down the canyon road to Big Timber with the same relative. He dropped me off at the Big Timber airport, which sits atop a wind-swept bluff near town, a half-hour or so before the B-24 was scheduled to come in from Bozeman to the west.
At the appointed time, I heard a deep rumble and looked up. There was the Liberator. The pilot bought the bomber to a gentle landing, a door opened, and I got on board for the short flight (about 70 miles, not sure of in-air time) to Billings.
Ever since, when I've thought of that day, an image from the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" comes to mind. I'm talking about the scene where the space ship from another world lands on Earth, the doors open, and trusting Earthlings walk up a ramp into the ship.
Well, OK, I had a better idea of what lay ahead than those people did.
Now as I write about the B-26 that Jim Muri piloted at Midway, I wonder how different that bomber was in flight from a B-24. The B-26 was a twin-engine medium bomber with legendary speed; it was said the Marauder was faster, or as fast as, anything in the sky during World War II, including Japanese Zero fighters. The B-24 was slower than the B-26 but packed a bigger punch, a bomb payload that led to its extensive use in the Pacific in the latest years of World War II.
Also, one of Jim Muri's younger brothers, Andy, became a B-24 pilot in in the Pacific. The family had a third World War II bomber pilot, Jim and Andy's brother, Bob, who flew B-17 Flying Fortresses from England on missions over Germany. Bob, the only Muri shot down in combat, spent 15 months in a German POW camp before being liberated when V-E Day ended the war in Europe in May 1945.
Here's a link to my story about the B-24 flight.
Can you tell that this writing project is bringing almost endless delight to someone who began his professional career 45 years ago?