Monday, January 5, 2015

Who Is Your Hero?

My daughter came home from school a month or so ago and asked me a very interesting question "Who do you consider your hero?  And don't go for the easy answer, Mom.".  My first answer being all of our military and their families, as well as police and firemen, was nixed by the ten year old playing the college professor.  Judging by the serious countenance on my child's face, I guessed that Superman, Batman, and Spiderman, would be swiftly nixed as well.

My Hero
It was a simply worded question and yet it made me stop and think.  I know who my hero is, but can I adequately put into words what is in my heart?  I'm not sure, but I've decided to give it a go.

He was a spunky kid who would climb to the top of the highest object just so he could imagine himself flying.  Sometimes that meant he was climbing to the top of the telephone pole, nearly causing his mother heart failure.  And sometimes that spunk had him trying to coerce neighbor kids to put their tongues on the cistern pump handle in the bitter cold, much to his parents' chagrin.

He played sports in high school and according to his accounts, rode his bike through the mountains of West (by God) Virginia to school every single day.  Uphill...... both ways.  Through 6 feet of snow.  With a tenor saxophone on his bike's handle bars.  

High School Graduation
He joined the ROTC in college and, upon graduation, became a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force as a fighter pilot.  While he was stationed in Alabama going through training and "getting jets", he met a lovely young woman on base.  He attracted her because of his baby blue '59 Buick convertible and she attracted him with her cute looks and figure.  They were married 6 weeks later.  

The infamous '59 Baby Blue Buick Convertible

Within a few months of marriage, the newlyweds were stationed overseas with the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters, England.  He gave selflessly of himself to his country while he buried a number of his fighter pilot friends who crashed their fighter jets, including his best friend, while in service to their country.

One day in October of 1962, with Air Force base sirens sounding in the background, he called his wife and quickly informed her that the base had been put on full alert.  His fighter jet was loaded with bombs and he'd be sitting on the runway waiting for the green light to go and defend his country.

While he had enough fuel to get to his destination and do what his government commanded of him, he did not have enough fuel to get to safety, back to his base, or even to an area of land.  This was his farewell to her and their 2 young sons.

For nearly 2 weeks, he sat in his fighter jet at the end of the runway on full alert.  The jet engines were on and ready for take-off, the plane was fully loaded with bombs, just awaiting the go-ahead command from the big brass.  Thankfully the situation (the Cuban Missile Crisis) was resolved without him having to perform what would have been a suicide mission.

In 1963, his squadron's command was taken over by the indomitable Colonel (and later General) Robin Olds, who brought with him Colonel Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. (who would later go on to become the first African American 4-star General in the Air Force).  The stories from this era are too numerous to write about in one blog post but suffice it to say that while there were a lot of missions flown during this time, as were as a lot of parties attended.

As a result of those parties, this hero came back to the United States with his lovely wife....... and 3 bouncing baby boys, each born less than a year apart.

Stationed at Reese Air Force base in Lubbock, Texas, this man began training young fighter pilots.  One of the parts of his duties left an indelible impression upon his heart.  That job was informing next of kin (wives) of the death of their fighter pilot spouse.

There are no words suitable to ever describe how terribly heartbreaking and life-changing this part of his job was.  To this day, he remembers each spouse's reaction upon seeing him walk up to their home or place of work.

While at Reese AFB, he was asked to join the prestigious USAF Thunderbirds.  It is a tremendous honor to be asked to join this elite fighter jet show team but, upon learning they were gone for most of the year, he declined.  Seeing his wife and 4 children took precedence over the fun he would of surely had performing breathtaking mid-air stunts.

He left the USAF in 1967 with a wife and 4 young children.  Yes, there was another party after they arrived in Lubbock, TX, which yielded him a daughter. Upon leaving the USAF, he went to work for a commercial airline as a pilot.

1st Officer
He and his family were stationed in Buffalo, New York.  The commercial airline pilot pay wasn't enough to support his family, so when he wasn't flying airplanes, he was substitute teaching to help supplement his income.  While there wasn't enough money to take his family out to dinner and to the movies, he created wonderful memories for his children by digging caves in the mountainous snow and having epic snowball fights.  

As his children grew, he was a beacon to them for doing what was right, not necessarily what was easy.  Even though he would be gone flying commercial jets for many days each month, which resulted in him missing many a birthday and holiday because of his flight schedule, his wife and children knew how much he loved them and they found creative ways to celebrate those days.

He was required to retire from piloting commercial airplanes in the United States at the age of 60.  Having flown most of his life, the transition to staying home every day out of the month was interesting for both he and his wife.  He was used to doing his own thing, and so was she, but they adapted.

His focus changed from studying airplane manuals and flight standards, to working on his golf handicap, doting on his grandchildren, and traveling around the world with his wife.

Today is this hero's 80th birthday.  Today I celebrate this man and all he has accomplished and all of the love he has so selflessly poured out onto those around him.  Today I celebrate my hero, my Dad.  Happy 80th birthday!  I love you more than there are stars in the sky and grains of sand upon this earth!

Written by Christie Bielss


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! I have been very blessed to be able to call him my dad.