Granddad and the Past

Perfect Fit by Clues on GroovesharkGranddad and I don’t talk much about the past, though I want to at some point. I’d like to get as much of his story as possible. Most of the time, we talk about current events – the lost airliner, Russia and Putin, how he likes Obama and wishes Barbara Walters had retired a long time ago to make way for a younger woman. Things like that. But there have been serendipitous moments in which I’ve learned something new about him and his past.

Just before his cataract surgery a couple of weeks ago, the surgeon at the VA (who looked to be about 30) noted that he also had scar tissue on his eye. My grandfather immediately said, “Oh, that’s probably been there – from when a missile blew back on me. Only thing that saved me was my buddy; shoved my head in the water next to us. Liquid nit– . . . no, it was a powder. Anhydrous ammonia.” Holy smokes! A missile blew back on him! Surgeon took a 50-plus year old scar off his right eye a few days later.

He’s also talked about UAVs/drones a few times. One time, back when he was in the Air Force. He said the problem with them was they had a tendency to come back to you. Yesterday, he mentioned seeing the Israelis working on them at Bell Helicopter near Ft. Worth back in the early 1990s when he was an Army aviation contractor.

He’s spoken more personally, too – tearing up a couple of times. Once, while talking about his cousin (or nephew?) who was killed in Vietnam. The VC made sure he was dead with an extra close-in shot, too. My grandfather teared up as the occupational therapist did his paperwork. He said he’d been like a brother to him. It broke my heart.

The second time it was only the two of us and it was about my grandmother. Not his second wife or his girlfriends since then. He teared up again and said he wished she’d lived. She would have been better to us grandkids, he said. I told him I didn’t know that was true. It hurt me, but, to a degree, I was at a loss for what to do except sit, listen and look at him. Each time was short. His tears drying before they made it down his cheek (cliché alert, but whatever).

On the way home from his post-op check up at the VA eye clinic in Temple last week, I told him I must have confiscated one of his old tie clips. It’s gold and in the shape of a Hawk missile. It’s my usual clip.

This morning, I asked him if he’d ever worked on a Hawk. He hadn’t. I told him the U.S. never actually fired a Hawk (which was replaced by the more-familiar Patriot) even though it remained in service until 2002, information I’d learned after a Google search last night. He said he’d worked on the Bomarc – the first supersonic long-range anti-aircraft missile – and that they never used them either. They wouldn’t have worked anyway, he said.

“They were pilotless, so they liked them,” he said of the Bomarcs. “They were guided missiles, but more often than not they guided themselves back at you.” His hand knifed upward, started to sputter, fall and then, “BOOMMM!” from him. I was surprised at how hearty his explosion was. “That was if they took off at all and didn’t blow up the launch pad. We sold them to the Canadians, though. We sold them a bill of goods!” he said and laughed. They launched them from Santa Rosa Island, off Ft. Walton Beach and Eglin AFB, Florida. The safety officer would detonate them over the water.

“One time, another guy and I were walking into the launch area – it was surrounded by a fence – and suddenly whirrrrrrrr – the missile bay doors were opening. We stood there and one of the missiles came up. It stopped and then, a bit later, it lowered and closed again. It’s funny now, but it was scary then.” He also noted that the Russians didn’t know they didn’t worked.

Later, while he was on the toilet, he called me in and told me to Google the F-86D, a jet on which he’d worked at Eglin AFB, just down the road from Tyndall. “Those were the first days of the jets,” he said after we’d looked at a few pictures back in the living room. We showed the PT the pictures later in the morning.

I may not have the correct tie clip, but at least I now have stories to associate with it. I’m looking forward to gathering more.

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