Finding Honor Among Everyday People

 One of the things I like about cruises is that you meet new people. The last cruise I went on didn’t really have this option as everyone was kept in a bubble for social distancing purposes. However, some years ago, we met another couple with which we enjoyed spending a good deal of time. 

 One evening I was walking on the deck of the cruise ship with a compass in my hand. I was conspicuously trying to figure out where we were and in what direction we were headed. I was imagining how people like the Vikings navigated themselves around using only a rudimentary compass and no charts. My new friend, Frank, saw me and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was trying to figure out the direction we were headed and exactly where we might be going. Frank said, “It doesn’t work like that.” Really? 

 Frank told me that he was a retired navigator. He said he would be glad to show me how navigation works. Frank was a navigator before GPS satellites assumed those duties. He very patiently showed me how compasses, charts, and headings worked. He told me to meet him for lunch the next day and he’d show me something else. 

 At noon the next day, a ship’s officer took a sextant reading to plot our location without the use of satellites. Frank told me that there was a noon position report done every day. The officers had to be able to find their way around in the old manner in case the electronics failed. They practiced “old school” navigation every day. The captain gave the “noon report” shortly thereafter. 

 I asked Frank if he had been in the Navy. “No,” he said, “I was in the Air Force.” Interesting. I had to hear more of his story. We sat down and Frank told me that he was a navigator in Vietnam. He was assigned to a squadron of F-4 Phantom jet fighters out of Udorn, Thailand. The Phantom is an old school fighter/bomber that has a crew of two officers. The Navy, Marines, and the Air Force used the versatile plane around the world years ago. Iran still uses the jets that were sold to the Shah back in the Seventies. 

My grandson, Lincoln, and I at the F-4 Phantom exhibit in “The Mighty 8th Museum”, Pooler, GA

 The two-officer crew is situated in tandem seats. The pilot is in the front seat and, obviously, is responsible for flying the aircraft. The officer in the back seat is basically responsible for the radio, weapons, and navigation. Frank was a navigator on a Phantom. His partner was the pilot whom he referred to as Dick. Frank told me that he and Dick flew missions all over Southeast Asia constantly avoiding Surface to Air Missiles (SAM’s) and Russian MiG fighters that had shot down many of their colleagues. A Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded because of their aerial exploits against a determined enemy using the latest weapons from the Communist arsenal. 

Frank Brooks, USAF (retired) Navigator

We received a letter in the mail recently from Lee in which she relayed the sad news of Frank’s death. She said Frank was exposed to Covid and died in the initial phases of the pandemic. Frank was a kind, patient, and humble man. 

Lee filled me in on Frank’s pilot/partner a couple of years ago. Dick is now the president of Kansas State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering before he was commissioned into the Air Force. His last posting in the Air Force before his military retirement was in the Pentagon as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the highest-ranking officer in our military while serving President George W. Bush in the War on Terror. 

USAF General Richard “Dick” Meyers, Retired Pilot

People like Frank who have a quiet kindly manner never go out of style. They are full of wisdom and should never be overlooked: it is too easy to ignore the unassuming older man in the corner. They are treasures we so often take for granted and then they are gone. The next time you lift your glass to absent friends, could I ask you to remember Frank Brooks? He taught me a lot about finding my way through life’s dark oceans and I will miss him. 

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