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Flying lessons

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My dad was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy. He met a man who trained pilots when he was stationed at Dallas and they became great friends. This man took my dad up for flying lessons and to this day, it’s one of my dad’s fondest memories.

I was stationed at Naval Air Facility Detroit, Michigan for three years when I received orders to report to Naval Air Station Dallas, Texas. I immediately checked in with the Command Master Chief upon my arrival to begin the check-in process. Come to find out, they had no idea I had been stationed there. They told me they would sort it out and would call in the next day or so. What should have taken a day, took a week. Finally, the paperwork was sorted out so I needed to find out what my duty assignment would be.

They still had no idea where to put me. They sent me down to the hazardous waste division because the Petty Officer in Charge was retiring soon. They said if I didn’t like it then I could ask for a different assignment. It was a surprise that I was going to be able to choose the job I wanted but I didn’t argue about it. It didn’t take but a week trying on this job to find out I just couldn’t do it.

The guy in charge over there was a complete jerk. He probably didn’t like himself, much less anyone else. So, I found myself again in front of the Master Chief.

“I just can’t work with the Chief Petty officer,” I told him. He sent me down to check out the trucks at the motor pool. This was a job, I might add, that was usually performed by an enlisted man of a much lower rank than I was at the time. Over the next few weeks, I made trip after trip to the Master Chief’s office, nearly begging the man to get me a permanent job.

“The First Class Petty Officer at Hazardous Materials is retiring soon,” Master Chief said. “Go see Lieutenant Hibbet and he will interview you for the job.”

This was the weirdest base I’d ever been stationed at. Since when does a sailor interview for a job? He usually does the duty assigned to him. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the assignment, having already tried it and hated it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lieutenant Keith Hibbet was about as nice as the other guy was mean. So began a lifelong friendship. We became great friends.

After the interview was over, we talked of other things and soon realized we had aviation in common. Keith owned a Stearman Bi-plane and I was an aircraft mechanic and Keith was a pilot. I spent a lot of time at the civilian hangar working on that plane. Keith trained military pilots. In exchange for my work on the plane, he took me up for flying lessons. Keith was a reservist. When he was offered a job flying for FedEx and training their pilots, he resigned his commission and left. Keith and I remained friends until the day he died.

Keith loved to fly old war birds, World War II planes and the like. He was flying a museum plane in the Galveston, Texas area on his last flight. It was a P51 Mustang that had been re-outfitted as a two-seat plane. On this occasion, he was flying a man and his wife from Great Britain who were celebrating their sixty-first wedding anniversary. They were over the Bay when the birds flew up, knocking out the engine. A P-51 doesn’t glide, so it crashed in the bay, disintegrating on impact. They were all killed instantly.

I’ll never forget that little yellow plane. My dad and Keith used to fly really low over our house and they’d wave at us in the driveway. Even though my dad and Keith didn’t work together very long, they remained lifelong friends.

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Reach Kathleen Guill at 580-379-0588, ext. 2602.

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