Friday, April 19, 2013

A Route To Pay My Respects

Mugsy (my English Bulldog) and I haven’t planned our cross-country drive out west this year.  But we’re intrigued by the thought of taking a northern route, skirting along the upper shores of the Great Lakes.

However, I’m also drawn to pay my respects at a monument in Arizona located in a valley between national monuments for Tonto and the Sonoran Desert, east of Yuma, north of Tucson and south of Scottsdale and the San Tan Valley, that is “San”, not Sun.”

The ruins of Tonto are not named for the 1950s Lone Ranger side-kick or Johnny Depp’s more realistic portrayal in next summer’s move-remake, it is probably the other way around.

The Tonto monument was set aside by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1907 and the Sonoran one by President Bill Clinton in 2001, but the purpose of my visit is a monument erected in Florence, Arizona in late 2007.  It’s more like a wall than a monument, featuring five life size images depicting federal, state, county, municipal and corrections officers.Pinal County Memorial

As they have done each year since the Sheriff’s office there tracked me down a few years ago, I am invited to attend a ceremony that will honor more than thirty names on that wall.

They called because they spotted one of the names on the wall for whom they had little background as the subject in a few of my posts on this blog.  George F. White was a DEA special agent and pilot who was killed in a 1973 crash near Casa Grande, about 30 miles west and south of the memorial.

He was helping to break up a drug cartel.

“Ferd” as we called him, was my mother’s youngest sibling but born just over six years before I was.  I was his annoying little sidekick growing up.  Like a brother, he introduced me to sword-fighting with hypodermic needles intended only for horses and cattle, building Korean-war era model fighter planes and sneaking downstairs to read racy novels such as Ian Fleming’s series about James Bond.

He died at age 30 while interdicting drug traffickers just three months before my daughter and only child was born and just a few years after serving three tours and more than 300 missions over North Vietnam as an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot.

Famously, he blew scores of windows out in Lehi, Utah, where his father - my grandfather lived - when he buzzed the tiny town and  created a sonic boom as he returned home from his last tour.

Ferd’s adult life was never settled.  After graduating from Utah State University with a degree in marketing he immediately joined the US Air Force.  He lived hard, drank too much, flew fast and dangerous.

Unfortunately, just like those Lehi windows, many of his relationships were also shattered.

Today Pinal County (pronounced Pee-Nahl) Arizona has a population of more than 387,000 people spread over more than 5,300 acres.  According to the Sheriff, an Iraq War vet, it also still has 75-100 drug cartel cells and listening/observation posts used to facilitate a freeway of illegal drug and human sex slave trafficking.

Ferd would have turned 72 years old next month.  I still have a large file of his papers passed on to me by my grandfather that includes his Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star. I hope one day to find and pass it on to one of his two children.

On one of my annual and sometimes bi-annual forays across the country, I also plan to stop and pay my respects.

I owe him that.  In fact, we all owe him that much along with others who serve our country, including public servants who seem all to often fair game for scoring ideological points since they were made fair game for ridicule in the 1980s.

It seems that only in the wake of tragedies such as those this week during the Boston Marathon and and the explosions in West,Texas do we remember, if for only briefly, that public service doesn’t have a party.

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