Thursday, January 21, 2010

Take the Challenge

Somehow Rick came across this article written by a pilot who was once an ROTC student at Auburn. The sincerity he writes with and the details he remembers about "The Colonel" brought tears to my eyes. I only wish I could forward this to my Dad - he would be so proud to know that he influenced this young man in such a positive way! So here is the lesson - write a letter to someone in your past who influenced you ....TODAY! Fill it with details that might spark a memory of days forgotten. With your words, paint a picture of a time and place and a life lesson learned. This article did not reach my Dad, but it touched me profoundly! I hope you take the challenge!

Posted in the Warbird Informational Exchange:

I was privileged to meet and get to know Deke as a student at Auburn in the late 80's. He taught a number of courses in aviation and much of the foundation of what I know today about weather, Air Traffic Control, instrument flying, and how an officer and pilot should conduct himself, I attribute to him.

Deke was tall and slim and always wore cowboy boots. He had an easy smile, wavy grey hair and the makings of a handlebar moustache that always made me think he could have been a 50's film star. In addition, there are few pilots left who could tell a story like Deke. As he related this flight or that, his hands would fly about and his silver USAF pilot wings bracelet would jingle and jangle to emphasize the tale. Most of us begged to hear more U-2 stories, as he was in the cadre of pilots who flew with Gary Powers and Rudolph Anderson (lost over Cuba in '62). No matter the dire outcome, he was always able to weave humility and humor into the story. I have since read some of these stories repeated in "50 Years of the U-2" by Chris Pocock, but I will never forget the times I heard them first hand.

As an Auburn senior, I had a few hours of elective time to complete and I was told to report to Deke to learn what I could do to earn the hours. (As an aside, no student ever called him Deke. Despite his easy-going nature, he always said, feel free to call me by my first name ... "Colonel!".) Hoping that I'd be in Air Force pilot training the next year, I asked him if would teach me about instrument flying. His reply was, "No, I won't teach you instruments - you will teach ME instruments". He handed me a few texts and had me devise a multi-week syllabus where I would research a topic and present a lesson to him, one-on-one. Of course, once I was finished talking, Deke would take over and the lesson would really begin.

After I left Auburn, I never saw Deke again. I'd occasionally bump into someone who'd seen him and heard that he'd retired to the beach near Pensacola. One day I was saddened to hear that he'd suffered a fall and was paralyzed. A number of times I said that I'd go look him up to visit and thank him for all his help and encouragement. I sincerely regret that I never made the trip.

We joked during one of my instrument sessions about his legal title of "Aviation Expert" ... as he had been recently asked to appear as a consultant in a court case. I played along and asked for his autograph -- the only paper handy was the cardstock "this hat belongs to" label inside my USAF cadet wheel cap. I slid it out and, on the back, he inscribed "Col Robert E. "Deke" Hall, USAF ret.; Aviation Expert". I will treasure it always.

Blue skies, Deke! You will be missed.


Debi said...

What an incredible tribute! Isn't it comforting to know that not only did he impact his family's lives, but he made a difference in the lives of others he touched along the way. Wish I could have met him.

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...


I have been touched since I read the letter about Dad, for the same reasons as you. It broke my heart to know that he never saw it.

I am taking you up on your challenge...and I am going to make a post on my blog too.

So~ who are you going to write?