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From Bell Bottoms To Army Boots

The Alternative

A full half-century has passed since I wore bell-bottom pants, paisley shirts, and a fringed leather jacket. To be honest, I was never quite that cool. I did own bell-bottoms and paisley shirts, yes—but, no fringed leather. A ragged old jeans jacket had to do. But that was in the early 70’s. In high school, I was caught between the doo-wop days and the Beatle cut, white socks, and penny-loafers.

Back in those days, college was the way to avoid the draft. The Vietnam War was raging somewhere in Asia, and nobody wanted to become a jungle-tramping, ground-pounder carrying an M-16 rifle. Of course, there was always Canada, but that was considered the coward’s way out.

My first attempt at college was a total bust, so I figured joining the Air Force was safer than getting drafted. As it turned out, attending classes and studying harder in college would have been the best alternative by far.

Wearing the Boots

I ended up in a top-secret compound run by the National Security Agency in the East China Sea, processing intelligence information coming out Vietnam and all South East Asia. “Intelligence” was an oxymoron when referring to military secrets. Sending hundreds of thousands of good American boys to fight a war we couldn’t win, in a country that didn’t want us, didn’t seem intelligent to me. The more I learned, the less I believed in our government’s decisions.

At any rate, many years later, after raising a family and obtaining a crop of grandchildren, my daughters convinced me to write down my unique experience of protesting an unjust war from within the military. They had heard my stories many times of the Red Boots Rebels, and our stand against the idiocy of the Vietnam War. In a way, the story of the Red Boots was the M.A.S.H. of the late 60’s. While being intensely serious with potentially grave consequences, the outcome was quite humorous.

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Wheat Field Tag

Summer Fun

What better way to spend a summer afternoon than playing tag with a good friend in Piper Cubs. Mike and I would roam Montana skies looking for challenging landing spots. We took turns selecting a field or road to plop down on while the other followed. Some landings were ego boosters. “Let’s see if he can get down on this jeep trail.” Others were easy in-and-out for a picnic lunch or snooze by a river.

I found my Piper J-5 rotting away in the back of an Oklahoma crop duster’s hangar. The sad little plane ended its days as an agricultural sprayer and had been neglected for a number of years. With the purchase of an old flatbed trailer and a few hundred yards of rope, I hauled the derelict back to my Montana shop and restored her to life once again. I have no doubt she enjoyed bouncing in and out of wheat fields much more than the life she had previously lived dowsing them with chemicals.

The J-5 played an important role in the love story of the aviator and the hippie, as told in my book, Schellville.

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WWII 8-hour clock

My father flew B-24 bombers and tankers out of India during WWII. As an artist, he also painted nose art on a number of airplanes (see my book, Across The Yellowstone). “Cute Lil Lass” was one of the last paintings he made. This was the B-24 he flew back to the states from India at the end of his tour. He had flown forty-two missions into Burma and China. As a memento, he removed the 8-day clock from the instrument panel and hid it away in his luggage.

The clock now sits on my bookshelf below a model of the B-24 he built when he was in his eighties. Although it ceased to tick years ago, the hands on that clock represent a wonderful reminder of the bravery demonstrated by my parents and their generation. I look at the face of that timepiece and imagine it vibrating next to the other instruments from the drone of those four huge radial engines, as the plane struggled for altitude to cross the Himalaya Mountains. I can see my father sitting at the controls, a young man of twenty-one, in charge of a crew of kids, freezing in their flight suits after sweating in the heat of India prior to takeoff. The stories he and others told of their experiences are awe-inspiring, bone-chilling, and humbling. They left extremely large footprints to follow.

I grew up with that clock and all the other paraphyllia my father saved; log books, flight suits, diaries, cadet books, and picture albums. I don’t know if my love for aviation came from my exposure to those things, or I was attracted to them because of my desire to join the birds in flight. Either way, I can’t express how thankful I am that he left those treasures for me and others to enjoy.

Several years ago, my siblings and I decided to donate much of Lt. Vernon L. Drake’s war memorabilia to the National Museum of WWII Aviation in Colorado Springs, CO. His legacy will live on there for years to come.

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Why airplanes?

Yep, there are airplanes in my stories, but you don’t have to like them to enjoy the tale.

Some people are into cars, others are crazy about horses. I even have a motorcycle in the garage, but my preference is spending time with the birds. Even so, my books aren’t necessarily about flying. They are about living, loving, and the challenges we all face. After all, life is a series of relationships with people and things. When someone is striving to be a good ballplayer, computer wiz, CEO, or the best mom on the planet, we all share similar emotions. So, whether or not a person likes airplanes or performing inverted spins in them (that’s a younger me in the photo), chances are pretty good that they will relate to the struggles, challenges, defeats, and successes I write about.