(Editor’s note: We received this essay from one of our state representatives about a special flight he experienced with two family members. We thought it was worth sharing with our readers.)
A great part of being a pilot is having the honor of taking someone up for his or her first flight or first flight in a small plane. I had that honor recently with my cousin Molly Phalen, her eyes wide and her smile wider.
It was one of my greatest flights. My favorite uncle, Jerry, an 85-year-old Marine aviator and Molly’s grandpa, flew co-pilot.
Jerry took me on my first flight 50 years ago.
We left Hilton Head in clear weather, and the tower handed us off to Marine Station Beaufort. I was given a squawk code and cleared to 3,000 feet along the coast.
I turned Jerry’s headset off and contacted Marine Beaufort Tower (MB) with a request. My call sign is N7445N (45 November).
The following is as close to verbatim as I can remember:
45N: “Beaufort Tower, four-five November with a request.”
MB: “Go ahead with your request.”
45N: “Sir, four-five November, we have an 85-year-old Marine as co-pilot, a Korean war vet that might appreciate a ‘Semper Fi’ from the tower if you have time when we call level at our cruise altitude.”
MB: (without hesitation) “Sir, it would be an honor. Phonetically spell our Marine’s last name and rank if available.”
45N: “Marine Sgt. Pappa Hotel Alpha Lima Echo November (Phalen).”
MB: “Report cruising altitude.”
At cruise altitude, Uncle Jerry’s headphones were back on.
45N: “Marine Beaufort, N7445N reporting cruise altitude.”
(This is where it gets good!)
MB: “Roger 45N. We have a special message for Sgt. Phalen. Semper Fi, Sgt. Phalen. Thank you for your service in Korea and to our country.”
It took Uncle Jerry by surprise but he replied with “Semper fi” and talked briefly about being one of the flying sergeants to the controller in the tower.
MB: “Semper Fi, Sgt. Phalen, hook and drag, hook and drag.”
And then it sounded like a platoon in the tower as all of them in unison honored Uncle Jerry with a “Hoorah!”
I might have noticed a tear in the eye of this tough 85-year-old Marine. Or it might have simply been one in this pilot’s eye.
It’s great to be an American.
Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton is a long-time pilot. He also is the District 118 representative in the State House.