The American flag is folded into the formal military triangle by naval officers in full dress. One bows while placing it into my mother-in-law’s hesitant outstretched hands as she attempts to discretely conceal her sobs. It is 1973. We are at the Moffett Federal Airbase in Santa Clara, California for the funeral of her middle son, my husband’s younger brother. It’s a beautiful quiet sunny day on Moffett Field; we, the family, have all flown west from our east coast homes to honor this young naval officer, his wife, and two young children.
He was a lieutenant in the US Navy. As a pilot, this was to be His last flight of this tour of duty flying U2 spy missions over the Bering Strait. His next tour was to be graduate school in San Diego where the family’s new home awaited.
This tragedy was a very dramatic midair collision over the nearby golf course between a NASA research plane and His Navy P3 Orion antisubmarine plane. The subsequent intense military investigation and media coverage never revealed publicly that His black box exonerated Him of any wrongdoing; it was the fault of the air controller ordering both aircraft to land on the same runway at the same time. While He correctly responded by repeating the order, the NASA pilot simply replied “OK”, hence leaving no opportunity for the air controller to realize his mistake.
This goofy funny man, this smart dedicated Annapolis Naval Academy graduate, this devoted husband-father-son-brother was just 28 years old.
Fifteen other humans died in this disaster.
We do not need war to suffer tragic senseless military events.