On the Occasion of My Diamond Jubilee

I honestly never thought I would make it to seventy-five. There were times flying like compressor stall during a burner climb out or losing my stability augmentation system during a night monsoon instrument landing in almost zero/zero conditions, losing hydraulics over the badlands, those pesky ball peen hammer sounds small arms make going through the aluminum skin of an aircraft and, of course, that oopsy daisy landing that put me in a body cast for months. Then there was the slowly bleeding out in a full leg cast. Thanks again Frank and Pat for noticing the blood. I got four units of blood during the subsequent emergency surgery.

Then there were the times with Hezbollah and Al Gamat lined up behind me in the streets of Khartoum You probably know Al Gamat by its later name, Al Qaida, but it was Bin Ladin’s boys in Khartoum and they made an attempt but their sedan wasn’t a big as my Landcrusier with the cow catcher on the front. Add bouts of the black dog of depression; betrayals of trust, both personal and professional and stir vigorously. So, yeah, never thought I’d get this far, but here I am.

You would think that by your 75th birthday most of your overriding responsibilities would have dwindled to a minimum, and you would be living the good life we were all promised if we applied ourselves and worked hard. For the most part that is true but I have a 99+ year old mother who is bed bound in a nursing facility thirty-seven miles away and I honestly think she is going to outlive me. Anne and I have been doing elder care for fifteen years now. First, her parents and my mom, and now my mom alone. It is a time consuming task dealing with care givers, nurses, doctors, insurance, downsizing and all the other chores associated with long-term care giving. I’m sure many of my readers are, or have been, there and can understand. And when it was three people, all with different problems, it was even more so. We also have a one year old hound dog who’s only about half-trained, and a seventy-five acre estate to take care of. So, lots of responsibilities remaining.

Health wise, I’m in better shape than I ought to be given the life I’ve led, what with the sleep deprivations of full-time cover work, then spying all night, being vomited on by drunk agents, crawling around on the ground at midnight looking for Top Secrets documents dropped by one such drunk agent. Talking my way through road blocks at 0100 while carrying some of those Top Secret documents and knowing I was going to have to come back through when I returned the documents at 0400. Do this every other week and some just as perilous tasks in between because you handle multiple spies and, while you may have some stories to talk about, each of them extracts both a corporeal and psychological cost. Then, there was the stress of years of hyper-vigilance and the toll that adrenalin takes on the body. Of course, being shot in the chest with a half-charge 9mm plastic round and no vest, leaves its marks. In this case a spider web of cracks in the sternum.

Injections forestall necessary replacements in my knees, shoulder and hip, which I can’t have done because, with my mother, I cannot afford the down time of recovery. But, since the body cast at twenty-two, I have lived with pain as a close, if not welcome, companion. Adjusting to new pains takes longer now than before, but it can be done. I think our pain tolerance levels must decrease as we grow older.

The greatest loss I am experiencing is that of friends. Many of the people I knew, and cared about, in high school have died or don’t want to rekindle a friendship. I honestly don’t know why, since I’m really a funny guy, if you like Dad jokes. Then many college and Air Force friends have also died. One of the reasons I left the Air Force was because I became terribly sad by having to put on my Class A’s, every few months, and go to a memorial service. After the 23rd I stopped, and that was just in ten years.

Still I have been receiving a steady flow of birthday greetings from family and friends and that is a pleasant experience, but it only happens one day a year. So, now, for the most part, I sit in my tower office with few friends with whom to reminisce or discuss current events and such. Thus, I write blogs about this and that. Work on short stories, all of which must have happy endings, and engage in more than a little metaphysical postulating. I also tell the dog to “Leave it” a lot.

While it isn’t what I would have necessarily chosen, it’s not bad and certainly could be a lot worse. And so I celebrate an occasion I did not foresee and did not expect, wondering what the next year will bring.

6 thoughts

  1. Happy Birthday! I assume you got our card but I thought I should wish it again on the real day.
    You share this birthday with our second grandson, Derek , who lives in North Carolina. Seeing your blog today reminds me that even though I sent him a card, I should test him a Happy Birthday, So thank you for that and I hope you enjoy your next year. My husband Vance and my twin brothers also turned 75 this year. So I guess it is a big year for the family.

  2. Happiest Bday wishes, Tony. Your mentor- and friend- ships mean more to so many than you realize. Thank you for your service…. but thank you even more for continuing to care about so many!

  3. Happy Birthday. I am Sybil Arnold’s sister who was a teacher at McCollum. She remembers you from way back and introduced me to your writings. I thoroughly enjoy you writings. Thank you for your amazing service to our country. God bless you and yours.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the read and wish you the very best of days, not only today, but every day. I am thankful we met that day in Knoxville.

  5. Happy birthday Tony! I still treasure the memory of you supporting the op I was running against the A.Q. Khan nuclear weapons network. I thanked you, and you smiled and said, “A good op is a good op.”

  6. Happy Birthday Tony. 75 is young. I am six years older. We still spend summers in our motor home in the cool New Mexico mountains and do frequent tours of the hill country vineyards. Four years ago we were up in your country and travelling down, I think, Interstate 40, we passed the area where you live. Do not let age stop you. You just have to do everything a little slower. Keep writing. I have several friends and neighbors that follow you. One of my son’s friends was a pilot during Iran Contra. He has stories to tell and I know he is telling the truth, but how did we allow all that? Your stories are true, but why are we up and walking away from the middle east just like the Viet Nam time. Watching the big plane fly out of the middle east last Spring was like watching Viet Nam again. It was almost a perfect movie copy. This nuclear scare is like the Kennedy years all over. History does repeat it’s self. Keep sharing your wisdom with all of us. You have been there and done that and know the truth. Sybil Arnold

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