Agam's Gecko
Monday, August 27, 2007

few days ago while perusing Bill Whittle's terrific writings at Eject! Eject! Eject!, I came across (what turned out to be part of) an interesting story recounted by a commenter to Bill's latest post. (Great things are afoot among the Ejectians -- see here and here for the inspiration for their project.)

The story intrigued me, and was posted in Bill's comments without, er, comment -- in other words copied and pasted from elsewhere. And as my delving into the matter soon revealed, it had been pasted verbatim -- and apparently passed around by email -- far and wide throughout these very inter-tubes. Indeed, so much so that the story was sometimes denounced as a hoax (it is not).

The much-copied version seems to have been lifted (usually without attribution) from One Marine's View, specifically from here (beware, there's a soundtrack!). However, this telling of the events (a series of published letters to the Arizona Republic newspaper in June, 2005) doesn't include the closing chapter, for which we are indebted to Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages: Wake-Up Call.

The cause of all this letter writing was a morning fly-past out of Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix. What the ensuing correspondence points out, is that no matter how sure we may be of ourselves, it's always better to hold one's ire until getting the true story. It's also a perfect example of what seems to be the predominant default position for a large proportion of citizens in western societies. That is, if it wears a uniform or has anything to do with serving one's country, adopt a cynical view. How many gentle readers have heard a friend or acquaintance, when reaching for an example of an oxymoron, say something like, "Well, that's just a contradiction in terms like, like um, like military intelligence!" Har dee har. It's the single most popular "oxymoron" since God created morons (or if you like, since random fortuitous circumstance created them).

So there was this fly-past, see, and a week later a disturbed citizen filed his complaint of inconvenience. This was published in the Arizona Republic on June 23, 2005:
"A Wake-Up Call from Luke's Jets"

Question of the day for Luke Air Force Base: Whom do we thank for the morning air show?

Last Wednesday, at precisely 9:11 a.m., a tight formation of four F-16 jets made a low pass over Arrowhead Mall, continuing west over Bell Road at approximately 500 feet. Imagine our good fortune!

Do the Tom Cruise-wannabes feel we need this wake-up call, or were they trying to impress the cashiers at Mervyns early bird special? Any response would be appreciated.

Tom MacRae, Peoria
The cynical default view is easiest to fall back on, especially when one wants to impress the girls at Mervyn's with some witty "independent thinking." Keep in mind, the above was written by a Navy veteran. Also note the time of the alleged offence -- 9:11 on a Wednesday morning. Though it's unclear whether it was the writer's sleep, or shopping at Mervyn's that was disturbed at that ridiculous hour.

I sometimes see (after I hear them) the Royal Thai Air Force in the skies over Bangkok, but I can't imagine too many people having this reaction. It would be seriously out of character here, or in any Asian country I'm familiar with.

The following day, the Republic ran a response from Col. Robin Rand, commander of Luke AFB's 56th Fighter Wing, but I'll let Lt. Col. Scott Pleus, the commanding officer of the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke, whose clarification was published on June 28, take over here. As I understand things, he was piloting one of those four aircraft on the fateful day.
"Flyby Honored Fallen Comrade"

Regarding "A wake-up call from Luke's jets" (Letters, Thursday):

On June 15, at precisely 9:12 a.m., a perfectly timed four-ship flyby of F-16s from the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base flew over the grave of Capt. Jeremy Fresques. Capt. Fresques was an Air Force officer who was previously stationed at Luke Air Force Base and was killed in Iraq on May 30, Memorial Day.

At 9 a.m. on June 15, his family and friends gathered at Sunland Memorial Park in Sun City to mourn the loss of a husband, son and friend.

Based on the letter writer's recount of the flyby, and because of the jet noise, I'm sure you didn't hear the 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, or my words to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques as I gave them their son's flag on behalf of the President of the United States and all those veterans and servicemen and women who understand the sacrifices they have endured.

A four-ship flyby is a display of respect the Air Force pays to those who give their lives in defense of freedom. We are professional aviators and take our jobs seriously, and on June 15 what the letter writer witnessed was four officers lining up to pay their ultimate respects.

The letter writer asks, "Whom do we thank for the morning air show?"

The 56th Fighter Wing will call for you, and forward your thanks to the widow and Parents of Capt. Fresques, and thank them for you, for it was in their honor that my pilots flew the most honorable formation of their lives.

Lt. Col. Scott Pleus CO 63rd Fighter Squadron Luke AFB
Lt. Col. Pleus had also had the sad duty of driving out to Yuma on the same evening Capt. Fresque was killed -- Memorial Day 2005 -- to personally inform his parents of their fallen son.

In a news story in the Republic on June 26, headlined "Mission of Honor Managed to Fly Under Our Radar," Lt. Col. Pleus recalled the family's request that Luke AFB participate in the memorial service.
"Of course we would do it. It's a four-ship formation. They fly straight and level over the gravesite and then, directly over the service, the No. 3 plane pulls away while the others fly straight ahead. Symbolically he's headed for heaven. It's the highest form of respect we can pay to a fallen airman.

Everyone involved in such a service considers it an honor. The fliers. The honor guard. The bugler who plays taps. All of us."
The complainant (and this is what is missing from nearly all of the repostings of this story, all over the internet) eventually found it in his heart to apologise, in a letter to the newspaper that was published on July 9.
"An Apology from the Heart to the Airmen of Luke"

Regarding "Flyby honoring fallen comrade" (Letters, June 28):

I read with increasing embarrassment and humility the response to my unfortunate letter to The Republic concerning an Air Force flyby ("A wake-up call from Luke's jets," Letters, June 23).

I had no idea of the significance of the flyby, and would never have insulted such a fine and respectful display had I known.

I have received many calls from the fine airmen who are serving or have served at Luke, and I have attempted to explain my side and apologized for any discomfort my letter has caused.

This was simply an uninformed citizen complaining about noise.

I have been made aware in both written and verbal communications of the four-ship flyby, and my heart goes out to each and every lost serviceman and woman in this war in which we are engaged.

I have been called un-American by an unknown caller and I feel that I must address that. I served in the U.S. Navy and am a Vietnam veteran. I love my country and respect the jobs that the service organizations are doing.

Please accept my heartfelt apologies.

Tom MacRae, Peoria
Bravo to you, sir. It's a shame that you don't get credit for your introspection in the vast majority of places this story has been recounted. Yours is a lesson that millions, or more likely hundreds of millions of people could learn from. Automatically assuming the worst about those who are willing to lay their lives down for those holding these assumptions is not an honourable attitude to take, and it's downright creepy when it becomes, with unfortunate regularity, the default response.

I found it interesting that the memorial fly-past was scheduled at "precisely 9:12 a.m." It seems to me that it may be a recognition that we need to live with the full awareness of reality in the post 9/11 world. People who resolutely continue with a "head in the sand" mentality are sometimes referred to as continuing to live in the "9/10 world."

In the cause of beating back some of this repulsive cynicism, let me offer a couple of news stories. The first is the tale of an Iraqi martyr who laid down his own life to save other lives, Iraqi and American lives, from a murderous mujahideen thug. You'll need to read it from MNF-Iraq, because the pop media was just not interested.

Another member of what in some circles is still laughably called the "Iraqi resistance" carried out his mission, unfortunately with no such courageous guardian on hand. This "freedom fighter" doused a five year-old boy with gasoline in front of his own home, and set him alight. The boy survived, but this time thanks to the pop media, his story was known. (I dare you to have dry cheeks after watching that.) Now that child, so physically and psychologically injured, is excited (for the first time since the atrocity) that he is "really going to get on a plane." An American charity, the Children's Burn Foundation is paying for little Youssif and his family to come to the US for his advanced reconstructive surgery. There's a link there if you'd like to contribute to the cause.

This last thing is just weird, but it shows how way out there this useless cynicism can lead one -- or at least one British-born "humourist." Writing at the "progressive" news and opinion site Huffington Post, some full-of-himself raconteur (check his bio link to see how full) by the name of Martin Lewis penned an open letter to Gen. Peter Pace, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In it, he recommended that Gen. Pace should place President Bush under arrest. Because, as everyone cynically knows, the Bushenfurhrer has shredded the Constitution, and stuff.

Chastised in PuffHo's comments for having advocated a military coup d'etat, Martin defended himself as best he could with weasel logic, finally to fall back on the "symbolism" of it all. He wouldn't want anyone to do anything illegal or unconstitutional, for heaven's sakes. Finally able to take no more, and clearly out of his depth with his deranged justifications inserted into his readers' comments (read 'em, it's a laff riot), he penned a rejoinder today. It was, um, satire! Yeah that's it. Satire and litotes! Only idiots would have taken him seriously. His explanation was lifted directly from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Metaphor! No it was sarcasm! With some litotes and a dash of satire, squire!

Don't let this happen to you.

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