Well, I asked my parents to just give me stories this year instead of things. You think, after a lifetime, that you know your parents pretty well. But then my Dad sends me a story like this and I realize I still have a lot to learn. My parents continue to surprise me in wonderful ways. As we all head into the holidays, I just wanted to share this gift from my Dad about appreciating what we have while we have it.
It was a little chilly that day, but we would fly with the doors open, we wanted to help make his wish come true. He wanted to be a helicopter pilot when he grew up, he wanted to experience what we did daily yet we took it for granted. When we strapped Tommy into the helicopter the sun was shining, it was an early fall day in Rapid City, South Dakota. Tommy was only twelve years old, but he looked so mature for someone of his age. Tommy had already lived a lifetime of pain. Yet he had such a good attitude – he smiled even though you could see the pain in his eyes. He had an ashen gray appearance, you see Tommy had leukemia.
As we prepared to take off Tommy’s nose started to bleed, we almost thought we weren’t going to be able to fly him. He was a little weak but with a tissue and a cotton ball, he was good to go. We were on a “Make a Wish” mission. Tommy had requested to fly in a US Air Force helicopter and see his family farm from the air. This was the farm his grandfather had started and passed on to his dad. It would have been Tommy’s some day; at least that was the plan. As we ran the check list and started the engine on our single engine Huey, Tommy’s eyes were filled with excitement, our Flight Engineer kept a close watch on him and we made sure he could talk to us. Tommy wore a standard Air Force Flight Suit and aviators flying helmet that engulfed his head. He had on Nomex flight gloves under the Velcro of the flight suit sleeves.
As we lifted off, a huge grin came to Tommy’s face; the first step of a dream came through. You almost feel weightless as the helicopter is hovering just a few feet above the ground. We were cleared by tower to hover taxi. We performed our last pre-takeoff check list, were cleared for a west departure, pulled collective, pushed forward on the cyclic, a touch of right rotor petal and wop, wop, wop wop, we were on our way. Some people say helicopters don’t fly; they beat the air into submission. We arrived at our cruising altitude of 1000 feet and headed toward Tommy’s farm. We chatted with Tommy, mostly small talk; we offered to answer any questions he might have about flying or the helicopter. Tommy didn’t seem to want to talk much, just absorb the experience like someone slowly enjoying a much desired meal.
As we reached the family farm, there were two houses, a barn, and a fenced area with horses. One of the horses was Tommy’s he used to ride him every day. As we descended to 300 feet and flew a racetrack pattern around the farm, Tommy’s Grandfather and Grandmother came out and waved and waved. His Grandmother looked like so many you would expect to see, she had on an apron and cotton dress, his grandfather had on his overalls, both were smiling and waving at Tommy. That was the happiest we had seen Tommy the whole flight. His parents had also come out in the yard along with his dog and followed the helicopter by turning this way and that so they could keep eye contact with Tommy. We made several passes as Tommy waved and explained to us some of the important features of the farm, his horse and dog.
It was bitter sweet when we landed and Tommy unstrapped from the helicopter, he was able to realize a dream. He gave us far more than we gave him, it has been over 20 years and I still remember the experience, the patient consideration Tommy demonstrated, the look in his eyes and the optimism as he talked about the future. Two weeks following this flight, Tommy went on to be with the Lord.
– by Faron Thompson, December 2010
Thank you, Dad.