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He was already quite sick when we formally met and had the first chance to actually talk. His wife and mine had been friends and traded emails for years, usually regarding club business in the community in which we own a vacation home. Since I've been out of work we've been here frequently, and so have been involved with more than our usual share of events and preparations.

I'd only ever seen Joe in the past at a few meetings and group dinners, where he spoke very little, but with authority and a wisdom obviously gained from years of experience and considered thought. From his occasional critiques, I sensed he possessed a very sensitive bullshit meter.

One afternoon, some months ago, we visited with Joe and his wife for a few hours, and I came away feeling very fortunate to have had the opportunity. His health is failing now, and I assume that it won't be long before he passes.

Joe struck me as extremely frail when we exchanged a few pleasantries on his deck during that warm day, occasionally commenting on world affairs and the condition of the country. It didn't take long to see that we agreed on several "progressive" issues.

He had retired from the IRS and, as he put it, thankfully had the same insurance as the Senate and Obama, to help him fight the various debilitating conditions that were sapping him of his life.

And what a life.

As a kid in Oklahoma, he and his brother bought a surplus Stearman from the military and taught themselves to fly. For take off, they'd sputter along the raised roads bordering the surrounding fields until they came upon one that was cleared, correctly oriented into the wind, and owned by a friendly farmer. The plane would plop onto the dirt, and soon be aloft.

The brothers flew all around the state, navigating only with a compass - determining their current location by circling water towers and gleaning the name of the town below them.

In the Air Force, he flew in the earliest jet fighters during some of the first and most uncertain years of the cold war, this time arcing across the northern hemisphere approaching the USSR and pulling away when the "proceed" orders were, thank goodness, not received, each day.

He met his wife while in the military and raised three sons, who went into various social and government services, and whose families are currently spread across the US and the world. He left the military and worked for the IRS until he and his wife retired to a lake community in Northern California.

And now, at what were the last years of his life, he was upset. His concerns? Fox. Beck. Palin. Limbaugh. McCain. Republican leadership. What they were doing to divide the country, while advancing their own agendas. How they disgraced the military and veterans by attempting to define the aggressive role that the US should adopt in "defending" the country while forcing its will onto the world stage. The lies they spew when attacking intelligent debate and intellectual pursuits. Their pitching of hatred to stir up the worst fears in people during desperate times, prompting their followers to fight other American citizens, instead of struggling against injustice and for a better country and world.

We talked about other topics, too, but I know we both felt a little better for having found a fellow kindred spirit.

The word "patriot" has been abused so often, it's almost become a joke - and it shouldn't be. I haven't met many people that I'd call patriots. Ones that really loved, cared for and feared for the safety and well-being of their country and its citizens, after giving it and them a lifetime of service. I'm just pleased I recently had the chance to get to know one - even briefly.

Now, when I get distracted and overwhelmed by unemployment, the seemingly unending barrage of ignorance blaring from so much of the media, the uphill climb toward equality.. tolerance.. understanding.. I think of Joe, the troubles that he senses, and how it's always a little later than you think.

Then I try to find a way to get busy.

Originally posted to FrankSpoke on Wed Jul 07, 2010 at 02:58 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great Thoughts (8+ / 0-)

    I really enjoyed your diary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this friendship. Dylan was right, "It's a hard rain gonna fall."

  •  I sometimes don't like flying in safe commercial (7+ / 0-)

    planes. Imagine flying with Joe with that takeoff system. It's hair raising. He must have had some serious cajones in his youth.

    •  another aircraft tidbit (0+ / 0-)

      The jet fighters that he flew in (I think he was the navigator) were very early designs, possibly Lockheed F-80 variants - I'm not certain.

      He mentioned that they had a design flaw that occasionally allowed the left(?) wing detaching when in high G maneuvers. Talk about guts.

      But his recollection of his early days flying with his brother in the Stearman biplane were just riveting - about as romantic a take on flying as I'd ever heard.

      Thanks for the comment, behan.

  •  Just goes to show (5+ / 0-)

    you that you can't judge a book by its cover.  Joe has the kind of bio that superficially seems tailor-made for a conservative: a military man who worked for the IRS.  Yet there he is, understanding the real issues and dangers facing us, rather than whining about wanting his country back.  If anyone has a right to demand that, he sure does.  I just hope we do him proud.  He certainly did his part.

    I do hope we hear more from you.  Your writing is engaging and easy to read.  Thanks!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Wed Jul 07, 2010 at 08:33:35 PM PDT

    •  exactly (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MA Liberal, trashablanca, luckylizard

      That's what was so perfect. That all the stereotypes are shattered in this one life.

      That reminds me of when I saw the wedding picture of Joe and his wife - they looked like two hollywood actors portraying the perfect couple in a movie. They were just stunning.

      He has so very much to be proud of.

      Appreciate the comment, luckylizard.

    •  nothing personnal (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      luckylizard

      but it sorta sounds like you tend to pigeon-hole people. Hope I'm wrong.

      It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

      by AKA potsi on Wed Jul 07, 2010 at 10:21:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hope so, too. :-) eot. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        luckylizard
      •  No. I listen and observe. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FrankSpoke

        I'm merely pointing out that, from the rugged individualism of obtaining and flying his own airplane to his subsequent career choices, he might not be the first person some folks would list on their DFH roster.  

        There are plenty of stereotypes about macho military men and their supposed conservative tilt.  Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think I've met anyone who would consider the IRS a liberal (read: kind, considerate, egalitarian) organization.  Despite his years in these authoritarian, hierarchical organizations, Joe reaches the end of his life with his humanity intact.  I merely caution that we must all guard against letting such stereotypes and our own little biases (and we do all have them) cause us to judge people without really knowing them.  

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Thu Jul 08, 2010 at 02:55:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this wonderful portrait. How wonderful (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MA Liberal, trashablanca, FrankSpoke

    that your life has been so enriched by this friendship.

    Yet another food diary... What two people have for dinner: My 365 Dinners

    by pixxer on Wed Jul 07, 2010 at 09:19:43 PM PDT

  •  If you live anywhere near Dallas, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MA Liberal, FrankSpoke

    you can meet some patriots almost any day of the week. A lot of the men and women who come back to the states for R+R from the front come thru DFW. And the volunteers from the USO are are hand to greet every one of them. I'm sure they would love to meet you and have you come by and meet and greet some of the brave men and women that are serving in the military.

    It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

    by AKA potsi on Wed Jul 07, 2010 at 10:19:50 PM PDT

    •  I don't, but I have had a chance to meet some.. (0+ / 0-)

      ..of the men and women in our military forces.

      I can't remember if it was at DFW (I'm about 75% sure it was), but a group of about 5 young uniformed soldiers were hanging around the airport gate, ready to head out - this was about 6 years ago.

      I was returning home from a very unpleasant contract job near Dallas, and I recall looking particularly scruffy - even for me, with my full beard.

      I walked over to them and said something along the lines of, "I hope you guys realize, even though many people may not support the politics that brought us to war.. nobody who has a brain and a heart doesn't appreciate exactly what you guys are putting on the line for absolutely everyone in this country. Thank you."

      They straightened up, almost to attention, and a couple of them said, "Thank you, sir!"

      My wife and I were in New York about 5 years ago during fleet week, and always made a point of talking to the seaman on the streets, shaking there hands and thanking them for their service.

  •  Thanks for that. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca, FrankSpoke, Lorikeet

    Great diary.
    I'm glad a guy like Joe is on our side. I'm glad that he stayed true to his convictions for so many years.
    It's amazing how so many can't see through the BS from the right wing media.
    What makes me sad is not that Joe is passing. We all do eventually. No, what makes me sad is that he fought so hard to make this a better place for all of us, and nearly got there - until the last 10 or so years when the right has divided our nation so willfully and, almost joyfully.
    I'm sorry we haven't gotten there yet, Joe. I will try to do my part to make this the kind of country and world you always thought we could be.

    Peace.

    •  I think that was what was hurting him (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MA Liberal

      [..]what makes me sad is that he fought so hard to make this a better place for all of us, and nearly got there - until the last 10 or so years when the right has divided our nation so willfully and, almost joyfully.

      Yes, well put. You want to think that your efforts result in progress and then you watch your country slide backwards on the rails of ignorance, laid down by corporate and war-mongering apologists.

      Unbelievably hard to accept.

      Thanks for the comment, MA Liberal.

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