27 June, 2013

Profile 78 - FINAL: "Pardo's Push".

Do you remember when President George H. Bush talked about the "Thousand points of light"?  The actual quote was something like, "...America moving forward, always forward—for a better America, for an endless enduring dream and a thousand points of light."

In today's glitterati world, there are thousands of points of light going off every second—they're called "paparazzi."  No disrespect to President Bush or even the hard work of those who follow Miley Cyrus around but I haven't seen so many points of light as I've seen points of Bullsh*t.

Whatever.  My point of view isn't anything new.  But I will say this much—at some point or another a person comes to the crossroad that their actions either matter for the greater good or they don't.

But even then, what does something good look like?  Does it look like Miley Cyrus?

Hmmm.   Well, as far as I've learned, if you turn your eyes toward Texas, and squint really hard, you can see a point of light named Bob.  Pardo.  That's him on the left.

This isn't the place for the back story of the famed "Pardo Push."  Click here for that.  Instead, this is the place for you to learn a quirk of the story that might brighten your day.  Especially if you're in the dark of cynicism.

A couple nights ago, Bob and I were talking about his defining moment and I was trying to figure out why Bob did what he did.  Offhandedly I asked, "So, (Lt. Earl) Aman was your wingman..."

Bob interrupted, "No.  Earl was not my wingman."

"Somewhere I read that Earl was a wingman..."

"That's wrong.  I was #2.  Earl was #4.  My leader and Earl's leader had head back to base."

Hmmm.  Headed back to base, eh?

"What do you mean headed back to base?  You mean they left?"

In case you don't understand the significance of what Bob just said, look at the illustration below. The leaders are second and third from left.  These are the guys that are supposed to lead—both the mission and the example.

To be fair, I haven't talked to either of the leaders that flew in that four-ship on March 10, 1967. All I know is this—Bob Pardo and his backseater Steve Wayne, though flying a combat-damaged F-4 themselves, stuck around to help Earl Aman and his backseater Robert Houghton when the 'leaders' didn't.

Anyway, I wondered why Bob stayed with Earl.

"You and Earl must have been good friends, yes?"

Bob replied,  "No.  Well, sure, I guess.  Earl was in my squadron..."  In other words, Earl was just a guy in Bob's squadron.  Cordial, friendly, sure.  But best buds?  No.  Kind of like the guy from work who rounds out your golf foursome a few times a summer.


"So why did you do it?  Why did you risk everything (your life, your military future, possible imprisonment) to save Earl?"  My pen was ready...

"Well.  I guess...my dad. Yeah.  It was my dad.  He taught me...I guess, that..."

Ha.  Bob Pardo didn't have a pat answer.  At least nothing other than a tangental ramble of how his old man taught him this and that.  In listening to Bob's Depression-era family and having to work hard, there were enough aw-shucks moments that I wondered if Bob wasn't a little too good to be true.  See, I remember something about WW2 ace Pappy Boyington saying that behind every hero was a bum.

And that's fine.  I can accept that Bob Pardo is human.  In fact, I'm sure he's flickered a few times.  Maybe gone-out altogether, too.  I don't know.

But I do have another picture to show you.  Look below.

That's Bob on left, Earl at right.   The quality of the photo isn't great but I think you can see for yourself that Earl is in a wheelchair and on a ventilator.  Here's the backstory - in 1994, Earl was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and by the 28th anniversary of "The Push," was being fed through a tube.

And the T-shirt on Earl's lap is one of 3,000-some t-shirts that Bob and a network of friends bought and sold to raise money for Earl's chair, ventilator, computer...

"Did you know Earl was in one of the first classes of The Air Force Academy?"  Bob asked conversationally.  Of course I didn't.  And there's no way I could have - Earl died from the disease in 1998.  But Bob sounded pretty alive when he proclaimed, "We got him a van so he could go to his reunion (in 1996)."

Did you catch what happened here?  The friendship?  The continued sense of duty?  The strength of the brotherhood?  The, dare I state it, "leadership"?

Bob's no point of light.

Bob's a torch.

And I tell you what—I think this was the kind of stuff President Bush was talking about.

Ok. Back to the guy who commissioned me to do this piece, he's an ex-POW who thought Pardo's "push" was a momentous act of humanity and worthy of space on his office wall.  "You're going to like Bob.  He's the real deal."

He is.  And now I know what a point of light looks like, too.

Meet Dick Francis.  Read about him here.  His story isn't so much about being a "point of light" as it is igniting new ones.

I start his F-4E next and hopefully, when we're done, Dick will have lit three more.


PS - Bob has asked that I work with him to benefit his charity, the "Air Warrior Courage Foundation."  There are a very limited number of prints of my artwork, signed by Bob, available and a sizeable portion of each sale goes to the AWCF.   SOLD OUT.

05 June, 2013

Profile 78 - "Pardo's Push"

You know, they're all interesting.  And they're all thought-provoking.

And they're all important.

"They" are The Stories I get to hear.   And the more I hear, the more I become convinced that Combat and Peace are more alike than not.  Both have their moments of bone-chilling fear, horror, courage and victory... as well as monotony and, ironically, peace.

For me it works like this—I'll be in the thick of something, from business to yard work and suddenly, I'll remember a story and my perspective will change; somehow, inspiration will come and a fresh outcome will occur.

Maybe that's why studying History is so important—it's the story of "us." Minute by minute, we climb a little higher atop the shoulders of giants of the past.*

But, there are those stories that somehow separate themselves from the grit, grime and guts and take on a glow that's almost, well... holy.

Last week, I received a commission to do one of the most fantastic moments in combat aviation.   The moment is regarded in aviation circles as "Pardo's Push."  In short, an F-4C pilot named Bob Pardo literally pushed his stricken wingman's dead Phantom fighter out of enemy air space in order to give the the crew* a better chance of surviving a bail out and avoiding the hell of a POW camp.

You can google "Pardo's Push" yourself.  If you know anything about aviation, aeronautics, physics or that quality called cojones, you'll shake your head in disbelief.  But it's all true and right now, I've got the chance to dig a little deeper and learn more about the man himself.   This is going to be so cool!

Oh.  And the guy who commissioned me?  There's a story in that, too.  He stated,  "(Bob's) selfless act of love and compassion for (his) wingman and complete disregard for personal safety, is among the greatest acts of valor ever exhibited. Quite simply (Bob is), and will always be, my hero."

In short, he wants a picture of Pardo's F-4 on his wall for inspiration.   He too get's the "standing on the shoulders of giants" quote. 

This story would normally just end with two like-minded guys toasting a minor business deal.  I'd get to work while he cleared space on the wall of his den and you'd see the final work. For better or worse.

But like Pardo's Push, the story isn't a normal deal.  Instead, the Commissioner is someone who ended up with the very fate that Pardo risked so much to avert.

Yeah, my Patron was a POW himself.

Stick around. 

This one is important.  For more reasons than you might be thinking...


*F-4's had two people aboard - pilot and weapons officer.