Wing Tips and Tea

The icy terrazzo floor feels unwelcoming–aloof and chilly. I would prefer wall to wall but the concrete beneath my feet came with the house.  My husband Bernie, a fighter pilot, has six months to go in Vietnam and hasn’t even seen his new son yet. I sit on the bed’s edge, as I do every night about this time, knowing Little Paul will soon sing out his belly wail. My slippers warm my feet while I slip into my robe. I know what’s coming.

My breasts throb. How can Baby’s hunger lust alert my body so quickly? How I can pop up like a jack-in-the-box when my son is about to demand his midnight snack, when only a few months ago, alone in bed, I lolled around all night, punching pillows, dreaming of Bernie, and procrastinating the day’s beginning? How swiftly things change. 

All I hear from baby is faint churning. He will take at least five more minutes to work up a frenzy, so I shuffle to the bathroom. On the way out, I grab a look in the mirror and yank a headband around my wild hair, then head down the hall towards the kitchen. Four minutes of free time left. 

I could read Bernie’s last letter tucked into the pocket of my robe. But do I really want to hear about how you can lose your wing tips by pulling too many Gs, and still land to tell about it? The small wing tips on the F-4 fighter jet are vulnerable to pressures when pulling up too fast from a dive. What Bernie did was dangerous, and I was relieved to learn he and his plane flew on and made a safe landing.  It’s not something he can write to his parents about, but I’m glad he does to me. His tells me stories that make me laugh, or cry, or desperately want to know more. 

I plop down at the kitchen table, and pull out the envelope and unfold his four-page letter.  I’ve memorized that sentence so many times. He writes as if losing the wingtips on his F-4, is a daily occurrence. I see him sitting across from me right now, gesturing with his hands as pilots do, trying to explain what happened. My heart races.  If I could just touch him.  

The stain on the folded up yellow, legal sized paper is from beer most likely, but his letters are precious keepers. I finger his closing: I miss you my darling. I feel you close to me. All my love, your Bernard.

I slide the letter back into my pocket, shuffle to the cupboard and pull out a cup with a fresh tea bag–called Sleepy Time–already in it, then click on the gas burner under the teapot. Cooking with gas makes me uncomfortable; it smells, and ticks back at me when I turn it on. While I wait for the whistle, I say a prayer for Bernie.  

The baby starts to cry as I set my steeping cup on the end table next to the living-room rocker. 

The moon lights up the room. 

“You’ll have to wait ‘till I’m ready, Little Paul.” I open the letter again and ease down into the plush cushions.  

“Two more minutes.”


Lou Gehrig, the former New York Yankee baseball great known as the Iron Horse, has been linked to ALS {amyotrophic lateral sclerosis} ever since he was diagnosed with the incurable disease 84 years ago. The progressive, debilitating disorder forced the 37-year-old baseball legend to leave his beloved sport, and he died two years later. From then on, ALS, the rare disease most people had never heard of, became known as Lou Gehrig disease. 

 The 62,000 fans gathered at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, looked down on the field where their embarrassed hero was receiving honors from his peers and coaches. Visibly humbled and overcome with emotion, Gehrig was prodded by his coach to get behind the mic and say something to the crowd. He began his talk by saying: Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man alive on the face of the earth.

 Little did Lou know that his heartbreaking speech would consist of two of the most often quoted sentences in the history of baseball. After that opening, Lou went on to enumerate his many blessings which earned him a respect that still lives today.

I’ve always admired Gehrig’s courage in facing the inevitable, but I never imagined my husband would be facing that exact verdict. When Bernie was told he had ALS in 2012, his reply was, “It is what it is.” He was 74 then, and had only two years left; ALS’s life expectancy is 2-5 years on the average. Bernie never unlocked his personal life to others, except in rare instances or when recounting his narrow escapes as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War before an audience of history students or Legionnaires. During his last several years, we lived life to the fullest, traveling, spending precious time with our children and grandchildren, and feeling grateful for the many blessings we had during our 54 years of loving each other. 

 After reading my book, My Pilot: A Story of War, Love and ALS, my friend, Betsy, told me about her brother Ed, who had died of ALS while in his early 70s. He was a retired business man, who’d served in WW II was married and had three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Betsey wanted me to read his two-page typed letter which talked about his diagnosis and his reactions to it. I noticed it was dated, 1991, which meant that Betsey had saved it for 30 years. 

 I lay the letter before me as I sat at my kitchen table, warming my hands around my fresh mug of coffee. I felt privileged my friend was sharing her brother’s words with me, but I had no idea what was in store. 

  Ed’s letter began, I was diagnosed as having ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He went on to describe how the nerves that connect the brain to the muscles die and the muscles atrophy, which sounded all too familiar to me. Ed explained that the disease was making itself known to him through his vocal cords, throat and mouth. 

  When Ed and his wife received the doctor’s diagnosis, their reaction was one of quiet introspection rather than emotion. Bernie and I felt the same way. Basically, Ed said, the doctor told me I am going to die. This can hardly be called surprising or startling information. We all are, or should be, aware of our own mortality. When destiny told me to pick a card, I could have done worse. Unlike Alzheimer’s, ALS does not affect the mind, and it does not involve pain. 

His brutal honesty took me by surprise. As I continued reading his thoughts, my wish was that I had known this fine man. By the time I finished his letter, I felt as if I had. It’s one thing to be diagnosed with a curable malady, I thought, but another to be told there is no cure for you.  

When Ed called himself, one of the world’s luckiest people, I wondered if most people would feel the same way under similar circumstances. What’s there to be thankful for? they could ask. In fact, I might have posed that question myself, had my husband been alive and healthy. I read on…

 I stand in absolute awe of creation, Ed said. Beauty is all around us, the gentle music of a northern lake touching the shore, the perfect peacefulness of falling snow, the ultimate wonder of a sunset, and the wind in the high conifers make me feel I am on the verge of comprehending infinity. He added how he and his wife cherished every moment, and how they reveled in the pleasure of each other’s company. We count and are humbly grateful for our fortune and our many blessings. 

  By sincerely claiming and naming his past good fortunes—which probably unbeknownst to him, had his readers evaluating their own lives as they read on—Ed did us a favor by looking back and uncovering a mountain of treasures that he might have left along the way had he not been stricken. 

 I can imagine Bernie smiling at this question Ed posed: Can anyone be more fortunate than I, and wouldn’t I be a class idiot to let the fear of dying spoil the obvious pleasure I get from living? If Bernie were here, I believe he’d look upon Ed as a confidant whose words expressed his own feelings. 

 I’ve had the privilege of knowing memorable PALS—People with ALS—during my journey with Bernie. One remarkable man we came to know was Christopher Pendergast, who had ALS for 27 years, and wrote about it. His book, entitled Blink, was written with an eye-checker device on his computer screen because he could no longer use his hands. Others like Bernie, expressed their courage and daily accounts silently to themselves; day by day, week by week, month by month. 

 No matter how they handle their emotions, those who live with their endgame in sight have a lion’s courage, and the satisfaction of knowing what matters most in life. 

Lou Gehrig Day June 2

Anthony Castrovince March 4, 2021 –

MLB announces Lou Gehrig Day

Lou Gehrig the man who was once a permanent fixture in the New York Yankees lineup, now has a permanent place on the Major League calendar.

June 2 will hereby be known as “Lou Gehrig Day,” Major League Baseball announced Thursday. The annual, league-wide event will be a time not only to honor and celebrate the legacy of the Hall of Fame first baseman but to raise awareness and funds to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the awful disease that ended Gehrig’s life and informally bears his name.

“Major League Baseball is thrilled to celebrate the legacy of Lou Gehrig, whose humility and courage continue to inspire our society,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “While ALS has been closely identified with our game since Lou’s legendary career, the pressing need to find a cure remains. We look forward to honoring all the individuals and families, in baseball and beyond, who have been affected by ALS and hope Lou Gehrig Day advances efforts to defeat this disease.”

On Lou Gehrig Day, all players, managers and coaches will wear a special uniform patch, with red “4-ALS” (the logo bearing Gehrig’s retired uniform number with the Yanks) wristbands available to be worn in-game. Additional ceremonial details for each home park that day will be announced at a later date.

Gehrig joins Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente as the only players to have a day reserved in their honor across MLB. The June 2 date is significant in Gehrig’s story both as the day he became the Yankees’ regular first baseman in 1925 (replacing starter Wally Pipp, who famously asked out of the lineup because of a headache) and, sadly, as the day Gehrig passed away, in 1941, roughly two years after he was diagnosed with ALS.

Often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Those afflicted lose their ability to walk, talk, eat and, eventually, breathe. ALS can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time, and, while scientists are making some strides in understanding the disease and there are several potential treatments in late-stage clinical trials, there is no cure.

According to the ALS Association, more than 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year, with an average life expectancy of just two to five years.

Henry Louis Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS on his 36th birthday — June 19, 1939 — after months of uncharacteristically poor play and mysterious fatigue that forced him to pull himself out of the lineup on May 1, ending his then-record streak of 2,130 consecutive games played (since broken by Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995). After his diagnosis, Gehrig immediately retired from baseball with 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs, 1,888 runs scored and a 1.080 OPS that ranks third all-time behind teammate Babe Ruth (1.164) and Ted Williams (1.115).

When the Yankees held the original “Lou Gehrig Day” on Independence Day at Yankee Stadium that year, Gehrig reluctantly stepped to the microphone and gave one of the most famous speeches in the history of professional sports.

Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech

“For the past two weeks, you have been reading about a bad break,” he told a rapt audience. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

Gehrig passed away less than two years later, but his legacy of grace in the face of such a daunting diagnosis has long outlived him and made him a celebrated figure. And for those afflicted or affected by ALS, what happened to baseball’s “Iron Horse” stands as an enduring reminder of how the disease can strike even the seemingly indefatigable.

While MLB has raised ALS funds through various initiatives — including an annual Winter Meetings Charity Auction and the “MLB Fights ALS” campaign — over the years, this will be the first concentrated day centered around this legend and this cause. A group known as the “Lou Gehrig Day Committee” — a collection of individuals, family and friends affected by ALS — campaigned to make this addition to the MLB schedule become a reality.

One particularly vocal advocate was longtime MLB broadcaster Jon “Boog” Sciambi, now with the Marquee Sports Network, whose childhood friend, Tim Sheehy, was diagnosed with the disease in 2005 and passed away in 2007.

“I think of it as baseball’s disease because of it also being known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” said Sciambi, who serves on the board of directors for Project Main St., which raises funds to improve the quality of life for those afflicted by ALS. “So I’m really excited that baseball is doing this. Just from an awareness standpoint, it’s so important.”

Castrovince on Lou Gehrig Day

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which was organized by the late Patrick Quinn and Pete Frates, went viral on social media in 2014 and was transformative in improving the public awareness of ALS while significantly increasing donations and expanding investment in disease research from the federal government.

Still, according to ALS Association research, more than 60% of Americans know nothing about ALS. The hope is that Lou Gehrig Day can help change that and continue to aid the pursuit of a cure.

“In 2021, it’s jarring to hear that anything is 100-percent fatal, and ALS is 100-percent fatal,” Sciambi said. “We’re still far away from finding a cure. And as the condition worsens, the financial cost increases and so many things are not covered by healthcare. People need help.”Lou Gehrig Day will carry deep meaning for A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who lost his mom, Gretchen, to ALS in 2018, and Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard, whose father, Jim, was diagnosed with ALS that same year.

Piscotty on ALS Cure Project

Piscotty’s father, Mike, is a Lou Gehrig Day Committee member and president of the ALS Cure Project.

“I believe Lou Gehrig’s sentiments as he said, ‘You don’t get the breaks unless you play with the team instead of against it,’” Mike Piscotty said. “ALS is a curable disease if we work together in a coordinated manner to achieve breakthroughs following the collaboratively developed ‘Roadmap to Cure ALS.’”

Lou Gehrig Day, therefore, is not just about Gehrig himself but the many people here and gone who have longed for a solution to this “bad break.”

The following text was taken from, all rights reserved.

Castrovince, Anthony. “Inaugural Lou Gehrig Day Set for June 2.”, MLB, 4 Mar. 2021,


When I gaze at the comforter of bright snow draped over my patio and beyond, the beauty of it all becomes a welcome distraction from the task in front of me, which is writing. Since I’m composing an essay about the memorable snows I’ve known, it seems only right that I stop to consider the snow that hugs my holly bushes like whipped cream, letting only sprigs of green remain topside, as if they were laurel wreaths. And since wreaths of laurel are symbols of triumph, I’d say last week’s blizzard has won Mother Nature’s contest and deserves such recognition.

Writing is my pleasure.  Since I live alone, I can write whenever it pleases me. My cottage is located within a retirement community, built on acreage which serves as a wildlife habitat. Not long ago, the snow plows cleared my street and driveway, giving me back my quiet world, so I can once again enter the scene.   

The chickadees burrowing into the depths of my pine trees make me wonder how they’ll ever survive. The fluttering creatures remind me of another bird caught in the snow, in Claude Monet’s oil painting of The Magpie—a blackbird who perches on top of an old fence, above the sparkling snow piled beneath him. Monet created this Impressionist snowscape–one of the 140 he painted—in the late 1860s during a time of severe French winters.  It’s a favorite of mine.  

The Magpie 1869 by Claude Monet, courtesy of

While I trod along the pathways in my community, I find all sorts of animal tracks over the mountains of snow. I take close-up photos with my iPhone so I can research what creatures were there: a deer, a racoon, a fox?  And, when the sun shines a certain way, I’m delighted at how it makes the snow glisten, much like Monet’s. 

As I sit at my high table in front of my open laptop with my coffee mug at hand, I glance outside and see the fraternity of Canada Geese land next to the pond. I’m happy to see them again, and wish those entertaining characters would stay a while.  

Last week during my daily walk, I saw four geese glide in and touch down on the ice-crested part of the pond, leaving the open water to their leader who, after testing the ice, found it more appealing. I stopped to watch as the others cautiously padded across the ice toward him. Their awkwardness made me chuckle, as they lined up like good soldiers on detail, one behind the other. Without a quack, the last fellow in line sank through the ice in slow motion. The one ahead took his turn, as did the third, each paddling with great consternation toward their leader, who must have thought, What Dumbclucks!  

I turn back to my writing reluctantly, leaving the geese for another day, but feeling refreshed by the intermission–a pause that’s given me new ideas for my essay, and reminded me why I like living here.  

The Progress interviews author, Sarajane Giere!

The following article written by The Progress Contributing Writer Sophia Colitti was printed in The Progress, Feb. 10, 2021. To view the original article please click here.

(Note* Subscription may be required at only $3 for one day.)

Book uses letters couple exchanged during Vietnam War

Sarajane Giere’s book, “My Pilot,” is about her husband, Bernard.

Author, Sarajane Giere

WEST CALDWELL TWP. – Although Sarajane Giere lost her husband to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2013, writing about him was not filled with pain.

Amid her reflection on loss as she worked on “My Pilot: A Story of War, Love and ALS,” published in November, the West Caldwell resident blissfully regressed to her memories of the great love of her life.

“It was like falling in love again throughout the whole six years I wrote the book. It was wonderful all this time; it was a work of love,” she said.

“As I wrote, I got (the music-streaming service) Spotify and put on all the songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Most of the songs were love songs in those days, and they all remind me of him. I think of them all the time and think of him.”

Giere will discuss the book online at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12. Her talk is sponsored by West Caldwell Public Library. To register, send email to

“My Pilot” embodies the ethereal feeling of being in love combined with hard-hitting truths about war, sickness and distance.

Giere incorporated the love letters that she exchanged with her late husband, Bernard, known as “Bernie,” who served as a pilot during the Vietnam War. He was in the Air National Guard for 15 years as air commander of the 106th Rescue Wing.

Their love story began at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The book covers their collegiate days, their initial move to Texas as a married couple in 1962 and their life together until he died of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure.

The turbulence of their lives during the ‘60s is highlighted, based on Bernard’s letters sent during wartime.

“I think that most of our strength-building times were when he was in harm’s way. They are the backbone of the book. I saved all of his letters from Vietnam. It was very reassuring and comforting to know our love brought us together through letters,” Giere said.

“My Pilot” has resonated with folks beyond the Giere’s acquaintance as an embodiment of the military wife’s experience. It exposes the strength of these women and the trauma they endure. Giere explicitly stated the rawness that is not covered in cinematic and textbook depictions of the Vietnam War.

She credits “My Pilot” for her rekindled connection to the military wives with whom she shared unfathomable grievances. She recounted one time where she witnessed another woman receive a knock on the front door.

“I was like a fly on the wall because the men notifying her of her husband’s death were at the front door and I was behind. I watched what happened. My mind had said, ‘Never forget this moment, look in the window and see this wonderful woman. See what she was going through’ as I was comforting kids who didn’t know their father was gone.”


The Gieres lived in six states as they pursued their careers. While Bernard was flying planes, Sarajane taught elementary reading, art and English for 23 years.

Years later, when Bernard was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at age 73, Sarajane’s one wish was to make him happy.

She shared her memories of their final year together, which included taking Bernard to fly a biplane despite his physical setbacks.

During that year, Sarajane asked Bernard questions about his life as he was mentally slipping. He willingly shared details that she would later channel into her writing.

After his death, she joined The Write Group in Montclair, where she found her motivation to work on the book.

“I was with people who love writing and we encouraged each other to get better. I would get good reactions after reading the letters from Vietnam, which helped me continue. I always liked memoirs, seeing how people overcome adversity in their lives.”

Giere said she wears a necklace of an airplane on a chain with a diamond chip because her husband was a gem.

“Even in the letters we wrote to one another before we were married, I saw the humor, pathos and bravery of the man. I thought to myself, ‘I want my grandchildren to know this wonderful man; I want him to live on.’

“I wanted my seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter to know how amazing he truly was. It’s a matter of passing things down, and the best way to do it is in writing.”

Giere recommends that everyone follow suit.

“I would say, because I love re-reading old letters, keep a diary and write in a journal. Write your feelings, write about what’s happening, the way you feel about the world, your inner self and expose yourself to other writers.”


The Authors Show Interviews “My Pilot” Author Sarajane Giere



Awoman recalls her life—never dull and sometimes terrifying—as an Air Force wife in this memoir.

The Authors Show interviews My Pilot author, Sarajane Giere.

Sarajane Giere offers a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a military wife as she tells the story of her fighter pilot husband, Bernie, a Vietnam Veteran who flew 214 combat missions in the Vietnam War and served twenty-five years in the Air National Guard’s world-class 106th Rescue Wing.

With searing love and explicit honesty, she recounts the terror of the Vietnam years and the lifelong sacrifices that affected her pilot’s life and death. In the telling she honors her husband, their family, and their extended military family, the community holds dear.


Kirkus Reviews – MY PILOT



Awoman recalls her life—never dull and sometimes terrifying—as an Air Force wife in this memoir.

A woman recalls her life—never dull and sometimes terrifying—as an Air Force wife in this memoir.

When Giere married Bernie, the uncertainty of their lives presented itself as a source of adventure rather than anxiety: “We were so much in love that we never questioned what the future would bring.” But Bernie, an Air Force pilot, was eventually sent to Vietnam with the 557th Squadron, a separation that weighed heavily on the author, only 25 years old at the time. She was responsible for tending to their young daughter and preparing for the arrival of another child.

Giere did her best to manage her fears—she played bridge, joined a Bible study group, prayed—but nevertheless remained scared her husband, like so many other pilots, would not return. The author movingly depicts her predicament, which became intensely real to her when she learned another Air Force wife lost her husband in Vietnam: “After that the vulnerability of a pilot’s life became a reality that helped define my role in this new war experience. My friends from the past, who carried on their civilian lives as if there were no Vietnam, seemed disconnected, foreign.” Giere poignantly chronicles her eventful marriage, including the years following Bernie’s deployment to Vietnam and his struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Still, her husband’s stretch of time overseas forms the dramatic backbone of the memoir. The author charmingly strikes an informal register, an anecdotal casualness that forges an even greater intimacy with readers in this admirably candid remembrance. And while of course she did not serve in Vietnam herself, she relates Bernie’s experiences, through conversations and letters, so vividly that readers receive a captivating peek into a soldier’s life there. This is an endearing reminiscence, a kind of love letter from the author to her husband, both sweet and wise.An affecting recollection of a memorable marriage.


This review is provided by Kirkus Reviews, click here to see the original review.

Patty’s Christmas Memory

Patty Nolan in 1927, age 17

My mother, Patty, showed me how memories from the past can enrich the present. Whether from her diaries, letters, or journals, be they sorrowful or sublime, she believed that memories were as precious as gold. During all the years since she’s been gone, I’ve treasured her memoirs. Their value enriches me, especially when I reread her Christmas Memory each December.

I was captivated by my mother’s stories of her childhood, and what it was like celebrating Christmas with 7 big sisters. Born in 1910, Patty was a talented writer who filled up diaries and journals, wrote poetry for Script– her high school writers’ club–and took to the stage. After she married my dad in 1931 and had her first daughter, she wrote about her childhood, typing out her Christmas Memory using onion-skin paper. She sent the story to her sister, Germaine, and I wish I could have been there as Aunt Jimmy read it for the first time. In the years to follow, they would move on from Christmas to tell amusing stories of sibling rivalries which I loved to hear, mainly because of their laughter in the telling which proved contagious.  

We were all at home—it didn’t seem crowded–just natural that we slept three in a bed, and I being the youngest smothered in the middle. From the day the first mysterious package was hidden away on Mama’s closet shelf we knew that Christmas was coming. 

On Christmas Eve the little church would be full to bursting. A spell was in the air when Santa Clause arrived to hand us each a little pictured box of candy. I wonder if Genevieve (her oldest sister) remembers one such performance when she played, “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I remembered because I was one of the “so many children,” and had one line to say as I strung cranberries on the tree.

After we went home to bed, sleep overtook us, but only for a little while. Then, suddenly, we three awoke to a quiet, grey morning as we quivered under the covers and pinched each other. Teddy and Jimmy pushed me out of bed to run shivering into the hallway where I shouted, “Merry Christmas!” There was something of the Chanticleer in that –I felt that I, with my own voice, had startled Christmas into being. 

Oh Papa, I can hear you groan, “Great Scott! It’s only four o’clock, and Mama say, “Get up Will and light the tree.” We had to dress while this took place–long underwear, buttons all over, and those high-laced shoes. One of the things that we all loved, were tarlatan bags filled with an apples, oranges, nuts and candy, that mysteriously showed up in our bedroom on Christmas morning.

And then, that precious moment came when we were blindfolded by one of the older girls, and we made our way downstairs and lined up in front of the tree. When Papa said, “Now,” the blindfolds were removed. My awe, my joy, and my hopes were fulfilled as I gazed upon this twinkling tower of candles and tinsel, angels and icicles! For one brief moment, the gifts lay forgotten while my eyes, my very soul, drank in the beauty of this sight.

I’m glad I have a little girl, and my Christmas prayer is only this: that I may never forget the loving source of these precious memories, and perhaps in some measure give to my home and family the same spirit of love and happiness that shines through all the memories I have of home and Christmas.

Aerospace Live Interview with author Sarajane Giere

Join Aerospace Live and author Sarajane Giere as they sit down for a one on one conversation where Sarajane offers a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a military wife and talks about her life with fighter pilot husband, Bernie, a Vietnam Veteran who flew 214 combat missions in the Vietnam War and served 25 years in the Air National Guard’s world-class 106th Rescue Wing.


If you would like to check out this interview on Apple, here is the podcast link:

Thank you to 1st Lt Robert J. Roberts at Aerospace Education Live for providing us with a link to this interview.

Click here for more wonderful videos and interviews from Aerospace Education Live!

A Legacy of Letters

Letters from long ago intrigue me. Whether they be written by my pilot, from an alert- shack at a South Vietnam airbase in 1965, or one penned by my grandfather to my grandmother in the 1890s, the writers’ voices bring them back to life better than any other scrapbook could. Photographs talk, but letters shout.  

I’m a saver of old family letters and memorabilia.  My cousin once told me, “Sarajane, every family has an historian, and you’re it, kid.” I never met my maternal grandparents, Bill and Matea Nolan, so it was doubly satisfying to read his love letter to her, when on June 18, 1893, he wrote, “…I am going to a little stag party tonight. There is no pleasure in anything for me anymore except to be by your side. I have a great many more things to talk about but must wait until we meet again which will be soon. Then I am yours, forever. W.I. Nolan, Ergo Amo Te {I Love You}.”

My husband, Bernie, survived the Vietnam War and so did his many, detailed letters. As a 26-year-old fighter pilot, knowing there was a good chance he may not return, he didn’t rein in his emotions as he did later in life. His words spilled out and captured me, and I read them over and over. Just having his latest letter in the pocket of my robe made me feel close to him. One pilot I knew rarely wrote home. His wife seemed fine with it, but this baffled me. Once Bernie and I were together again, there were other ways to communicate. I stowed his letters in a tin box on a basement shelf, and didn’t revisit them until after he died, 47 years later. 

 When I reread Bernie’s war letters, that peppy, 1st Lieutenant came back to me, as did my memories of those turbulent 60s, and our adventurous marriage that began at the beginning of the decade.  I wanted my grandkids to see him as I once did, the grandpa they never knew as a young man, against the backdrop of a war they’d only read about in school.

 Stoked by my war letters, I harnessed my new-found energy onto the page in 2013 and began creating a memoir of our life together. As the recollections began to grow, chapter to chapter, so did my gratitude.  

 Seven years later, my memoir has become a reality, inspired by my pilot’s letters and my desire to soften my grief by creating something of value.