Memorial Day Tribute

In Flanders Fields

by Lt. Col. John McCrae

 In Flanders Fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row, 

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago

We lived felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields. 

Take up your quarrel with the foe:

To you from fallen hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields. 

On the Flanders front in the early spring of 1915, when World War 1 had settled down to trench fighting, two of the most noticeable features of the field were, the luxuriant growth of red poppies that appeared among the graves of the fallen soldiers, and the larks, that remained on the field during the fighting. As soon as the cannonading ceased, the birds would rise in the air, singing.

Lt. Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician serving in WW 1, wrote the poem on May 3, 1915, as he sat on the back of a medical field ambulance just north of Ypres, Belgium. His friend and fellow militia member, Lt. Alexis Helmer, had been killed the day before. 

Each Memorial Day, when I see artificial red poppies being sold by the American Legion, I take a flower and give a donation to support the veterans, active -duty military personnel and their families with financial and medical needs. The deep red poppies remind me, as they are meant to, of the blood shed by men and women who fought our nation’s wars on our behalf. 

Poet, John McCrae died of pneumonia in January 1918, but has lived on for over 100 years because of his poem, a perfect reminder that wakes us up every year, when Memorial Day appears before us.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McCrae

Sir Galahad in Disguise

Boarding the Delta plane to Florida gave me a sense of déjà vu, as the flight attendants greeted me with a cheery, “Welcome aboard.” I answered them in return and glanced into the cockpit. The captain and his first officer were preparing for takeoff, just as my late husband had done more than 30 years ago, when he was as a Delta co-pilot. I mentioned this to the flight attendant, as I visualized Bernie sitting there in the copilot’s chair. I told them my daughter, Lisa, had been a Delta flight attendant back in the 80’s.  They smiled and said, “No kidding!” I found my seat in Row 10, and settled in, wondering all the while if this young first officer was anything like my pilot.  Two hours later, after we landed, I found out all I needed to know about the young man, my Sir Galahad in disguise.  

I was on my way to a reunion in Jacksonville, Florida, with my four Palmer cousins whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years. I was writing a family memoir and wanted to share with them old photos and memorabilia which I inherited after our grandparents died. My cousins and I had stories to tell, and like a 10-year-old waiting for her birthday, the days couldn’t fly by fast enough for me.  

I became terribly distressed one morning, a month before my flight. My knee caused so much pain I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg. I knew it was arthritis, but why now? Why so excruciating, so debilitating? My trip expectations dimmed after that surprise, and I struggled to keep hope alive. After several tests and doctor visits, a shot of cortisone and 8 physical therapy sessions, the pain lessened. I decided I needn’t cancel the trip, after all, but soldier on using my cane for assurance. Then I thought of the passengers I’d seen using wheelchairs in airports. Why couldn’t I be one of them?  The next day, I called Delta and signed up. 

A week later, Bob, my Limo driver, toted my bulging suitcase to the big, black sedan sitting in my driveway. I wondered what my West Caldwell cul-de-sac neighbors thought of me as he opened the door and stood there as I poured myself into the plush back seat.  The sensation of being pampered isn’t one I’m used to, but I embraced it immediately as I began chatting with him.  Bob’s grey hair gave him a distinguished look. He told me he’d been driving professionally for a little over a year.  “It’s my retirement job,” he said, “and I’m enjoying it.” When I mentioned my wheelchair request, he eyed me through the mirror. “Don’t worry. One will be waiting for you at the Delta counter; it’ll have your name on it.” 

I sat back and scanned the scenery feeling reassured.  The drive held more meaning for me than I had imagined. It led me to recall who I was years ago, when I’d drive the hour from my former home in the Hamptons to JFK. Traveling by myself as an airline pass holder, was a “no-brainer” in those days. I’d pull into the Delta parking lot and take the crew bus to the terminal, and then hop a flight to visit friends in the Hinterland–my old haunts in Iowa and Missouri. Bernie was usually gone on a trip, and I was my own chauffeur. 

Bob was correct.  “They’ll have a wheelchair waiting for you”, he’d said, and there it was, at the check-in counter, in the hands of an attentive young man named Trey.  I was shocked to find there were 10 passengers in wheelchairs besides me waiting to be wheeled aboard our flight. Yikes! I hadn’t imagined it. What could have been a logistics problem, was handled with aplomb by the young attendants on the Newark Airport staff. I was impressed. 

A smooth trip ensued. The attendants were accommodating, and the time sped by. Two hours later we landed in Atlanta where several attendants struggled to push each rider to Delta’s check-in desk. This took some time. The helpers disappeared and there we sat, captives on wheels wondering what would happen next.  Nothing happened. Twenty minutes inched by. If I miss my connection, I might be stuck at some hotel here, with my overloaded bag and for how long?  Although the airport was Delta’s hub, I gave it a “D” compared to others I’d been to. Where were the attendants? Why had we been abandoned? Ten more minutes ticked byI grabbed my cane and walked back to the agent: “What are you going to do when I miss my connection?” I spouted. No reply…just a head shake. 

This is where Sir Galahad comes into the picture.  Not in armored leggings and breast plate, but wearing a Delta copilot’s uniform: a neat, white short-sleeve shirt with three black stripes on the shoulders, black pants and shoes, and a black hat with Delta’s prominent red and blue insignia.

He saw my plight and walked over to me. “Don ‘t worry,” he said, “I’ll take you.”

His name was Ken, and he seemed to know I had once been part of the Delta family. I surmised the flight attendant must have told him. He, like Bernie, had learned to fly in the air force.  We tossed about our favorite trips and shared the plight of the airline industry. “There are not enough pilots today,” he said.  “Where are they going to come from?”  I thought of how lucky Bernie was having his choice of five major airlines after he returned from Vietnam. I also thought of how lucky I was to have this pampered ride through Atlanta’s drab labyrinth of gates, trains and terminals. My pilot would have loved this story. 

As we spotted the line of passengers boarding my connecting flight, Ken asked if I needed to use the bathroom. “It will be more comfortable for you,” he said. I agreed and wondered how’d I could ever thank him for rescuing me. He then interrupted the line of passengers while slipping my boarding pass through to the agent. She stamped it and signaled her supervisor who shouted down the line of passengers crowding in the gangway. “Wheelchair coming, everyone moves to the right!” They all scooted over and peered at us as we passed, probably wondering who the heck I was to deserve such service.

I couldn’t think of anything to say to Ken that would express my deepest gratitude when we reached the cabin door.  I thanked him, but that didn’t seem adequate. He gave me a casual salute and I answered back in grandmotherly fashion, “I think I’ll just have to adopt you!” He laughed, as did the other people near us. After I found my seat and settled in, I leaned back with a happy heart, shut my eyes, and relived my good fortune.  My pilot always said that Delta thought of itself as a big family. I thought of Ken and how he and Bernie were doers of good deeds because they were good men. Several people told me after Bernie’s death how much they appreciated what he’d done for them behind the scenes. I’d never known.  As for Ken, I’ll relate the tale about my Sir Galahad to anyone who’ll listen.  My story of rescue needs to be shared, and there will be abundant joy in the telling.

Travels with Bernie

Come with me and read about my travels with Bernie…

You’ve got to read it to believe it!

Hawaii: A River’s Tale

April 1991

         I wasn’t a good swimmer and felt inept at handling a kayak, but it made no difference. My pilot could do both. “Let’s sign up for a kayaking tour,” Bernie said. “You can do it. Trust me, you’ll love it.”  OK, I agreed. We were on vacation in Hawaii, and I wasn’t going to spoil his fun. The last time he’d been in Hawaii was on his way to Vietnam in 1965, but I’d never been before. 

         I was drawn to the sweet smell of the Plumeria blossoms coming from the tall plants around our hotel. Yes, this place was paradise. The plant’s delicate flowers were used for necklaces called Lei’s, and I had to have one before we left.  The beauty surrounding us seemed a harbinger of things to come. 

         We greeted Janette, our guide, along with our kayak-tour mates, who were mingling beside Janette’s disheveled van. “It’s only 10 minutes to the Hulah Tui River,” she said, as we squeezed in. Perspiration found me as we bounced around on our way to this mysterious destination river, a location that had drawn film crews to its exotic shores for many years.   

         When our leader gave us the history of the river, I realized that we’d be paddling down the very waterway that led to Indiana Jones’s escape in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our hero, Indiana, bolted through the jungle ahead of a tribe of blood thirsty natives, splashed out to his friend Jacque’s seaplane, and poured himself into the cockpit for the take off. Phew! I immediately felt akin Harrison Ford and left my qualms about kayaking back on the bus as we stepped out to meet our fate.         

We met the river and gathered for instructions, then chose our kayaks. Bernie held me steady as I awkwardly sunk down into my cockpit. “You got it, Kiddo,” he said giving me a thumbs up. Out of our 20 kayak tour companions, I knew Bernie must have been the only one who’d kayaked as a kid growing up along the shores of Chicago’s Lake Michigan. I felt safe following him as along the river, even when he departed from the others to enter a vine covered entrance to a grotto he’d spotted along the river’s edge.  Might be cool in there, I thought. 

         “Come with me,” Bernie motioned, and I did, bending over to glide beneath the prickly, creeping vines, as we paddled around the waterside jungle under clusters of guavas handing from trees. I looked for snakes among the branches but saw none, and quickly realized we were alone in this watery secret garden, surrounded by jungle foliage, exotic tropical birds, and swinging vines–like Tarzan used, and the one Indiana grabbed that landed him in the river and to safety. By this time, my imagination was in high gear.

           When my paddle caught on a vine, my kayak took on water, but I had the presence of mind to stay upright. I swished the cool water around my legs and onto my face and arms while I thought of Katherine Hepburn suffering through the boggy waters aboard The African Queen…her wilted hair and those water-logged clinging dresses.

         I heard Jan yell from the middle of the river, “Refreshment time.”  We lined up your kayaks side by side across the water and put a leg into our neighbor’s kayak to hold the line. Our hostess passed down sliced pineapple, bread, cheese, and juice. A pina colada would have been perfect, but then, there would be plenty of time for that later. 

         We made our way down the last 3 miles of our river journey–a calm slice through rugged green and lava sided mountains. The trick was going straight. It wasn’t’ so easy. Janette told us the legends of the mountains and the fishing pool that was built by the “little people” the Menehune, who were the mythical/highly controversial pygmies who built the temples and roads before the Polynesians came. 

         At the end of our river journey, our intrepid guide led us up a rocky bank into a sugar cane field, where the tall stalks brushed our exhausted bodies as we plodded through, row upon row.

          Weary travelers all, we finally reached civilization, where we met Janette, and handed our paddles to her helper who stowed them in another vehicle. Bernie and I stopped to take stock of ourselves: Two happy adventurers with soggy hats, clinging clothes, and smiles we couldn’t control. What a lark!  

         I smiled when Bernie turned to me and said, “I knew you could do it.” Yes, I was proud of myself. I felt renewed by the experience and eager for another adventure. 

         They were waiting for us, the beat-up old van with tired kayakers aboard. And there, sitting on the back bench seat I spotted Harrison Ford, wearing his brown Fedora felt hat and that crooked little grin. 

         That iconic hat became known as the Indiana Jones hat, and I was delighted when Bernie bought one before we headed home.  

         Our grandkids were surprised when we told them about our river trip. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a favorite movie of theirs. After a while, Bernie lost interest in the hat. It sat on our closet shelf until the day our 8-year-old grandson, Matt, was tall enough to poke it down and put it on. It sank low on his forehead, but he didn’t care. With one of his grandpa’s belts as his bullwhip, he’d entertain us while we sat in the living room, cracking his whip at those imaginary snakes on the rug. 

         Many years later, and after my pilot died, I was preparing to move to New Jersey when I decided to give Bernie’s fedora hat to Matthew. He was delighted. As for the memories that went with it, I’d take those along with me. 

From the New World

After I finished my memoir, I took time to reflect on what I had written. My pilot and I were married for 52 years, during which time we experienced our share of adversities, each one compelling. We blazed trails through those new worlds—applying our love as a fixative to repair the difficulties and sustain the triumphs—and discovered we were stronger for it.  

Bernie’s dad handed us a recording of Antonin Dvorak’s, New World Symphony after we were married. Did he know then, how much the piece would find a place in our lives? Rudy and Gretel emigrated from Germany in the late 20s. “You two are entering a New World,” Rudy said, “just as we did when we came to America.” 

Dvorak’s Symphony #9, which he called, “From the New World,” became our favorite classical piece that went with my pilot and me each time we moved to another state. Finally, the 33-long play version wore itself out, and we bought a new one, and then a DVD version. Hearing the symphony from the audience of the Long Island Philharmonic Orchestra was a thrill that led us to explore another world, the sphere of classical music which we both came to love. 

The great Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, wrote the symphony in 1893, during his 3-year sojourn in America. He was fascinated by African-America spirituals he encountered at the New York National Conservatory of Music in America in New York City where he was a composer-teacher. The Native American songs he heard while attending a Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show intrigued him, too, as well as the Czech and Bohemian music he enjoyed in Spillville, Iowa. Dvorak wondered why American composers looked to Europe for inspiration, when such a rich musical tradition existed in their own country.     

In 1892, Dvorak led the World Fair’s Orchestra at Columbian Exposition in Chicago—the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492.  

Now, I’m planning to dive into another new world, and begin a book about my paternal grandparents from Missouri. My grandfather’s letters from 1893, tell me he also attended the World’s Fair Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, as Dvorak had. If they crossed paths, I’ll never know…but it’s fun to imagine it. 

It was no surprise to me upon hearing Neil Armstrong, had taken a tape recording of the masterpiece along during his Apollo 11 moon landing mission in 1969. A legacy for posterity, Dvorak would approve of.   

New World Symphony is the byname of Symphony No.9 in E. Minor Op.95, From the New World. 

Follow this link if you’d like to hear it. 

Click Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_tPb4JFgmw

Winter Surprises

Working for the airlines had its ups and downs as Bernie used to say. One winter night, when he was returning to JFK from a Pan Am flight, the bus dropped off the pilots and cabin crew to the terminal’s snow-covered crew parking lot. Yikes! Tracings of cars peeped out from under the high drifts, daring to be recognized. Expletives didn’t help, but there was Bernie to calm down the gals. He helped several stewardess’s shovel out their cars and made sure they were good to go.  On another snowy night, he rescued one gal’s Volkswagen, but she found to her chagrin that it was deader than a doornail. Bernie’s jumper cables didn’t do the trick, so he drove her home to Queens.  

Another surprise with a happier ending occurred on Christmas day when Bernie was supposed to be away on a Pan Am trip. Lisa, Paul, and I were celebrating Christmas at my sister’s house as we had planned to do. The five little cousins were entertaining themselves in front of the Christmas tree, when Lisa began jumping up and down, and with glorious expectation, shouted, “He’s here, Daddy’s here.” The kids ran to the window to see for themselves. Yes, there was Uncle Bernard, waving to us as he approached the house. The kids bubbled up and so did I. 

Germaine threw open the door: “Bernard! You’re supposed to be on your way to Rome!”  

Bernie walked in, put down his Pan Am gift bag and smiled to his adoring audience. “Trip cancelled folks!” 

After the hug fest was over, Santa Clause opened his pack and the kids gathered ‘round, while he handed out little candy filled plastic airplanes to the squiggly kids. “Merry Christmas, kids.” For the rest of us, he pulled out a bottle of champagne, several tins of escargot, and a loaf of French bread baked that morning. One of the best things about Pan Am in those days was their well-stocked commissary at the terminal. 

And one of the best things about being married to my pilot was when winter became warmer when he was around. 

Moving Memoir

by Guest Blogger, Karen Abarbanel

Dec. 23, 2021

“The many months my pilot and I spent apart also showed us the strength of our marriage and our love for each other…we knew any trials to come would pale in comparison to what we’d endured in wartime…Life is nothing but new beginnings.”

A gifted artist, teacher, and writer, Sarajane Giere had a story she wanted to tell: a story of love, resilience, and family. Her award-winning memoir, My Pilot, was years in the making. It developed over time into a book that’s garnered wide praise, not just from everyday readers, but in military circles as well.

At its core, My Pilot is the story of Bernie and Sarajane Giere’s marriage and Bernie’s distinguished career as a fighter pilot in Vietnam and a commander in the Air National Guard. It’s also a story of perseverance. Sarajane’s journey from page to publication took patience and planning:

She made her story bigger: While My Pilot is a memoir, Sarajane transformed it into more than just her personal story. It’s also about the military family Sarajane and her husband and children belonged to.

She reached out for expert help: As her story began to take shape, Sarajane began working with Lorraine Ash, a book editor, writing instructor, and memoirist. Lorraine helped her structure the book, encouraged her, and “guided her on the path to publishing.”

She honed her craft: Sarajane’s essays have appeared in The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor. She workshopped her memoir at writing retreats and with the Write Group, where fellow writers critiqued and helped sharpen her prose.

She did her homework: Sarajane was a newbie to book publishing, but she quickly educated herself about the industry and social media. Ultimately, My Pilot was accepted by a small, well-regarded independent, Imzadi Publishing.

Sometimes stories take time to ripen and reach their full potential. But when they do, it’s immensely satisfying. Bravo, Sarajane! Write on!

Thank you, Karen. 

Please visit Karen’s blog to read more: https://karinwritesdangerously.com/

For more on Sarajane and My Pilot, visit: http://www.sarajanegiere.com

HERE’S MY CHRISTMAS GIFT TO YOU,

A LITTLE GEM WRITTEN BY E.B. WHITE, DEC 1952

From this high midtown hall, undecked with boughs, unfortified with mistletoe, we send forth our tinseled greetings as of old, to friends, to readers, to strangers of many conditions in many places. 

Merry Christmas to uncertified accountants, to tellers who have made a mistake in addition, to girls who have made a mistake in judgement, to grounded airline passengers, and to all those who can’t eat clams! We greet with particular warmth people who wake and smell smoke. To captains of river boats on snowy mornings we send an answering toot at this holiday time. 

Merry Christmas to intellectuals and other despised minorities! 

Merry Christmas to the musicians of Muzak and men whose shoes don’t fit! Greetings of the season to unemployed actors and the blacklisted everywhere who suffer from sins uncommitted; a holly thorn in the thumb of compilers of lists!

Greetings to wives who can’t find their glasses and to poets who can’t find their rhymes! 

Merry Christmas to old men asleep in libraries! Merry Christmas to people who can’t stay in the same room with a cat! We greet, too, the boarders in boarding houses on 25 December, the duennas in Central Park in fair weather and foul, and young lovers who got nothing in the mail.

Merry Christmas to people who plant trees in the streets; Merry Christmas to people who save prairie chickens from extinction! Greetings of a pure mechanical sort to machines that think—plus a spring of artificial holly. Joyous Yule to Cadillac owners whose conduct is unworthy of their car! 

Merry Christmas to the defeated, the forgotten, the inept; Joy to all dandiprats and bunglers! We send, most particularly and most hopefully, our greeting and our prayers to soldiers and guardsmen on land and sea and in the air—the young men doing the hardest things at the hardest time of life. To all such, Merry Christmas, blessings and good luck! We greet the Secretaries-designate, the President elect; Merry Christmas to our new leaders, peace on earth, good will, and good management!

Merry Christmas to couples unhappy in doorways! Merry Christmas to all who think they are in love but aren’t sure!

Greetings to people waiting for trains that will take them in the wrong direction, to people doing up a bundle and the string is too short, to children with sleds and no snow! We greet ministers who can’t think of a moral, gagmen who can’t think of a joke.

Greetings too, to the inhabitants of other planets; see you soon!

At last, we greet all skaters on small natural ponds at the edge of the wood toward the end of afternoon. Merry Christmas, skaters! Ring, steel! Grow red, sky! Die down, wind!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good morrow!

– Sarajane Giere, author of award-winning book, My Pilot: A Story of War, Love, and ALS, resides in West Caldwell, NJ. Contact her at:
Email: sjgiere@yahoo.com
Twitter: @GiereSarajane
Facebook: @sjgiere
Instagram: @artylady1013

Military Writers Society of America review

My Pilot: A Story of War, Love and ALS by Sarajane Giere

MWSA Review
Can you imagine you are due to have your first baby the week your husband leaves to fly F4 Phantom jets in Vietnam and your mother suddenly passes away? That is a smidgeon of the challenges faced by the Giere’s fifty-three year life journey together. Author Sarajane Giere provides a marvelous chronological reflection of life with her pilot-husband. From the beautiful get-go to the unfortunate end, caused by a fatal degenerative neurological disease, these two people show how to hold on tightly together and never let go.

This couple falls in love early and stays there. Young Bernie Giere graduates ROTC and gets the lucky draw to become an Air Force pilot. In short order, he is assigned to fly the brand new F4 Phantom jets out of the factory. Deployment soon follows to fight in these incredible jets in Vietnam. He bails out twice and completes 214 missions. Later Bernie pilots for commercial carriers Pan Am and Delta and is directly involved with the Air National Guard. There is so much more told as Bernie completes life with his wife and two children while flying eleven airplanes in forty-six years. Author Sarajane captures how they did it right, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. They shared a deep love that I found admirable.

The Gieres faced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare disease, in heroic fashion. Readers will appreciate their insightful battle and learn practical strategies to cope with and manage this terminal condition. As a career therapist, I have followed patients with ALS. Without a doubt, the progressive muscular paralysis faced is catastrophic. It creeps away with neuromuscular functions, including swallowing and breathing. I tip my hat to Bernie and Sarajane with the way they kept love alive, despite this tragic disease.

This book is recommended for anyone who appreciates leaders in life through service to country and beyond. You will find that love abounds and that is most inspiring.

Review by Hodge Wood (April 2021)

Author’s Synopsis
My Pilot 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 and explicit honesty she recalls the terror of the Vietnam years and the lifetime 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 she holds dear.

ISBN/ASIN: 978-1-944635-20-0, 978-1-944635-21-7, B08LMG92DS

Book Format(s): Soft cover, Kindle

Review Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir/Biography

Number of Pages: 226

PILOT’S WIDOW PENS HIS STORY

A tale of joy, despite medical woes

The Southampton Press, Sophie Griffin on Aug 5, 2021

In her book “My Pilot: A Story of Love, War and ALS,” Sarajane Giere tells the story of her relationship with her husband, Colonel Bernard (“Bernie”) D. Giere, a fighter pilot who served in the Vietnam War and spent 25 years in the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, which he commanded at one point.

Told through vignettes, the book illuminates the struggles of being a military wife and the joy the two shared in their marriage. After Col. Giere died from complications from ALS, Ms. Giere penned the memoir.

The couple met when they were both attending Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Col. Giere, who was from Chicago, was a half-year ahead of her, and in the Air Force ROTC.

“It was sort of a blind date … My sorority sister [said], ‘Well, why don’t you go out with Bernie?’ And it just really worked,” Ms. Giere said. “We fell in love. We met in the fall and we wanted to get married by December. I mean, when I looked at my diaries and my letters, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, it didn’t happen that fast,’ but it did.”

Ms. Giere took a job at a local telephone company and supported herself and Col. Giere as he finished up college, graduating in ’62. She would go on later to finish her undergraduate degree and get a master’s.

“We lived in Cedar Rapids, and they’re very hard winters, in a little tiny apartment in the third story of an old house,” Ms. Giere related. “We were just very happy. He graduated as a second lieutenant from the ROTC and they taught him to fly at the little airport there in Cedar Rapids; he started off in a tri-pacer.”

In the ROTC, Col. Giere discovered a love for flying and airplanes. Post-graduation, the Air Force sent the Gieres to West Texas, then Tampa, Florida, for more training, and Col. Giere flew F-4 Phantoms and other jets. Eventually, he was sent to Vietnam, where he spent a year flying combat missions.

Back state-side, Ms. Giere was raising their children and pursuing painting — a flight surgeon’s wife who was a well-known portrait painter gave her lessons. She’d go to the beach with other military wives and children and commiserate about the difficulties they faced. The solidarity with other women who understood helped her get through it all.

After the war, they moved to New York and spent 40 years living on Long Island. Col. Giere was the commander at the 106th Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, and Ms. Giere worked in the Riverhead School District for a time.

“I would find myself in a computer room with dozens of computers, so I started writing these essays during lunch,” Ms. Giere remembered. “One of my colleagues said, ‘Why don’t you send this off to the Christian Science Monitor?’ Well, they published it, and that kind of did it … I went on to publish some essays in the New York Times, and [then] someone recommended the writer’s group at Ashawagh Hall, so I would drive out from East Quogue there every Tuesday night, even in the summer when it was hotter than heck.”

Ms. Giere continued to write, going to Bread Loaf in Middlebury and eventually writing a book about her mother’s family in Minnesota. She started to work on a piece about her husband’s family, who were German immigrants.

“After [Bernie] came back from Vietnam, I’d been writing little, short essays about moments of my life that just stuck with me, little touchstones from my life that I couldn’t forget. I told him two years before he died — [when] he was 72, he was diagnosed with ALS — now I want to write about the Gieres and your family … And I said, ‘And you are part of the story.’ So I would start taking dictation when we ate dinner.”

A few years later, after Col. Giere died and Ms. Giere moved, she went back through the letters the couple had exchanged while Col. Giere was away, stationed in Vietnam. The letters spoke to her, and she decided to make them the focus of a book rather than simply including them in a larger tale of the Giere family.

“I’d read them a lot, but I read them again when he was gone and I saw the nuanced writing style, the personality that came through, was just powerful,” Ms. Giere recalled. “So this is our story of 52 years of marriage. It resonated so much in me that I wanted to share what a wonderful guy he was with my family. Now, I have a great granddaughter and I can see ones are coming along, and they won’t know a thing unless I tell them. I want to proudly tell them what a wonderful man he was.”

As she was writing, Ms. Giere would put on the music of the ’50s and ’60s that she and Col. Giere had listened to and return to the memories she had together. Reliving the days they had spent together was hard, yet healing. One of the emotionally difficult things she wrote about occurred in 1978, when Col. Giere was commander of the Air National Guard in Westhampton Beach.

“One of our rescue helicopters crashed into a mountain upstate,” Ms. Giere said. “He was a commander and these were people that we knew and their wives. In one chapter, I relate how difficult it was, because I went along with him and the squadron commander. We had to go to two wives’ homes and tell them [their husbands died]. And that was so hard, it was so hard. And then in the cemetery, [when] they brought the seven bodies back and the governor was at the base out in Westhampton and Col. Giere was there, shaking hands … That was very difficult for me because I was so close to it.”

In the last years of Col. Giere’s life, he was diagnosed with ALS.

“The thing that got me through was the ALS Ride for Life organization, out on the East End,” Ms. Giere said. “Christopher and Christine Pendergast began it … Christine started caregivers meetings, and [they] really saved my life. Here I was in a room with these people that were helping each other. Some of them had children who were affected. It could have been a brother, a husband, a wife. You learn from one another, and that really helped me because I had somebody to go to for support.”

Ms. Giere will be donating all the proceeds from her book to ALS Ride for Life, to support the organization that helped her and her husband so much.

Reflecting on the memoir process, Ms. Giere emphasized the importance of resilience.

“Looking back on [writing My Pilot] and thinking about what I learned from doing it, I think I learned that I had more strength that I knew I had. And I think it came from the adversity I went through. It’s a learning experience. I mean, the feedback I’ve received from people that have read my book surprised me. It thrills me that what I could say could help other people, who could relate it to their own lives. It became kind of a healing for me to know that something I wrote could help other people.”

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.”