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Stories from our members...

My Heros by George Loegering, 3/16/02

All little children have heroes; later as we grow we tend to pattern our lives after them or at least take on some of their attributes. This might start simply with our parent as our hero or by someone that they were influenced by. My dad was my hero, and as a child, he told me of getting his first airplane ride at the county fair and how he looked forward to any chance to go for a hop. As a youth he gave up other things and worked hard to make sure he had the cash when the next opportunity came to fly. I don't think he ever thought about being a pilot but his desire to fly through his stories became part of me.

We moved to California in 1941 when I was five because my dad saw opportunity there. It was not until we returned to my birthplace in Long Prairie Minnesota for a visit shortly after WW2 that I became aware that Charles Linbergh grew up in Little Falls, just 20 or so miles east of my hometown. That's obviously where my father got some of his insight into airplanes, flying and air travel.

I was a model builder and flyer for many years before going to college and getting married. College was, of course, to get a degree in aeronautical engineering. Once my family was stabilized and finances were available, I continued pursuing flight by getting my pilots license and a good cross-country airplane. Eventually I became interested in long-range flight and flew my 1949 A35 model Bonanza from New York to Paris in 1985 almost 60 years after his solo flight.

One of my first trips back to Minnesota in my own Bonanza took me to the Linbergh Museum for the first of several visits. Linbergh became my hero as I could appreciate him from my own experience. I read many books written by him and Ann Morrow (his wife) and followed what little was available while he was still living before his death in 1974. It was fascinating how he changed during different phase of his life and how he handled personal tragedy, political controversy, people in high places, etc. I knew that later in his life he had became environmentally conservative and that he had retired to a quite out-of-the way place about as far and different from his boyhood home in Minnesota as you could get; on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Of course he got there through a personal friend in the airline business. When he was diagnosed with cancer he elected to die there, and consistent with the rest of his life after his last flight aboard a B-747, planned out the whole funeral and burial site.

On a recent trip to Maui I was finally able to locate the gravesite south of Hana at the Congregation Church just past mile marker 41. This was a rewarding experience for me; like visiting President Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington D.C. Standing at the gravesite, looking out over the Pacific to the east toward the longest over water route on earth gave me some understanding of his choice-no obstructions; nothing but blue sky, clouds and water. I have been reflecting on his life and how in his early days he used the small airplane to pave the way for airline routes at the same time using his personal plane to commute for business and pleasure. It was private and served him and us well. I recalled how he traveled all around Europe in the 30's from his home in England where he retreated after the kidnap death of his first son. How his native ability and his practical pilot skills made him a recognized expert on the development of military and commercial aviation and a whole technology that changed the world. This of course would not have come together without his fame, personal contacts and the ability to freely commute by plane to France, Germany and Russia where he was exposed to new developments like a bee pollinating the flowers going from one manufacturer to another.

Thus his descent from popularity before WW2 as a pacifist fooled by the Germans that they had undisputed global air superiority. Then after the start of war, using icons of industry personal friends to retake his place in the development of U.S. global air supremacy and asserting his loyalty as an American by flying combat as a civilian. All these adversities came to mind, things that everyone goes through to some degree during their lives, then here in Maui at his final resting place, the antitheses of his life, the ultimately peaceful place, a suitable resting place for a hero.

This experience renewed my resolve to do as much as possible to help preserve general aviation airports so that our children and grandchildren can have their heroes and realize the dream of freedom of flight.