The Eagle’s Last Flight
by Ron Standerfer
Ron Standerfer was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois, a town across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, Missouri. While attending the University of Illinois he took his first airplane ride in a World War II-Vintage B-25 bomber assigned to the local ROTC detachment. It was a defining moment in his life. Weeks later, he left college to enlist in the Air Force’s aviation cadet program. He graduated from flight training at the age of twenty and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
Another defining moment occurred early in his career. In August 1957, he participated in an atomic test at Yucca Flat, Nevada. Standing on an observation platform eight miles from ground zero, he watched the detonation of an atomic bomb code named Smoky. The test yielded an unexpected 44 kilotons—more than twice the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He never forgot Smoky, and the memory of that experience weighed heavily on his mind when he wrote The Eagle’s Last Flight, a semi-autobiographical novel about his life as an Air Force fighter pilot during the Cold War.
Ron’s twenty seven-year Air Force career spanned the Cold War years between 1954 and 1981. During that time, he flew a variety of high performance fighters including the F-100, F-102, F-105, F-4 and A-7. He flew over 200 combat missions during the Vietnam conflict and was awarded two Silver Stars, thirteen Air Medals and the Purple Heart. The latter was received after he was shot down over Tchepone, Laos in 1969. He retired from the Air Force just as the Cold War ended as a full Colonel after tours in the Pentagon and Tactical Air Command headquarters in Virginia.
He continued to pursue his passion for aviation after retiring. He was a marketing director for Falcon Jet Corporation, a subsidiary of the French aerospace manufacturer Dassault Aviation. In that capacity, he was responsible for launching the marketing campaign for the Falcon 900, a long-range business jet. Later, he was an owner of an aircraft charter and management company in Elmira, NY and also a marketing consultant.
Ron is a prolific writer and journalist. He appeared on WOR TV in New York City during the first days of the Persian Gulf War, providing real time analysis of the air war as it progressed. His book reviews and syndicated news articles are published regularly in the online and print news media, as well as in military journals.
These days Ron and his wife Marzenna, the daughter of a distinguished theatrical family in Poland, spend their time in their homes in Gulf Stream, Florida and Warsaw.
About The Book
Book Genre: Fiction, Military History/Aviation
Publisher:The Pelican Communications Group (A proud Indie publisher)
Release Date: September 9, 2013
Skip O’Neill lies dying of leukemia in a New York hospital, determined to live until the new millennium. His wasted body shows scant evidence of the man he once was—an Air Force fighter pilot and decorated combat veteran.
O’Neill’s first assignment as a young lieutenant places him among hard drinking World War II—and Korean War—era fighter pilots who quickly teach him their ways. He almost washes out of pilot training but is persistent and manages to graduate. In Vietnam, he proves to be a skillful and courageous pilot who faces dangers of all kinds with equanimity. But the greatest—and most deadly danger—materializes years after O’Neill volunteers to be an observer at an atomic test site.
In the end, O’Neill decides that when his time comes, he will dash at it fearlessly. He anticipates being greeted by departed friends—but what awaits him is something totally unexpected.
Republic of Vietnam 1969
Four F-100 Super Saber jet fighters, looking sleek and mean, circled the target like birds of prey impatient for the kill. Below them, the Mekong River lay steaming in the hot, humid air, surrounded by lush, green jungle, and red mud from the mon- soon rains. Water-filled bomb craters gleamed dully in the late afternoon sun. Meanwhile, the forward air controller, or FAC, was scooting across the treetops in a small, propeller-driven aircraft, coordinating the final details of the strike.
The fighters had been airborne for over an hour, and Skip’s flying suit was drenched in sweat. He was hot, uncomfortable, and impatient. Come on, come on, he thought, let’s get on with it. Rain showers are moving in, and we won’t be able to see the ground much longer.
‘‘Icon Flight, Banjo Two-One is rolling in for the marking pass,’’ the FAC said.
Skip saw an orange flash as the marking rocket left the FAC’s aircraft, followed by a burst of white smoke on the ground that rose in a tall, straight column.
‘‘Icon Lead, that’s a good mark. Hit my smoke.’’
‘‘Roger, Icon Lead’s in. Got the smoke in sight,’’ he responded.
‘‘Cleared to drop, Lead.’’
Skip rolled the aircraft onto its back, and then pulled the nose through the hori- zon before rolling upright and into a steep dive. Things were happening fast, as the airspeed increased, and the altimeter unwound rapidly. When the target appeared in the windscreen, he began tracking it with his gun sight. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see bright muzzle flashes from a nearby tree line; then red tracers began streaming across the nose of his aircraft. Don’t look at them, he thought. Keep your eyes on the target. Steady now. It’ll be over in a second.
‘‘Icon Lead, you’re taking ground fire,’’ the FAC said. ‘‘Over to the left.’’
‘‘Roger. I see it. No sweat.’’ His voice sounded cool and confident.
An instant later, two 750-pound bombs were sent hurtling toward the ground, as he pulled out, rolling sharply to the left, and then back to the right, trying to avoid the ground fire. In the rearview mirror, he could see the two bombs explode in a boiling column of mud and debris.
‘‘Good bombs, Icon Lead. Put yours in the same place, Icon Two.’’
Suddenly, Skip’s aircraft began to vibrate and shake, and a series of warning lights came on in the cockpit, one after another.
‘‘Lead, you’re trailing smoke,’’ Icon Two called out. ‘‘Not to worry. I’ve…uh…got a problem.’’
The aircraft was becoming harder to control as the vibrations increased. Now the flashing, red fire-warning light was on. Okay. Be cool. You gotta punch out. No big deal. Get more altitude…that’s the first thing.
‘‘Lead, you’re on fire. The whole ass-end of the aircraft is on fire. Bail out!’’ Icon Two’s voice was tense and demanding.
What I Learned From a Dead Shark
By Ron Standerfer
I could not sleep last night, for reasons that are not important. We all have our “can’t sleep” stories. After turning and thrashing most of the night, I finally gave up and stumbled to my balcony, a cup of coffee in hand.
As I stood facing the ocean, one thing was readily apparent, even to my sleep-deprived mind. It was going to be another spectacular day. The wind was calm; the surface of the ocean glassy smooth, and the sun was announcing its arrival by bathing a few scattered clouds on the horizon in tones of rosy pink. Looking up and down the beach, I saw nothing but a large tangle of seaweed and driftwood that had washed ashore. As I sat in my chair to watch the sunrise, my eyes kept coming back to that tangle of debris. The more I stared at it, the more I began to imagine that it was a creature of some kind. That was nonsense of course, but I couldn’t shake the thought. Finally, more out of exasperation than anything, I grabbed my camera and walked shoe- less through the cool grass and onto the beach.
The beach was still deserted and as I trudged across the sand toward the debris, I realized that it was indeed a creature; a five foot long shark washed ashore by the tide. He was magnificent creature, and although he was obviously dead, I still found myself circling him cautiously, afraid to touch him for fear he would awake and attack. Gathering my courage, I bent over to inspect a yellow insulated wire protruding from his belly. I pulled on it gently but it would not budge. Could this be the cause of death? Not likely, I decided. For one thing, the way the insulated wire was clipped neatly at the end suggested some kind of tracking device rather than a fishing line. Peering into his mouth, I saw no fishing hooks or any other obstruction. Likewise, his body was free of cuts or slashes of any kind. So what killed this unfortunate creature? I may never know. Perhaps it was simply his time to die.
It was getting lighter, and I realized that this moment of solitude would not last much longer; so I began snapping pictures.
The final shot put it all in perspective. At my feet lay a symbol of death, one of God’s creatures whose life is over. In front of me, was the promise of life, a bright new day. And between the two, the calm, imperturbable mother of us all, the sea.
For a moment I stood over the shark in respectful silence. Then I heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and the spell was broken.
I looked over the balcony and the shark was gone. Did he ever exist? Sometimes I wonder. Perhaps I was dreaming. Will someone ask the same about me someday? Perhaps.