Silverhill by JetDrvr Bob Lawrence
Hello, my friends
In late 1981, my friend and former Navel Aviator, Charlie Reed, and l took a trip to
Pensacola for the purpose of doing research for a book that we were going to
co-author about our experiences in flight training and in the fleet. Sadly, we were
not able to carry through on our plans before Charlie passed away, but we had a
great visit and the seeds were sown for what l hope will be a completed project
someday. Nonetheless, as we were winding up our stay in PNS, we were driving
back to New Orleans and decided to see if we could locate OLF Silverhill field,
where we had both soloed some eight years apart. We knew of the general
location, but had to search for it. After an hour or so, we finally went up to a farm
house on the main road, and inquired if they had ever heard of it.
It happens that the man who opened the door knew exactly where we were
talking about, and volunteered to show us personally. We drove through several
fields of crops until we came upon our target. The old runway was still there,
albeit with grass and weeds growing up through the asphalt. The man left us
alone there to look, listen, smell, and reminisce. We stayed there for over an
hour just soaking in the atmosphere. As we were leaving, something caught my
eye. There were puffy clouds that day, and as the sunlight moved over the field, a
flash of orange showed briefly at the base of the old windsock pole. The pole was
at about a 45 degree angle and pretty rusty, with just the frame where the fabric
used to be. As l walked up to it, the flash of color turned out to be a piece of the
original fabric that had rotted, and fallen from the frame above. I gently brushed
away the sandy soil, and was able to recover a fairly good size piece of it. In my
mind, l knew that l would do something special with it one day.
In December 1981, l was flying a Delta 727 on a RedEye midnight flight from
SFO to DFW, when an inner voice said "Grab a pencil, Bob, cause there is
something that needs to be written down." In about 10 minutes, without pausing,
the result was SILVERHILL.
I was to attend my friend, Charlie's birthday party in Savannah in January 1982,
so l typed it up and gave it to him. It remained in that form, until after Charlie's
death. Upon the 50th anniversary of Naval Aviation, l decided to present it to the
Naval Aviation Museum. I had the poem copied in calligraphy on parchment,
mounted it in a frame which also included a piece of the windsock, a picture of
the old windsock at NAS Corry Field, a commemorative brass plaque, and a pair
of gold Navy Wings. It remains in the custody of the museum, and was just
recently put on display outside the library at the museum for the week of the
official retirement ceremonies for the A-4 a few weeks ago.
l am sending it to you, as l think you might be able to identify with the feelings l
I would appreciate your reactions.
For Charlie......... For Me
I am from another day, long ago. In my weather worn fabric are memories of a
time when courage and skill still stood for something on this Earth. Blue skies,
the roar of engines, the smell of burnt rubber, the sweet smelling mixture of new
mown clover and Avgas... . LSO's shouting their instructions at young men who
had The Right Stuff flowing through their veins. Some were better than others,
but all were special. Through those vital years, l watched as each faced his own
personal moment of truth. l could feel their rush of adrenaline and pride as, one
by one, they flew that first solo under my watchful gaze..... l wonder if they knew
this once-bright orange piece of material was cheering them on, weeping when
any one of them met their end in this remote piece of Alabama real estate.
Then one day, they came no more. ... Days, weeks, months passed. l strained
my senses to hear or feel the slightest familiar noise....but....nothing. Yet, l
continued to do my job, ever hopeful that my friends would return.
Finally, l had to face reality. They would not be back, those brave young
warriors. Their machines now belched flame and heat with a deafening roar. It
seems that our tiny field could not be of use to these new monsters. Grass soon
sprouted through the well worn runways. I watched helplessly as rust and the hot
sun rendered me motionless. Then one morning l heard a sound! Could it be that
sorely missed, deep throated roar, approaching once again? Had my friends
returned after all? Disappointingly, it was a farmer on his tractor, planting his
crops in our once-sacred soil. Then, as time passed, l grew very weary and
weak, no longer able to cling to my old frame. The wind tore me from my post.
The soil slowly blew and shifted until it grew dark over me.
Years...lifetimes....passed as the seasons changed over and over. I had given up
hope, resigned to becoming part of the dirt that covered me.
Then, in the dim loneliness, l sensed a presence that made my heart soar! They
had returned! I am here, l cried! Oh God, please let them find me! l could hear
their voices now, getting closer. They were older now, those two, but the
specialness was still there. Then, one of them ever-so-gently, with loving care,
brushed the dirt and dust away. l felt the sunshine on my wrinkled, faded skin. I
wept. They had come for me. These two, out of all the many thousands, but
somehow l knew it would be them.
The tears have dried, now. You have both learned well, how to deal with the
gusty winds of life, yet even though l have not much to offer you now, I make this
promise, As long as you keep me, l will never let you forget those days when life
was good, honor was still shining brightly, and the sky beckoned.
You answered the call, old friends. I am home again at last!
Bob Lawrence. . .01-09-82