Monday, December 1, 2008

Where have all the heroes gone?

Last Saturday I learned one of our local star athletes had accidentally shot himself (late night at a bar, in the leg) with an unregistered hand gun. It was icing on the cake for the 31-year-old’s multi-month, hubris-inspired run at tanking a recently inked $35 million contract to play ball.

I also learned Saturday that a friend of the Workshop’s, Major General David “Davy” M. Jones passed away.

When Jones was 28, he sat in the pilot’s seat of a B-25 on the deck of the carrier Hornet preparing to launch on Doolittle’s raid on Japan. Due to early detection off the Japanese coast, the aircraft would be departing hundreds of miles sooner than planned. They could no longer reach the safe airfields in unoccupied China, as planned. "You knew when you started that we didn't have enough fuel to make it, period. But you couldn't think about that," he said.

A few years later, now the star athlete’s age, he was too was busy rebelling against the authorities (of Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner of war camp) surreptitiously digging the clandestine tunnel “Harry” immortalized in the film The Great Escape. Steve McQueen’s character is based on him. For a great short documentary see The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones (Parts 1 , 2 & 3)( )

Jones, who in 1936 was commissioned in the cavalry reserve, went on to become a major figure in numerous Air Force jet development and test programs. He ran a nuclear bomb wing in NATO at the height of the Cold War. He commanded the Air Force Eastern Test Range at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo program. As he liked to say himself, he went from horses to Mach II.

He cosigned a number of the William S. Phillips’ editions we published depicting the Doolittle Raid. It was during these signings that we met. Into the Arms of the Dragon (above) actually depicts Jones as he bails out of his faltering aircraft over China (which was farther than he believed thought he would get, thanks to a providential tailwind). We painted that image specifically for General Jones. Sadly, when it came time to sign this particular image, he wasn’t well enough to do so. We did get the chance to honor him with the image, though.

My two boys met him at one of these signings, and I hope that one day they will come to appreciate that (though it will probably always mean more to me). Better yet, I hope that they have the opportunity to be inspired by someone of the same caliber (that they too are excited for their children to meet) in the hopes that, one day, this next generation will hold onto the values and achievements that individual represents.

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