Thursday, March 16, 2017


Just a year before the movie Top Gun was released, when I was seven or eight years old, my uncle Bob wrote a book. It was called Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering. Published by the Naval Institute Press, this is the modern textbook for air combat maneuvering - dogfighting, as they call it in the movie. I remember when he brought my dad a signed copy as a present for some occasion. Well, I was a young and impressionable young man, and I thought this was a pretty cool book. Then I saw Top Gun at the movie theater, found out My Uncle Bob was a TOP GUN graduate, and decided that all of this was in fact pretty damn cool.

Bob was my dad's older brother, and never really lived close to us. We visited him once in California, and many times in Ohio where he lived until recently, and on annual family vacations at the beach, to Hilton Head Island and Pawley's Island. His fighter pilot callsign was Mouse - a name that fit him well, as he was all of about 5'4" tall. One hot summer day on the basketball court, probably around the time my grandfather Jupe passed away, I learned that you don't have to be very tall to kick someone's ass in basketball. Bob had a lot of hustle. And sharp elbows.

Bob passed away yesterday, after a long tough fight with cancer. I know it dragged him down at the end, and that it could not have been easy to live with for these many years. I was fortunate to spend a weekend in Jacksonville NC with Bob this fall, and it was nice to catch up. I'm pretty sure that, even though the cancer eventually won, it probably took an elbow or two on the chin during the process. Lot of hustle.

My favorite ejection seat tester, and general
all-around great American fighter pilot, Mouse

Bob was a fighter pilot. He got married in his Navy whites with a sword arch and everything, got winged in 1972, and cut his teeth flying F-4 Phantoms. He attended TOP GUN, transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat, and cruised on the USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63 (named in honor of the location of the Wright Brothers' first powered human flight in North Carolina's Outer Banks). Later, after several years in the Navy Reserve with VF-301, he moved to Dayton, Ohio and transferred to the Air Force Reserves. He got to fly F-16 Falcons then. That's a pretty good collection of stick time, in some pretty impressive aircraft.

At one point, Bob co-owned the world speed record from St. Louis, MO to Cincinnati, OH. He made the trip in a McDonnell Douglas F-4D, top speed of Mach 2.2, in a time of just 17 minutes and 9 seconds (average Mach 1.4). For reference, it would take your standard personal automobile more than 5 hours to make that 300+ mile trip. A few years later, on its final flight prior to retirement, some assholes flying the SR-71 Blackbird broke Bob's record. Only took them 8 and half minutes, traveling at nearly 3 times the speed of sound. I wish they'd gone a different way.

I remember being at the beach in the late summer of 1990. You may not recall what was going on that summer, but we were in the process of moving about 600,000 troops into Saudi Arabia, and were about to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. For a week or more at Pawley's Island n August or September, we couldn't get Bob off the couch and couldn't watch anything other than CNN's 24-hour news coverage on the TV. Now, years later and a former military professional myself, I sometimes feel a lot like Bob must have that fall, watching everyone ship over, gear up, and whip it on. Interestingly, I learned that a buddy of mine from later years in the Marine Corps was a young Marine communications sergeant stationed at the Kuwaiti US embassy that summer and was an Iraqi POW for several months. Another fine Marine I served with was the 81's FDC chief with 2/5 at the same time. I was 12 and watching on TV.

Since then, I've been lucky to throw a beer or two back from time to time at the USMC's Center House, the officer's club at the home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps at Marine Barracks Eighth and Eye. Once, in 2003, I got to meet Commandant Hagee and a few other particularly important people. I was standing there, brand new uniform and butter bars and everything, in what effectively was the sitting room / library of the Commandant's personal bar. I glanced over at the built-in bookcase on one wall, right next to the Commandant, and there positioned prominently on display was a copy of Bob's book Fighter Combat. I admit I puffed up a little bit with pride. Even a dumb grunt knows when he's in good company.

Through the years, and through a lot of little revelations like these, I learned I had more in common with my Uncle Bob than just my Y chromosomes and last name. Bob attended Purdue in the late sixties, and was a coxswain on the Purdue Crew. Years later, I went to Chapel Hill and rowed for Carolina - we raced Purdue's Boilermaker Crew several times. Bob and I are the only two of our Shaw family, as far as I know (absent Doc, who married in), to have had the fine privilege of racing an intercollegiate eight-oared rowing shell.

*  *  *

By way of elegy, I'll invoke the timeless words of another fighter pilot-turned-author, the poem High Flight by RAF Spitfire driver John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Fair winds and following seas, Mouse.

In memoriam: LtCol (Ret.) Robert L. Shaw, USAFR (1947-2017).

Vf301.jpg         Image result for 906th Tactical Fighter Group emblem

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack

NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Wash daily from nose tip to tail tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;        5
And remember the night is for hunting and forget not the day is for sleep.
The jackal may follow the tiger, but, cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the wolf is a hunter—go forth and get food of thy own.
Keep peace with the lords of the jungle, the tiger, the panther, the bear;
And trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the boar in his lair.        10
When pack meets with pack in the jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken; it may be fair words shall prevail.
When ye fight with a wolf of the pack ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel and the pack is diminished by war.
The lair of the wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,        15
Not even the head wolf may enter, not even the council may come.
The lair of the wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again.
If ye kill before midnight be silent and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crop and thy brothers go empty away.        20
Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill man.
If ye plunder his kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride,
Pack-right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide.
The kill of the pack is the meat of the pack. Ye must eat where it lies;        25
And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies.
The kill of the wolf is the meat of the wolf. He may do what he will,
But, till he is given permission, the pack may not eat of that kill.
Lair right is the right of the mother. From all of her years she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter, and none may deny her the same.        30
Cub right is the right of the yearling. From all of his pack he may claim
Full gorge when the killer has eaten; and none may refuse him the same.
Cave right is the right of the father, to hunt by himself for his own;
He is freed from all calls to the pack. He is judged by the council alone.
Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,        35
In all that the law leaveth open the word of the head wolf is law.
Now these are the laws of the jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the law and the haunch and the hump is—Obey!

-R. Kipling

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish!

Oh the fishes you'll catch!

We caught:

  • Pigfish
  • Pinfish
  • Croaker
  • Whiting
  • White Perch
  • Oyster Toadfish
  • Spottail Bass
  • Black Sea Bass
  • Black Drum
  • Oyster Shells
  • Seaweed
  • Blacktip Reef Shark


Monday, March 28, 2016

Big Boy Time

Sam has plowed forward from toddler to childhood with both fists swinging. Happy Fourth Birthday, son.

Uncharacteristically for the third-of-three-children, Sammy had the unique pleasure of having a birthday all to himself tonight. We stopped for cupcakes at Delicious on the way home, cooked his favorite stroganoff for desert, and opened and played with possibly the two most perfect presents for this little warrior (see below).

Jack and Caroline are now off at Camp Sparty, cavorting with Nana over Spring Break. We were all down in Sparty for the weekend for Easter, hanging with the fam.

We did up a big party for Sammy at lunch on Saturday, opened presents and sliced and diced the custom-made, '77-vintage Wilton-brand Batman cake. Matilda stayed up all night baking that cake - well, actually I didn't get started until I was sure that the UNC victory over Indy in the Sweet Sixteen had been cemented. Doc slaved away all morning getting the totally sweet icing job completed - the result? Perfection:


 Sam was duly impressed. It was just what he had requested. The icing on the cake, so to speak, was getting to spend nearly all of the next day ensconced in his the arms of his beloved Annelise.

Before we left, I was a little concerned that Sam would feel like he was missing out, not getting to spend time at Camp Sparty with the other kids. Three hours in the car later, having basked in the glow of having the iPad ALL TO HIMSELF (we did not hear one peep out of him the whole car ride) I was reassured that he would be OK.

So today, just the three of us - a concept that Sam is totally alright with, at least in the short term - we had ourselves a pretty good little day. It ended up, after popsicles at school and cupcakes at home, with Sammy beating the snot out of his new "Bad Guy" punching bag:

When he's not kicking this guys toosh, he steps back to launch a few arrows from his new bow and arrow set. The only disappointment? "Dad, I really wanted my own hatchet for my birthday," he says. Maybe next year, big guy.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Four years in a flash

A lot can happen to someone in four years.

For BamBam, it was the development of his senses, growing teeth, learning to walk, to talk, to run, to jump, to reason, to laugh, to lie, to apologize, to chase, to hunt, to wrestle, and to love.

For me, it was transitioning from being a mother of babies to a mother of children and it happened so fast I hardly noticed.  I don't remember the last bottle I heated.  I couldn't tell you the last diaper I changed.  I don't even think I can recall the last night I was needed to rock someone to sleep.

I guess that's nature way of protecting a mothers' heart.  Had I known it was going to be the last night of footie pajamas or the last time I would see BamBam suck his thumb, I would have fought more to make it last.

I try hard to teach my kids about nature and the circle of life. I want them to be comfortable with the phases we all must go through and embrace them with excitement and optimism.  The best is yet to come, my children.  Today, though, I find myself needing that same pep talk.

So's ok to miss the midnight feedings, the soft cries of a newborn, binkies, Huggies, bouncers, chest snuggles, nursing, napping with warm sweaty heads, boogers on all my clothes, puffs, strollers, the Bjorn, baby food, and sippy cups (though do let me remind you how much you cursed them at the time).  But now is the time of real work.  You taught them to walk and talk but now you get to teach them to think and to reason.  You are now going to be shaping how they see and present themselves to the world.  It's daunting, yes.  But it's also going to be so much fun.  Now is the time of sweet surprise questions in the car or while cooking dinner.  Conversations can be bigger and richer and so too can the emotions.  It used to only be happiness or anger, laughter or crying.  Next is curiosity and hope and melancholy and trepidation and pride and fear and empowerment and accomplishment.

Don't worry.  You still get to hunt for lovies every night and fight the monsters in the closet or the toxins in the veggies on the dinner plate.  And I bet they aren't done with the snuggles quite yet.  But you also will get to watch her keep a smile on the kindergarten stage even though HoneyBadger is scared out of her mind or watch BamBam sing his ABCs into the microphone at pre-K graduation with the pride of a thousand lions or listen to TenderHeart as he explains why BamBam shouldn't be afraid because they can conquer anything that comes as long as they are holding hands.

Your family is weaving together now that the babies have grow into their own skin and the connections you are making have so much more strength and color.  It's OK to shed a tear or two for the simplicity of the moments that are gone but don't dwell too much.  What is coming next is a thousand times more beautiful and powerful than you can even begin to imagine.

And Doc, most importantly, the moments to come are the same ones you will look back on with tearful nostalgia.  So work hard to be in them, with your entire self, both eyes and your full heart open.  The best is yet to come.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Perspective is priceless

I thought we were overwhelmed when Matilda and I were working parents to 3 small children, a dog, and an aging house.  Then I tore my hip labrum and realized we actually had it pretty good.

I thought we were overwhelmed when I went in for surgery.  Four weeks of crutches meant 4 weeks for Matilda to run the house.  Turns out the surgery was more extensive than we had anticipated and suddenly Matilda's workload doubled to 8 weeks and we realized only 4 weeks wasn't so long.

I thought we were overwhelmed post-op week 2 when the laundry started to pile up on the kitchen counter and the fridge couldn't be opened due to the smell.  But then I got shingles on the hip that is supposed to be wearing a brace 24/7 and simply being a one-legged invalid seemed easy in comparison.

I thought we were overwhelmed when I had a hard time wearing pants because of the shingles pain, much less helping with the laundry or the smelly fridge, when Tenderheart had surgery on his ear and Matilda got the flu simultaneously.  That was fun.  What hip surgery?

Then after a night of sleeping in 45min segments due to said ailments of all involved, Matilda and I finally fell asleep while the kids sat quietly in front of the TV when they all stormed up the steps with a burning electrical smell trailing behind them screaming that the wall was on fire.  True enough, the wall switch was hot and smoldering.  Apparently, electricians do not work on weekends. What shingles?

I thought we were completely and totally overwhelmed and stretched to the max.  Then, last night at 2am, Tenderheart woke up with the flu and I distinctly remember hearing God chuckling that we thought having 3 little kids, a dog, and an aging house was hard.

Here's to appreciating the moment we're in because God only knows what the next one may hold.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Night time

Someone just couldn't wait for Daddy to come turn out the light tonight:

Good night, sweet princess. That is what a hard day of playing in the snow and watching movies will do to you..

Monday, January 4, 2016

Red is the Rose

Come over the hills, my bonnie Irish lass / Come over the hills to your darling
You choose the road, love, and I'll make the vow / And I'll be your true love forever.

Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows / Fair is the lily of the valley
Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne / But my love is fairer than any.

Truly, my Love is fairer than any. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star of Wonder, Star of of Night

Sometimes it seems that we truly live in the land of three wee kings.

Take for instance this exchange that passed for routine conversation amongst two of our children as we drove through the annual Sunset Hills Lighted Balls Christmas Light Display:

Doc: "Oh look at that one. It's a star." 
Jack: "That's not a star. It's a small baby blob in that awkward phase where it is shooting off bursts of fire and gas.\ 
Doc: "......" 
Jack: "You know, that's how stars form." 
Doc: "Well since it's on their porch, I sure do hope it keeps most of it's flaming gas bursts to itself." 
Sam: "I have gas. But mine's not on fire." 
Jack: "Sam, you don't have gas. You are not a baby starting to form. You are a human. But you ARE in that awkward phase." 
Sam: "MOMMY!! Jackson called me awk...ak...ahk....Jackson called me a name!"
Indeed, there is wisdom from the mouths of babes.

Also, here is some cool drone footage of this years' "Running of the Balls":

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Parting Glass, or The Joyous Life of a Thousand Goodbyes

Oh all the money that e'er I had / I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e'er I've done / Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit / To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass / Goodnight and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had / are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had / would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot / That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call / Goodnight and joy be with you all

Doctor and author Atul Gawande spoke last month at the Bryan Lecture Series about the effects of age, and the effect of proximity of death - really, the increased uncertainty regarding the risk of loss which age and some other conditions bring - on people’s perceived well-being and happiness. Dr. Gawande cites a study out of Stanford that shows fairly conclusively that the closer people are to the uncertainty of life - either to the end of their own life or to situations and circumstances that increase the possibility that life will soon end - the happier they are, the more they appreciate life. If you haven't yet read his book on this topic, "Being Mortal," then I commend it to you. 

I got to hang out this weekend with a fine bunch of Americans - men that don't need to read a book to appreciate the essence of Gawande's insights. Greater appreciation for life results from increased proximity to uncertainty regarding death? I think we call that sometimes wisdom.  It would be an unsurprising observation to many of These Men, no longer quite as young as they once were but still just as fine and full of spirit. 

Reflecting on the weekend, I want to tell them this, in ways that is hard to do over a beer or in a large ballroom: There is really no one else in this country that is as well equipped to live a joyous life as you guys are.  You have been there and you have seen the elephant, and you have come back. And whether it was through your own courage or plain dumb luck or directly due to the sacrifice of another - whether you deserve to be here or whether you do not deserve to be here -  it doesn’t matter.  You’re here.  You have an opportunity to live a joyous life.  You have learned, or had the opportunity to learn, how precious life is, how fleeting it can be, but also how glorious it can be in that uncertainty.  

The new Star Wars movie is coming out, a couple trailers released. I like many other males of a certain vintage have watched with pleasure these trailers and am excited to see the movie come out. I saw the third and final trailer just last week, right before heading to Las Vegas, and it’s a moving piece and it’s exciting.  It stirs the blood partly because you know what came before, you’ve seen all the movies, and to see a saga like that carried on is phenomenal.  But Jesus, there was one scene in that movie that spoke to me in a way that I’m not sure really spoke to many people.  Fleeting scene.  Here it is, cued up to the right spot (1:31):

Did you see - it's only a few seconds, 1:31 to 1:36. Have you ever shaken somebody’s hand in a moment like this?  Have you once been a warrior, walking off to the field of battle, and passed a fellow warrior headed out and stopped and said, "I need to shake this man’s hand one more time.  I need to look him in the eye and say I am proud to shake his hand and tell him to go off and do his job."  Yes, you have.  And the gaze between the two men, burning over the short distance, the clasp of hands pausing in a hectic moment. It was worth your time to stop and shake their hand, and that – whether the director intended that or not, whether he understood that or not, these actors nailed it. Fighter pilots scrambling to alert out on the tarmac; bombing crews huddling one last time before they go to their navigation seat, bombardier stations, ball turret guns; infantrymen leaving the wire on patrol.

You know that hand shake.  You’ve had a last hand shake with somebody. And it was worth it to say goodbye, so many other times when it turned out to be unnecessary.  Because once or twice, it was the last chance you had to shake That Man's hand. The Joyous Life of a Thousand Goodbyes.

It's hard to get together after 10+ years. It's hard to discover - almost surprisingly - that you are as at home with this group as you are with anyone else in the human race, because you know this weekend will be fleeting, and there will then be a void when it is over.  It's even harder still to part ways again, uncertain when in the next decade you will again have the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with These Men. It was overwhelmingly therapeutic to see nearly 100 of our alumni answering this new call to arms: to reassemble and reminisce over scotch, cigars, and warm hazy memories of the finest days of our young lives, and the finest of us that did not return.

Best men I've ever known. Best job I ever had.

Goodnight, and joy be with you all 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Day Without Rain

We have had rain in Greensboro for 31 of the last 48 days. Honestly, I had to check - I don't recall there being that much sunshine since mid September. Perhaps there wasn't - surely several of those days in which no precipitation was recorded at KGSO, the day was nevertheless the sky was cloudy and overcast and the ground was wet.

After spending most of yesterday barefoot, outdoors and in the rain at the James K. Polk birthplace, we lucked out with an overcast and chilly but reasonably dry November day. And for the kids it was like a jailbreak.

We went to the science center, saw the new Pacific Giant Octopus and all of our old friend, the gibbons and fishing cats and tigers and meerkats. Funny how we always run into people we know - I saw a buddy from downtown, Jack saw a friend from his class as Sternberger ("Daddy, I'm too embarrassed to go talk to her." Well, she ran right over to talk to Jack - embarrassment solved).

We bounded over to Guilford Courthouse and spent some time romping through the woods, leaving the path or trail whenever feasible.

Not to call it quits too early, we played a little front-yard soccer and did some driveway chalk art.