(WOMR file photo)
Every since May 16, 2010, when my world was turned upside down with the events that played out at 36,000 feet, I have had many opportunities to reflect back on my 61 years. The real kicker to this whole thing occurred on June 30, 2012, that was the end of era for me. That day I was thrust into the role of joining my siblings as the new patriarchs of our branch of the Hammack family. That was the day that my Mom, Ola Mae Hammack, answered the call from God to return home to be with my Dad, my older brother, and the rest of her family!
I have now had a couple of months since then to reflect, to actually ponder, and to evaluate what I have done with my life.
If I am going to be forthright, I must evaluate my heritage. I come from a very hard-working, but extremely dirt poor, early days, 1930’s and 40’s, migrant farm working parents. Both Mom and Dad were not afraid of hard work, in fact, that is all that they knew.
About the time that WWII broke out, Mom and Dad settled in San Pablo, CA, an east SF Bay community that housed the Kaiser shipyards. Those shipyards built US Liberty ships that transported soldiers and sailors to fight the War. However, that was a few years before I made my entrance into this world!
As I progressed throughout school, there was never any doubt that I would go to college. That realization came to me at an early age. I saw how hard, and what long hours that my Dad put in on a daily basis, that I figured out that I wanted to find a skill that would allow me to “work smart”, not necessarily hard! That skill would require a college education, not doubt!
However, I was initially not accepted into Fresno State. I had missed the mathematical formula by just 2 points! I made an appointment to talk to the Dean of Admissions, to discuss my application. A few days after the interview I was notified that Fresno State would make an exception, and therefore, allow me to enroll for the fall semester of 1969. What a stroke of good luck!
In the beginning of my sophomore year at Fresno State, my college deferment was revoke because I lacked the required amount of units. Remember that was 1970, the height of the Viet Nam War. Knowing that my draft lottery number was extremely low, I looked into USAF ROTC, which was on campus. After taking all the aptitude tests and the physical, it was determined that I was qualified to enroll in USAF Pilot Training after graduation, if would commit to the program. So in the fall fo 1971 I signed the necessary paperwork to enroll into USAF ROTC as a pilot candidate. Luck smiled down on me once again!
Air Force pilot training was the single most difficult thing that I have ever attempted. There was a time that I was ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat, however, I just couldn’t succumb! I remembered all the trials and tribulations that my parents had overcome in their life, and I just refused to let myself fail. I just dug deep for some strength to get through this program. I guess that I just got lucky again!
My USAF career was mostly uneventful, except for the April 1975 Saigon Evacuation. That was the first time that I witnessed what 37mm artillery looked like exploding around my aircraft in the air! I didn’t take any direct hits, I guess that I was just lucky that way!
During my nine-year tenure at Eastern Air Lines I had one close call. We had a landing gear, the nose gear, that refused to extend and had to land the plane with the two mains down and the nose gear still firmly in the nose gear wheel well. It was a somewhat harrowing experience for me, a fairly new B-727 copilot! Nobody was injured. Once again luck prevailed!
In my 21 year flying career with United, it too was mostly uneventful. I say mostly uneventful until May 16, 2010. If you didn’t read the link at the beginning of the article, here is the link to my career ending Sunday night flight. You might take a few minutes to read the first hand experience of what a cockpit fire is really like from the Captain’s point of view! I now, more than ever, really understand just how lucky that I was that night!
But I have to say that, in reflection, the real force behind my drive to succeed was my Mom and Dad. They were always there when I needed them. They were there to catch me when I fell, and gave my support that things would always get better. They never judged me for my failures and shortcomings. I could have picked a wealthier set of parents, but I could never have picked a more supportive and loving Mom and Dad. I guess that I am just lucky that way!
Now I have two great grandchildren, Cole and Hannah, that are the light of my life. I guess that I am just lucky that way!
I’m not saying that I’m something special! I am just luck that way!
Watch and listen to the lyrics of Joe Walsh’s explanation. I couldn’t have put it any more succinct than he did in this song!
ROGER, WILCO, OVER, AND OUT!