It's perfect – a cool-looking bag to stash guitar cables and assorted gear for going out to gigs. In its previous life, it was an Air Force pilot's helmet bag. I hand $15 to the owner of the antique store and scurry home with my prize.
I rifle through it, discovering all its pockets and nooks and crannies.
Then I feel something – a small, leather rectangle. It's stuffed into an inside pocket. I yank it out. It read, along with a stamp of senior aviator's wings:
Cecil (Name Redacted for Privacy)
Lt. Col. USAF
(The actual wording may vary – I don't have it in front of me right now)
I wonder who this is or was, and how his helmet bag wound up in an antique store. I have a vision of him that I don't like ... that he sold his possessions because he was down on his luck. This helmet bag seems too cool a memento to give up easily. I wonder if I can track Col. Cecil down and return a bit of his better times in the form of his bag. I can find something else for my music gear.
And sure enough, I find him thanks to the Internet. I call. I explain that I have his bag and wonder if it's something he regrets parting with. If he does, it's all his.
As it turns out, Col. Cecil is doing just fine. He just had a bunch of memorabilia and gave that to his son-in-law for his antique store in Phoenix. Col. Cecil is in his 60s ... a former F-4 Phantom II pilot. Recently remarried, living in Texas. But he comes out to Arizona often.
On his next visit, we meet. Col. Cecil spins great stories about flying the Phantom (the afterburners of jealousy are aflame – I'd love just one ride in anything remotely resembling an F-4). He has me howling with his tale of showing up for a formal soiree at the Turkish embassy clad in a custom tuxedo made from camouflage material.
Something funny occurs to me: Will the next senior that irks me for driving 10 miles under the speed limit be the same person who once flew a jet at twice the speed of sound?
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