Sunday, June 17, 2018


Like so many of my Boomer vintage, my father is absent this Father’s Day.  Dad departed the pattern in 2014, not quite ninety-two.  I was with him early that morning when he stopped breathing, as I had been with my mother fourteen years before.  Just “luck of the draw” that I was present both times, as my brothers’ time slots had been determined well before.

Because so much of my life revolved around aviation, when I think of Dad I recall our times together not only flying but restoring and maintaining antiques and warbirds.

Like his father, my dad was really smart—engineering bright, and he entered Oregon State intending to graduate with an aeronautics option.  But along the way he got a chance to work with Douglas Aircraft in the LA area.  In 1941 the company was straining to meet production goals, and Dad’s education landed him a job as a draftsman.  He was impressed with the DB-7 which the Army Air Force called the A-20, a sporty twin-engine, single-pilot light bomber with a gunner and occasionally a bombardier.  Rumor Control held that the Marine Corps was going to get Havocs, and that sounded really good…

Jack Tillman became an excellent aviator.  He’d partly completed Navy flight training in World War II when events intruded, but he retained the precision attitude toward flying that was a naval trademark.

More significantly, Dad conquered the potentially debilitating polio that he contracted after the war.  He visited a friend in Puerto Rico—one “Honest Joe” Foster whose social circle included playwright Thornton Wilder of Our Town fame.  Apparently there had been an outbreak of polio on the island dating from 1942, and Dad was one of hundreds of victims, then age 24. 

Dad’s often-absent father, J.H. Sr., partly oversaw Dad’s treatment in a Portland hospital.  Sr. made a lot of money in the construction business—he had bid on the Golden Gate Bridge—and was more lavish with funds than attention.  But the one thing he did right was to bring Dad’s 80-pound Doberman to the hospital.  Dad could hear Clipper’s approach by the growing chorus of Eeks and laughs as the dog approached Dad’s room.  Clipper leapt onto the bed, delighted at the reunion, until someone in authority demanded his removal.  Dad, ever the pragmatist, said, “You remove him!”

Clipper stayed awhile.

Upon release, Dad began rehabilitation.  Both his lower legs were badly atrophied, and he walked with a pronounced limp the rest of his life.  I remember seeing the Canadian walking sticks in a closet at the ranch house before we moved into town in ’57.  In 1947, a year before I was born, he boarded Blaze, his buckskin mare, slung the sticks across the saddle with his Winchester Model 70, and rode into the Blue Mountains to hunt elk.  At that point my mother told her parents, “I’m going to marry him.”

In the 60s Dad built the ranch into a major feedlot operation but refused to be separated from aviation.  He had grown up around aircraft, occasionally cadging rides at Portland’s Swan Island Airport with aerobatic legend Tex Rankin.  It was then the largest flying school in the country.  Dad sailed to Alaska and the Yukon as a teenager and enjoyed rides in Bellanca floatplanes—classic examples of aviation’s Golden Era.

Dad flew occasionally after the war but returned to aviation full time in the late 60s.  He bought an former crop sprayer—a 1940 Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 biplane trainer--in Colorado, had it restored to airworthy condition.  With a friend he flew it out to Pendleton, Oregon, in 1967 where the restoration was completed.  Subsequently when we re-opened Barrett Field at my hometown (Athena, Oregon, population c. 950) he built a permanent hangar and we based the Yellow Bird there until Dad sold it c. 1985.

Meanwhile, Dad and two friends acquired what was then the world’s only flying example of the Douglas Dauntless, the war-winning Navy dive bomber of Midway and Guadalcanal fame.  Around 1970 they traded Multnomah County (urban Portland) straight across for a new Cessna Ag Wagon spray plane, and a two-year restoration began.  Finally Dad bought out his partners, and we completed the Army A-24B as a Navy SBD-5 in 1972.  I was blessed to fly six or eight hours with Dad in “the Doug” as he called it, forming the basis of my first book, an operational history of the SBD in 1976.  Forty-two years later the book remains in print.

Eventually Dad sold the Dauntless to Oklahoma collector Doug Champlin, beginning one of the cherished relationships of my life.  In 1982 I moved to Arizona to run Champlin Fighter Museum Press, and spent four memorable years there.  Doug died in 2013 but he remains one of the touchstones of my professional and personal life.

Along the way, I flew nearly 600 hours with Dad—mostly in the N3N.  It’s a “rudder airplane,” requiring dexterity on the pedals, but despite his residual polio, Dad was complete master of the Yellow Bird.

I will always remember one particular flight:

Normally approaching for landing, Dad would shake the stick indicating that we were changing pilot-in-command.  Normally it was obvious because one or the other was driving.  One afternoon, approaching Barrett Field, the stick quivered and I eased my grip on the controls.

The N slid down the glideslope, the Wright rattling away, and I followed through on the controls as I normally did. 

The bird paid off at about 45 knots, settling onto the 1,500-foot grass strip in a perfect three-pointer.  Soft as an angel’s kiss.

When Dad cut the throttle and mixture he lifted one flap of his cloth helmet, turned around in the front cockpit, and said, “That was the best landing you ever made.  Why can’t you always do it like that?”


Eventually I wrote a poem about that episode, available on my website.

However, Dad was interested in things beside aviation.  Apart from the independence he enjoyed as a rancher, he was also civic minded.  He served on the board of the hospital where I was born, drove the local ambulance, organized and funded the rural fire department, supported our Boy Scout troop, and provided land for the sheriff’s department to build one of the finest shooting ranges east of the Cascades. 

That was Jack Tillman—a mentor to young men in two states and dogs of all ages everywhere. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Donna Wild Foss died this month at age 100.  She was the oldest person I knew, and one of finest.  The fact that she was married to aviation, political, and sports legend Joe Foss until his death in 2003 was significant, but also beside the point. 

I was privileged to belong to the Foss circle for about thirty-five years, and am grateful that the relationship continues.  But during “Didi’s” memorial service in Scottsdale this week, there was time to reflect upon her life and what she meant to so many of us.

Didi was born in Michigan in October 1917.  She lived a full, righteous century on Earth, leaving a ton of admirers.  She is survived by her daughter Coni Foss and son Dean Hall; two grandchildren; three great grandchildren; and a great-great grand daughter.

Joe met Didi in 1951 when he attended a jet transition course at Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix.  As he told it, one day the runway temperature was 146 F but he was intrigued with the visiting tall, slender, blue-eyed manager of a local business group. 

As they say, time passed.

Nearly eleven years later Joe and Didi’s paths crossed again.  Joe described her as talented, outgoing, and positive with a warm personality.  Accurate on all counts. 

Then in 1966 Joe began his second television program, The Outdoorsman.  Didi, already something of a TV pioneer and noted photographer, joined the production company.  By then they were both single.  The series ran nine years, hunting and fishing on at least three continents. 

In the first season Joe was stricken with an undiagnosed malady.  It was serious: “I was down to the one yard line and the Grim Reaper was about to score.”  Joe had ingested toxic chemicals on a field trip, and Didi’s insistence on taking him to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, saved his life.

Then she saved his soul.  She prayed for him constantly, passionately, successfully.  Upon recovery Joe became a converted Christian and thereafter never missed a chance to witness for his faith.

Joe and Didi married while filming in Hawaii in January 1967, and remained together until he departed the pattern thirty-six years later, to the month.  She said, “Joe does the things I can’t do; I do the things he won’t do—and together we make a good team.”

For all the attention Didi received as “Mrs. Joe,” I was impressed with how she remained her own person.  Probably the most illuminating experience I had with her was a rare one to one conversation.  She asked about my career as an author, not so much seeking advice as context.  Then she said that she’d been thinking about a book based on the wives (or spouses) of other celebrities—how they fit into the respective communities yet retained their individuality.  One of her closest friends was Jo Schirra, as Joe was tight with astronaut Wally Schirra.  Jo and Wally were about as different as any couple I ever knew: Jo’s reserve contrasted vividly with Wally’s extroverted Gotcha personality.  But I realized that Didi was on to something.  Unfortunately, she did not get to pursue the project but I still think it would have been insightfully original.

Although Joe contributed to Tom Brokaw’s 1998 best seller The Greatest Generation, Joe never bought into the hype.  He said “We weren’t the greatest.  We just did what we had to do.”  He was right, of course—he believed that the greatest Americans were those who founded the nation against vastly greater odds than the Allies faced in WW II.

Yet I still think of the “War Two” vets as The Guadalcanal Generation because that was where Joe came to national prominence.  And, being focused on naval aviation, I knew or met dozens of other veterans of the 1942-43 Solomons campaign when America really could have lost a significant part of the war, however temporarily.

One of “my” other Marine Corps aviators was Brigadier General Fritz Payne, a fighter pilot like Joe flying F4F Wildcats.  Fritz died in 2015, age 104.  I’d not seen him in many years, as he was unable to travel, but he remains the oldest person I ever knew.  Didi was the next oldest.

Nearly all the WW II survivors I know anymore are well into their 90s, and a few remain remarkably active and alert.  But they’re the exceptions.

According to the census, in 2010 there were 131,000 centenarians in the U.S., a huge 82 percent increase in ten years (72,000 in Y2K).  The reasons needn’t concern us as much as what we can learn from our eldest elders.

When I think of Didi, Fritz, and their contemporaries, two things occur to me: wisdom and patience.

Wisdom presumably is a natural byproduct of aging.  Simply living ten decades (or five or nine) exposes us to a body of knowledge.  The lessons are there for anyone who cares to absorb them.

I think of a survivor of Japan’s brutal Bataan Death March that killed thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops in 1942.  I asked, “Who survived?”  The veteran, then in his seventies, said, “The lifers.  They’d been around, and they knew you can’t do everything.  They learned what was important, so they had priorities.”  He added that many youngsters, though more physically fit, lacked that wisdom.  They wore themselves out trying to do it all.

Patience is the province of age.  Especially in the 21st century when generations have grown up with—and grown accustomed to--immediate gratification.  But that’s an artificial environment that does not reflect the reality of Planet Earth.  Evolution is Patience writ huge.  We humans did not rise to the top of the food chain merely because we wanted to.  It took about 200,000 years.  The Great Wall of China required a couple of millennia.  So if attaining social progress (however it’s defined) or any other goal seems glacial at times, perhaps it’s not.  Perhaps it’s simply Situation Normal.  Centenarians knew that, and their wisdom often was mistaken for indifference by younger, hotter heads who arrogantly and/or naively believe themselves equal to their elders.

So keep that in mind, you millennials.  Slow down and take advantage of the hard-won patience and wisdom of those who’ve seen reality and know it for what it is.  If Didi, Fritz and others are any indication—and they are—their perspective is a screaming deal.  Wisdom of the ages.  For free.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


Well it happened again: I missed the deadline last month but that's what happens when you write two books at once.  However, I deem it's still close enough to the end of the month for this April entry:

The club email was an attention grabber: “243 Years Ago.”  Sent on April 12, the message announced Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club’s (RSSC) second annual tribute to “The Shot Heard Round the World” when American minutemen formed on the green at Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775.  The email invited members and guests to participate on the 243rd anniversary of the confrontation leading to the War of Independence.

Early Thursday morning on April 19, 2018, about two dozen American patriots formed “line of battle” on Rio’s public range to fire a volley in tribute to the militias who opposed the tyranny of an occupying power.

Event organizer Dan Furbee, ably assisted by his wife Sarah, described the origin of the tribute.  Some years ago at a three-gun match Frank DeSomma of Patriot Ordnance Factory asked about 375 shooters the significance of April 19.  The first to speak up received a $100 bill.

Since then, things have accelerated.  “Fish and game departments around the country are on board,” Dan explained.  He insists, “It’s an event that we should commemorate every year not just because it was the start of the Revolution but because Lexington and Concord were the beginnings of our nation.  Americans stood up and said No to oppressive taxes, to quartering foreign troops, to cutting off foreign trade.”

Last year’s inaugural event at Rio drew seven members but at least 23 participated this year, including some range staff.  Their equipment covered the gamut, historically and technically.  Guns on the firing line included flintlocks, sidearms, single-barrel shotguns, and semi-automatic rifles to resist imaginary redcoats among the chaparral.

RSSC President Sue Little received some good-natured kidding because she was the only one wearing red—a club polo shirt.  But she took two places on the line, firing a flintlock and an M1 Garand, which one wag called “The Normandy Assault Rifle.”

I have a personal connection to the date: my mother’s family tree included the militia commanders at both Lexington and Concord:  Captain John Parker and Colonel James Barrett.  One of her distant cousins was named Parker Barrett.

On Dad’s side, Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman was George Washington’s aide de camp.  In 1781 Washington selected him to take news of Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown to Congress in Philadelphia.  (For objectivity, Tench’s father remained a loyalist and a brother was an ensign in the Royal Navy.)

At Lexington the militia deployed 80 men under 45-year-old Captain Parker.  A British officer rode toward the company, demanding, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!”  Seeing the disparity of odds, Parker ordered his men to disperse but apparently many did not hear or misunderstood him in the confusion.  Reportedly his voice was weakened by the tuberculosis that killed him five months later.

In any case, somebody loosed a shot, inevitably leading to what modernists call “firing contagion.”  Eight Americans were killed; one Brit wounded.

From there, things got out of hand.  Like totally.  The “lobster backs” continued to Concord expecting to confiscate weapons including Colonel Barrett’s cannon. 

A total of 477 militia men at both sites led to nearly 4,000 responding throughout the day.  The British columns totaled about 500 of the 700 who marched out of Boston, increasing to 1,500 at the end.

The patriots sustained 54 dead or missing and 39 wounded.  Crown casualties totaled 126 killed or missing and 174 wounded.  So the defenders won “on points” by about three to one.

It helps to recall that the American republic arose from a government gun-confiscation scheme…

There was a slight delay getting one of the Garands loaded.  But then the shooters were free to expend as much ammo as they wished: “One round or one magazine,” Dan said.

Arizona’s other TSHRTW event was held at the Ben Avery Shooting Range Facility north of Phoenix on Saturday, April 21.   Organizers and participants look forward to expanding next year’s commemoration at other ranges here in “The Territory.”

The organization’s website lists states with participating clubs: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia, though independent sites also show events in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


School shootings are nothing new.

The first U.S. incident recorded online occurred in Virginia in 1840 when a law professor was mortally wounded by a student.  However, 76 years earlier, in 1764, four Delaware Indians shot, slashed, and clubbed ten white students to death in Pennsylvania. That remained the American record for a school mass killing almost 200 years, until the University of Texas massacre in 1966.

Some definitions may be necessary.  For instance, the same year as the sniper attack in Austin, five people were murdered in an Arizona beauty college.  But the huge majority of school attacks occur in academic institutions—high schools and colleges.

Here’s a breakdown by decades, based on Wikipedia entries.

19th century (1840 to 1900): 31 dead in 37 attacks (Average 0.83 deaths per incident.)

1900s: 14 dead in 15 incidents     Avg: 0.93
1910s: 12 dead in 19 incidents     Avg: 0.63
1920s:   5 dead in 10 incidents     Avg: 0.50
1930s: 10 dead in  9 incidents      Avg: 1.11
1940s: 11 dead in  8 incidents      Avg: 1.37          
1950s: 13 dead in 17 incidents     Avg: 0.76
1960s: 44 dead in 18 incidents     Avg: 2.44
1970s: 37 dead in 30 incidents     Avg: 1.23
1980s: 49 dead in 39 incidents     Avg: 1.25
1990s: 88 dead in 62 incidents     Avg: 1.41
2000s: 107 dead in 62 incidents   Avg: 1.72
2010s: 156 dead in 145 incidents Avg: 1.07

The foregoing list appears to include the deaths of perpetrators although some internal contradictions were noted.

The database includes accidental shootings, as in a 1961 incident in high-school play with a .22 used “as a sound effect.”  In 2016 a Texas policeman shot another while intervening in a school dispute.  In an extreme example, in 1952 a New York student shot a school dean rather than part with photos of girls in swim suits.  Other examples note gang violence on campus. 

School attacks usually involve additional casualties, including 64 wounded in the 1960s, mainly at Austin.  However, as at the Las Vegas massacre last October, often it is difficult or impossible to know how many injuries resulted from gunfire and how many from other causes in the panic and confusion.  A partial example: of the 23 injured at Virginia Tech in 2007, apparently 17 suffered gunshot wounds.

In any case, a quick glance at the chronological listing shows a clear pattern: Typically school attacks resulted in less than one death through the 1920s, with a high of 2.4 per incident in the 1960s, falling to well under 2.0 thereafter. 

The six deadliest incidents since 1966 accounted for 115 deaths among 454 in that period, or one-quarter of the total.

In the 1990s there was a 59% increase in attacks over the previous decade with an 80% increase in deaths.
What accounts for the huge rise since the 1990s? 

Apparently the increase was not related to availability of semi-automatic rifles, most notably the Armalite-designed AR-15.  Colt marketed the Sporter model in 1964 but evidently the type did not appear in school shootings for decades.  In fact, an examination of the guns used in the deadliest school shootings shows a remarkable variety, including 19th-century technology with shotguns and bolt-action rifles.

In one instance the murderer stole a family member’s police-issued firearms.

Weapons in the six worst incidents:
Texas 1966 (17): bolt-action rifle
Colorado 1999 (13): carbines, handguns, shotguns
Minnesota 2005 (10): “Grandfather’s police weapons” (pistol and shotgun)
Virginia 2007 (32): Glock and Walther pistols
Connecticut 2012 (26): AR-15 clone and Glock pistol
Florida 2018 (17): AR-15

Deaths of the murderers are not included in the above six tolls.

Several factors bear upon school killers other than weapons.  They include a reduced rate of committing potential killers to mental institutions—and then-Senator “Slow Joe” Biden’s 1990 “gun-free school zone” legislation, signed by GHW Bush.  The law was overturned by the Supreme Court five years later (United States v. Lopez) because it was irrelevant to interstate commerce.  But it was re-enacted in 1996 addressing the commerce issue. 

Meanwhile, nearly 230 school shooting incidents have been reported since 1997.

Questions and Answers

After the Columbine massacre in 1999, the Secret Service report on school shootings noted several common factors:

Most were planned, with other people having knowledge but remaining silent.

No useful personality profile applied but many or most killers felt bullied or had low self esteem, and frequently suffered mental issues.  (A more recent survey indicated an extremely high proportion were drug users).

Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement.  (Suicide or “civilian” intervention.)

Some commentators ask about metal detectors in schools.  Opinion seems divided.  Aside from cost, the technology  requires trained operators, and should be positioned at every entrance with one or more enforcers to deal with contraband.  But while detectors may reveal attempts to sneak knives and guns into school, a dedicated assailant will blow past the device or possibly shoot or stab the operator on the way inside.

(Knives in schools are seldom addressed but in Kunming, China, in 2014 eight Islamists killed 31 people using only blades.  Nearly 150 victims survived injuries.)

An increasingly common discussion involves a school lockdown with students kept behind locked doors.  But a clever assailant would wait until the interval between classes or, perhaps “better” yet, when school lets out.  Even if most students make it to a safe area, others inevitably will be caught in hallways or in the open with nowhere to go.

The NRA has always held “The answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  That seems self-evident: while the victims huddle and die, they await men with guns to come solve the problem.  But with police response times typically matching the duration of most mass shootings, it seems a zero-sum game.  Clearly, the fastest response is school staff possessing the skill, knowledge, and willingness to use weapons close at hand.

Technically, 18 states allow teachers or staff to be armed on-campus (with official permission) but few of those are implemented: they include liberal bastions California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Oregon. 

The NEA “educators” are solidly opposed to armed staff in schools by an overwhelming 68 percent.  Ironically, that’s one point less than a recent online poll showing Real Americans favor the concept.

So what should the policy involve?

It’s not up to the police to divert scarce resources to guarding schools.  In fact, at two of the worst school attacks, on-scene deputies failed to purse the killers: at Columbine High in Colorado (1999) and most recently in Florida.  A badge does not ensure there’s a fighting heart behind it or a moral brain above it.

To quote one law-enforcement friend: “If people want to have children, the parents and schools need to protect their kids.  The cops have too much to do as it is.”

Retired army officer Dave Grossman is well known for his advocacy of “sheepdogs.”  Trained, capable guardians of the flock who can defend the defenseless.  He notes that there have been very few deaths in school fires in more than 50 years but we continue holding fire drills. 

Arson and explosives remain the deadliest agents of school killings.  In 1927 the Bath School bombing in Michigan killed 38 children and six adults—a greater toll than any school shooting.

(In a worse example of arson murder, in 1990 a jilted lover killed 87 people at a New York social club.  His weapons were a plastic bucket with $1 worth of gasoline, and a match.)

Apparently the last significant school fire occurred in Chicago in 1958.

Training and Preparation

So why not hold active-shooter drills?  Rather than meekly hunkering under a desk, awaiting a bullet in the cranium, teachers and students should be trained to respond quickly and violently: swarm the gunman, take him down, and stomp him to rags and tatters.  If he has an accomplice, repeat as necessary.

The training equipment and time requirements are minimal.  A football tackling dummy would suffice, but a trainer in a protective suit (the kind used to train police dogs) would be even better.

The obvious Solution:

Allow teachers and school staff to carry pistols, all day every day—and night.  Establish meaningful qualifications and training with at least four recertifications annually.

Require the sheepdogs to keep their weapon on them full time: no stashing in a desk or locker.  (Police chiefs, patrol officers, SWAT, FBI and BATF all have left guns in restrooms or unlocked vehicles.)  For maximum safety and security, perhaps wear the pistol unloaded with one or two magazines on the belt.  If the shooter prefers a revolver, he/she can carry speed loaders, which require greater training and dexterity.  In either case, the gun should be worn in a retention holster to prevent an easy snatch-and-grab.  If the gun’s unloaded, it’s no use with the ammunition carried separately. 

The five seconds or less to load a pistol and chamber a round beats the best police response times (typically five to six minutes at best) all to hell.

Oh, one more thing.

President Trump has suggested paying bonuses to teachers or staff who qualify to carry guns in schools.  Maybe we shouId go a step farther: establish a charitable fund that pays $1 million to anyone who kills a school murderer.  No bounty for wounding or capturing the SOB—just kill him dead.

My check will be in the mail.