Maligned flight was no ordinary display of piloting skills

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, January 22, 2006

Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

No, I have not just come to this realization. In fact, I seem to recall learning the lesson the first Christmas after I started to walk.

Those big, colored spots on our family Christmas tree looked so nice and beautiful. Surely they were something wonderful to eat.

I don’t recall precisely which of the decorative lights sent me the message — most likely the bright red one — but send the message it did.

“Oweee,” I’m sure I squealed as the bright little sucker delivered its hot-to-the-nth-degree blast to my tiny little digits.

OK. Lesson number one: Looks pretty, but burns like a sonofagun.

A week and a half ago, I was once again reminded of the lesson learned long ago.

Almost immediately following the initial two eruptive explosions from deep within Mount Augustine, people from some southern reaches of the Kenai Peninsula started reporting ash fall.

“It’s coming down everywhere,” they said.

Tiny little crystals were glistening in house lights brightening the early morning darkness.

“It’s ash. It’s really coming down.”

As dawn chased nighttime darkness away, however, the folks soon found that what fear had prompted them to perceive as volcanic ash was little more than ice fog — not all that uncommon here on the frozen peninsula dotted with lakes and running with rivers and streams.

Later in the week, as ashomania began taking hold, one eyewitness — emphasis on wit — reported, “Well, what’s falling from the sky and landing on my hand is melting as soon as it does.

“I’m calling it snow,” he said with a chuckle.

Of course, by the weekend, volcanic ash did in fact fall on communities south of Ninilchik, and it was accurately reported by folks.

On a more somber note, I recently read a magazine article about an exchange of letters to an Arizona newspaper Web site, prompted by a huge misperception by the first writer.

“Whom do we thank for the morning air show,” the writer began.

It seems at 9:11 a.m., a tight formation of F-16 fighter jets made a low pass over a shopping mall, not too far from an Air Force fighter base.

“Do the Tom Cruise wannabes feel we need this wake-up call, or were they trying to impress the cashiers at (a major retail store’s) early-bird special? Any response would be appreciated,” the writer said.

In fact, Lt. Col. Scott Pleus, commanding officer of the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, did respond.

“On June 15, at precisely 9:12 a.m., a perfectly timed four-ship of F-16s from the 63rd Fighter Squadron ... flew over the grave of Capt. Jeremy Fresques.

“Capt. Fresques was an Air Force officer who was previously stationed at Luke Air Force Base and was killed in Iraq on May 20, Memorial Day.

“At 9 a.m. on June 15, his family and friends gathered at Sunland Memorial Park in Sun City to mourn the loss of a husband, son and friend,” the colonel wrote.

He went on to say that because of the jet noise the initial writer complained of, he is sure the writer did not hear the 21-gun salute, the playing of “Taps,” or the colonel’s words to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques as the folded American flag was presented to them on behalf of the president of the United States and all veterans and military service personnel who understand the sacrifices they have endured.

“A four-ship flyby is a display of respect the Air Force pays to those who give their lives in defense of freedom,” the colonel wrote.

“We are professional aviators and take our jobs seriously, and on June 15 what the letter writer witnessed was four officers lining up to pay their ultimate respects.”

The colonel went on to say the 56th Fighter Wing will call and forward the letter writer’s thanks to the widow and the parents of Capt. Fresques, “for it was in their honor that my pilots flew the most honorable formation of their lives.”

Indeed, things are not always as they appear.

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Clarion.

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