A Cross from the Boss

When Pop and the Missus came home from the beach air show the other day, I could tell he was mighty happy about something. Not only was the first ever Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show at Pensacola Beach a whopping success, but Pop had the pleasure of reconnecting with some old buddies he hadn’t seen for going on 30 years.
Back in his flight instructor days he had the pleasure of slipping the surly bonds with some fine students. Some were so good that they went on to fly with the Blues during their time as naval aviators. Like Pop, all are now long since retired from that kind of flying. But at one social gathering of Blue Angel alums and their guests in conjunction with the show, Pop saw a gaggle of these fellas (Rugdance, Thumper, Gucci, Utah and a bunch of others) and they were instantly transformed to their twenty or thirty something selves. The stories flowed as they reminisced about their feats of derring-do, some embellished over time and some actually true. The best ones were (now) funny as they recalled how fortunate they were to still be alive after making some dumb decisions. Pop said he hadn’t laughed that hard in ages. These guys hugged and embraced like long lost brothers which, to some extent, they were. It was a really special time.
But one experience stood out to Pop. It was poignant, moving and joyful all at the same time. While looking around the place for other familiar faces, he happened to see his favorite Blue Angels Boss of all time. Rugdance was the one who had graciously accommodated Thumper’s (one of those former students) request to take Pop along for a practice flight with the team. They flew several of the same show sites together over the team’s tenure and Pop was probably closer to them than any other team he had associated with during his many, many years in the air show business. To say that flight was special would be a major understatement.
Anyway, the aforementioned solo pilot, Thumper, and Pop sidled up next to the Boss and, once again, the reminiscing began. At some point Pop reached into his pocket to give the Boss one of his challenge coins. (A current custom that pilots share to convey a token of gratitude.) The Boss smiled and with a twinkle in his eye said, “I have something for you, too.” He said, “I always carry one of these for a time like this.” And with that, he palmed the item into Pop’s hand as they do when they convey a challenge coin. It was a cross; just a bit bigger than one of the coins. Then the Boss whispered in Pop’s ear, “Four years ago” and smiled. The Missus was nearby and unaware of the conversation but she noticed Pop’s eyes began to leak . . . just a little. Pop and the Boss embraced and both of these dudes in their flight jackets were misty eyed. By that time, Thumper (also a Christian) had rejoined and noticed that something very special had just occurred. Pop showed him the cross, leaned toward the Boss and said to Thumper “Four years.” Three faces then engaged in a silent acknowledgement of the significance of that moment. Pop smiled and glanced at both guys with the words “The coolest part of this is that we’ll get to fly together again.” And the other two knew exactly what he meant.