by Hap Rocketto
For the first 13 years of my life I lived through the administrations of two of the most underrated Presidents of the United States. Born before Harry Truman defeated Dewey I was preparing to enter high school just as Dwight Eisenhower left the White House. As a student of history I have always admired both men.
We have some things in common, the three of us, sort of. First of all I spent a little time in the United States Army as did both Truman and Eisenhower
Second, Truman was a Missouri native and was instrumental in bringing Winston Churchill to Fulton Missouri’s Westminster College in the spring of 1946. Westminster is a small college in the Midwest and I echo Daniel Webster’s feelings about Dartmouth when I think of Westminster, my alma mater, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!”
At Westminster the great English statesman delivered a speech titled Sinews of Peace.Churchill coined a phrase that day when he said, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
Finally, I am a pilot and Eisenhower was the first United States President licensed to pilot an airplane. He soloed on May 19, 1937 while serving as Douglas MacArthur’s assistant military advisor in the Philippines. Seven weeks later, on July 5, 1939, he earned Commonwealth of the Philippines private pilot’s license number 95. He was also issued a Certificate of Competency, number 93258, by the United States Civil Aeronautics Authority. By the time he left the Philippines for an assignment in Washington Eisenhower had logged 350 hours of flying time.
World War II effectually ended his pilot days. But he recounted a few bootleg hours in At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends wherein he wrote, “After World War II, I had ceased to fly altogether, except that once in a while, on a long trip, to relieve my boredom (and demolish the pilot’s), I would move into the co-pilot’s seat and take over the controls. But as the jet age arrived, I realized that I had come out of a horse and buggy background, recognized my limitations, and kept to a seat in the back.”
The only other occupants of the White House to carry pilot credentials were the father and son bookends to the Clinton administration, the Presidents Bush. And even here, just as with Truman and Eisenhower, there is a certain commonality between me and the modern day John Adams and John Quincy Adams
George H. W. Bush, a Naval Aviator, flew 58 combat missions in a Grumman TBM Avenger from the deck of the USS San Jacinto with Torpedo Squadron 51. Bush was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. Fittingly the United States Navy named the tenth, and final, Nimitz-class super carrier in his honor. Like the senior Bush I am proud to say that I was once a Naval Officer and as my fellow Bluejacket John Kennedy said, “… any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think he can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”
As a Texas Air National Guard pilot George W. Bush flew the F-102 ‘Delta Dagger,’ a Mach two all-weather interceptor with 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. Like the younger Bush I was also a Guardsmen and earned my commission through Officer Candidate School.
It is interesting to note that all three pilot presidents were Republicans with strong Texas ties.
I am attracted to Eisenhower because he was not what he seemed. It has been fashionable to portray him as grandfatherly golfer who was merely a place keeper president following World War II. Just a light weight office holder who only had to keep an easy hand on the reins as the nation steamed through a placid period of peace and unparalleled economic growth and prosperity.
Such was not the case. Behind the smiling façade Ike was cold blooded, manipulative, and acutely aware of the Soviet/Communist threat. Like Truman before him he was a master card player, be it poker or bridge. He took the patience, ruthlessness, and ability to bluff that made him successful over the green baize of a card table and applied it masterfully to world politics. Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, and more than one leader of the Western powers had no chance as Ike preserved the peace and averted nuclear war. He didn’t stand by and watch it happen; he insured that there was peace to assure a burgeoning economy.
By now you are asking, “Just where does all this political history play into Hap’s Corners which are, after all, treatises on shooting?”
It is Eisenhower’s quest for perfection in two of his favorite hobbies, golf and cards, that is directly applicable to our sport. Ellis “Slats” Slater, president of Frankfort Distilleries, was an intimate friend and golfing partner of President Eisenhower who noticed his quest for perfection. Slater phrased it in golfing terms that sound remarkably like shooters discussing what separates the good from the great on the firing line.
Slater said of Eisenhower that, “It’s unfortunate the bad shots annoy him so. Most of us just slough it off, swear a little and recognize that these poor shots as really part of our regular game. But in his case he has come close to look for something close to perfection, and when it isn’t there and he is involved he blames himself… There is something to this expectation of perfection….not because the loss itself is important but because the player could have done better.”
Category: Hap's Corner