Friday, March 9, 2012

Requiescat in Pace




So it was that on late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning I learned of the death of a friend of mine. Retiring after 26 years in the Navy flying F/A-18 Hornets, CAPT Carroll "Lex" LeFon, USN(Ret) had gone to work flying adversary aircraft against student aviators from TOPGUN (one word, all caps, don't ask) school, and was on that day flying an Israeli-made F21 Kfir single engine jet fighter when he crashed upon attempting to land at NAS Fallon, NV.

Over at his website, the final post has received over 1000 comments, many of them from folks who never met the man, some of whom - like myself - knew him somewhat from occasional get togethers or email exchanges. But all of us got to know the "humble scribe" primarily through his writings. And boy, could he write.

I was first pointed to his website back in 2005, when I was working at Marine Forces, Europe in Stuttgart, Germany. A Navy colleague was a frequent reader, and said I ought to check it out. Lex was, at the time, engaged in writing his multi-part "Rhythms" series, about life onboard an aircraft carrier - and from that moment on I was hooked.

In the course of things, my own professional aspirations having reached a culmination of sorts, I invited Lex to attend my ordination. He graciously appeared, having dusted off his four-striped uniform, and was among the first to congratulate me once the deed was done. To my somewhat embarrassment and quiet pride, he wrote about the event a few days later, tying in my celebration with his own religious wanderings; humbly revealing that he'd not been to church in a long while, yet still believed in Truth, and in what made someone a Christian.

As I sit here, still acutely feeling the loss of a man who in reality could not have been more than an acquaintance, I've been pondering why exactly I feel the way I do, and why my feelings are shared with nearly a thousand other souls, who grieve for much more than losing something to read with their morning coffee. Here's what I've come up with:

For over eight years, Lex shared himself through his gifted writings. He revealed to us his beliefs and his struggles with faith; his paternal fears about his daughter and his unmatched pride in his son. He regaled us with sea stories - some outright hilarious, others heartbreaking in their sadness - political musings, and all manner of various and divers lessons learned about flying, parenting, leadership, etc.

We invited him into our (virtual) homes, day after day, year after year, and came to feel as though we knew the man behind the screen. He quoted Yeats and Tennyson, showing himself to be a true renaissance man, a warrior/poet from a bygone era, and we loved him for it. He was possessed of a keenly analytical mind, and no small measure of intelligence, and he could pick apart social issues and present them in a manner which left some room for debate, yet had his own opinion clearly stamped on top.

In fact, it was this engaging debate that kept many of us coming back; for while in other blogs the comments section is almost an afterthought, at "Chez Lex" it was almost sort of an addendum to the regular post. Over the years, I began to recognize the "regulars" who always had something to say, and over time I found my own voice and dared to join in. I was welcomed and encouraged, for it was a very decent fellowship, and Lex worked hard to keep a sort of charitable intercourse going. We would bicker and argue with each other, but nearly always within the bounds of courtesy and camaraderie. Gradually, we coalesced into sort of our own little community, and would occasionally gather together at a local watering hole for to hoist a pint of Guinness (for strength!) and banter back and forth with our good and gracious host.

We recognized in him both professional excellence and amazing literary skill, as well as a basic decency that is hard to put into words. He was at once the boss you wished you had, the warrior you would unhesitatingly follow into combat, the wise older brother, and the loving, devoted husband and father that you aspired to be. He could tick off any number of accomplishments: a 26-year Navy career, command of a fighter squadron, XO of TOPGUN school - yet do so in a self-deprecating way, as though he was past the point of pride and arrogance. Not that he wasn't proud of being a strike/fighter pilot, as he would be quick to tell you, but it was just that he had begun to realize that life was full of so much more - that there wasn't time to dwell on past glories because the future held so much more promise.

We loved you, Lex. Loved you for your uncompromising pursuit of excellence. For the doubts and fears that you worked through and shared with us. For the profound and open love and admiration you expressed towards your dear wife of nearly three decades and your three beautiful children. For your honest and unsullied love of country and for the folks who served and continue to serve that nation in uniform. For continuing to tackle the hard things, all the while casting a weathered eye about for lessons to be learned and imparted to others. For sharing your wisdom with us and making us better people because of it.

Your loss is hard to bear, because we thought we had so much more time to sift through your pearls of wisdom.

As hizzoner himself would say, it is to weep.

22 comments:

Pinch said...

Thanks, Padre. That man touched so many of us in so many ways. You captured how he touched you - and how you touched him - perfectly.

Dave said...

Padre,

I have been a reader of Lex's blog as well as Pinch, since 2007 if I remember correctly. I learned so much from Lex, that mere words alone cannot describe what he taught all of us!

I am having a very difficult time these last few days trying to understand why the LORD took Lex so soon from us all, and an even more difficult time trying to think of something to post over at his blog that would be worthy of the MAN.

Your post really summed it up for me..........and I'm envious that you and Pinch were able to meet Lex in person, even if it was for a short time!

Good job Padre.......

Dave

John Carmichael said...

Padre,

Very touching, poignant and proper tribute to our friend Lex. I will be adding a link to this tribute from both my blog post at Carmichael's Position and from The Tailhook Daily Briefing.

Well said...

-JC

LT B said...

Good stuff, Padre. It occurred to me that in pondering the why, the timing, etc of this horrible event, we can look at what he brought to us as his final act. He warned us about the dangers w/ his wrestling snakes post, and then, he wrestled and lost. But what has come of this that was positive? We have found each other. All of us are getting together in his honor. That is a positive. New friendships will spring from this, hopefully, lasting and positive friendships.

God Bless

Dave Harvey said...

Dave & LT B-

Thank you for your kind remarks. I too have been struggling these past few days to find meaning in his death. That I cannot do, for death is an aberration - an evil necessity in this world until such time as our Lord will banish it forever.

Rather, I find purpose and meaning in the life that he lived, and the lessons that he taught. We had the great good fortune to be a part of that, to bear witness to the wisdom that he shared and in turn to take it to heart and perhaps share it with others.

And yes, as you say, his passing has served as a vehicle for those of us remaining to draw closer together, to rejoice in the fellowship of others of like mind. To ensure that his legacy is remembered and passed on to those who follow. Which is not nothing.

Tim Kindred said...

Well said, Padre. Thanks for sharing with us. Lex was a true kindred spirit, and gentleman and a gentle man. We will miss him mightily

SGT B said...

Padre,

I was going to try to be humorous and tell you to get out of my head, because you have echoed pretty much everything I was thinking... Instead, I'll simply say that you nailed it spot on, and thank you for sharing such profound thoughts.

MissBirdlegs in AL said...

Oh, that was sweet to read, Padre!

Greyhawk said...

Just so.

Jaimo said...

Wonderful, fitting tribute, Padre. one? Several folks spoke of feeling "gut punched" by the news. The expression that fits for me. I rarely commented but always returned for his gifted way of sharing his wisdom and the incredible bunch of folks he collected over the years. You among them. Thanks for this post. James (posted as Jaimo)

Homefront Six said...

Perfectly said.

Sgt Pepper said...

Thank you Padre for what you said and what you do. The words still fail me. To have just shaken Lex's and looked him in the eye would have been a treasure worth more than the most valuable autographed baseball card in existance. Perhaps one day I can shake your hand and thank you. Until then, keep the faith and be safe.

MMC said...

Beautiful poat. I think yours is the first I've seen try to address headon that question of why/how Lex had the effect he did on so many people. I've never *not met* a person like him, who could make every single person (minus the trolls) who came through his blog feel so valued, like you really meant something to him even though he didn't know you.

An amazing quality and you didn't have to hang out at Lex's long (or have any connection to the military) to simply KNOW that he was the type of officer people would willingly follow anywhere, the type of man you would willingly follow anywhere. And to think he repeatedly like to state that he wasn't a very good officer.

How is it that each of us would have felt honoured just to shake his hand (or, okay, I admit it, give him a hug)? I know it's commonly asked when someone in the military dies, "Where do we get such men?" but in Lex's case, I think that can be asked at so many different levels.

virgil xenophon said...

Moving comments, Padre. Don't know if you saw my reply to dwas, (who lives in Venice) but we split time between our home in New Orleans (fall, LSU football season, Christmas, Mardis Gras)and our place in Marina del Rey. (spring/summer.) We are headed back out your way (the Cali way, NOT the sand-box way, lol) shortly after St Pat's day. If you're rotated back by time QM arrives in Jul perhaps we can all meet up at Shakespeare's--now SO very sorry to have missed the chance to talk with Lex (And QM) at the last one when QM was in town.

As so many others have said, we all thought we had plenty of time, etc. Boy, does the old saw that "nothing is forever" ever ring true! Or as my grandparents generation was so fond of saying: "Here today, gone tomorrow."
Sadly, so true, so true..

Dave Harvey said...

VX-
Thanks for stopping by. Unfortunately, I won't be returning from the "sandbox" until sometime in late October, I believe. But I would definitely like to get together with you and QM at the earliest possible opportunity! Time is too short to wait to meet those who have touched your life, as we have all been reminded.

Grandpa Bluewater said...

Nailed it in one, Padre. No time is a good time for those you care for and admire.

From my ancient point of view, much too soon.

I look forward to meeting him when my time comes, at my welcome aboard party at Fiddlers Green.

Grizzledcoastie said...

Beautiful words, Padre. The good captain will be sorely missed by all.

His writings were so rich and descriptive that it put many who have publishing contracts and extra letters past their names to shame. Reading his blog every morning was a real treat.

Thanks for putting the feelings of so many into words.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Thank you Padre, for that shot in the arm that has joined the many others I have received from our `Society of the friends of Lex`. It is most welcome over here in Norfolk. I couldn't fly like Hizzoner, but we had the same taste in motorcycles. My mount will bear his name in some way and together we will roll with his spirit. Thanks again sir.

Old AF Sarge said...

Padre,
Well said my brother in Christ. Lex meant a lot, to a lot of folks, you've managed to temper my grief with your good words. Someday Sir, I'd sure love to hear you preach the Word.

bigsoxfan said...

As a long time lurker and regretter at chez nep lex, I would be letting the side down if I didn't say something here. Thank you Padre Harvey for your heart felt words. The body of the man has passed but his spirit and energy lives on thanks to men like you and "hizzonner".

Justthisguy said...

The Captain was, above all else, a Christian Gentleman.

Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Peter Maas's biography of Swede Momsen, which also includes the loss and salvage of USS Squalus, which loss happened on May 23, 1939. I just finished reading it on May 23, 2012. Momsen was, like Cap'n Lex, the beau-ideal of a Naval Officer. He was very much loved by all submariners, and everybody else who knew him. His promotion was retarded by bureaucratic jealousy of his talents. He still managed to retire as a Vice-Admiral.

Justthisguy said...

P.s. The title of the book is, "The Terrible Hours, The Greatest Submarine Rescue in History." It is both an engineering biography of Swede Momsen, and a description of the sinking of USS Squalus and how her complement, and the guys who rescued them, acquitted themselves with coolness and discipline. Made me proud of our Navy, to read that.