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.