The pilot arrived by cab, paid the driver, and then stepped into the pilot’s lounge. He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and tossed. It looked like it might have been combed, say, around the turn of the century. His flight jacket was checked, creased and worn – it smelled old and genuine. Old Glory was prominently sewn to its shoulders. He projected a quiet air of proficiency and pride devoid of arrogance. He filed a quick flight plan to Montreal (Expo-67, Air Show) then walked across the tarmac.
At about 500 mph and 150 yards from where we stood, she passed with the old American pilot ‘Saluting’. Imagine. A salute! I felt like laughing, I felt like crying, she glistened, she screamed, the building shook, my heart pounded.
Then the old pilot pulled her up and rolled, and rolled, and rolled out of sight into the broken clouds and indelibly into my memory. I’ve never wanted to be an American more than on that day. It was a time when many nations in the world looked to America as their big brother, a steady and even-handed beacon of security who navigated difficult political water with grace and style; not unlike the pilot who’d just flown into my memory. He was proud not arrogant, humble not a braggart, old and honest, projecting an aura of America at its best. ‘That’ America Will return one day, I know it will. Until that time, I’ll just send off this story; call it a reciprocal salute, to the old American pilot who wove a memory for a young Canadian, one that’s lasted a lifetime.