He saw his future crumbled and mostly destroyed as if a highway billboard proclaimed his career: “Jon Zachery, US Navy Jet Pilot,” only a tornado had ripped away 80 percent of the sign and left enough to know something was ahead, but it sure wouldn’t be what it had been before.
He’d made it through flight training in fifteen months when the norm was closer to two years, but then, after he’d earned the right to wear pilot wings on his uniform, the navy wasn’t sure it needed another pilot. He knew it wasn’t just him. America didn’t know what to do about Vietnam, and the navy didn’t seem to know how best to prosecute the nation’s war. The navy had expanded. Now it was contracting. Aircraft carriers and squadrons were on the chopping block, and so were a lot of excess pilots. A lot of men had to face what he did, but he did not want their company in misery, and theirs did not make his any easier to accept.
The juice glass rose, and he sipped, and the second slug slipped down smoothly. For a moment, the whiskey soothed the ragged, jagged edges of his ... frame of mind. It was hard to put a word to how he felt. Anguish always popped as appropriate, in one way. In another, it sounded too much like a female ailment.
“Shoot,” he whispered and took another sip.
Most of the other pilots blamed the navy for screwing them with lavish use of the F-word. Jon worked hard to keep profanity out of his speech. Teresa would never put up with it at home. It wouldn’t do in front of the children, and he didn’t want to be one person at work and have to be another when he said, “Honey, I’m home.” He couldn’t blame the navy for what was happening to him. He had no one to blame but his own dad-burned self. He had made the string of decisions that led to this point.
In November 1966, he’d returned to the States after completing a seven-month deployment to the Tonkin Gulf aboard a destroyer. A cousin of Teresa’s and some of her antiwar-oriented college friends called Jon a baby killer. In the middle of the night, they trashed his car with dog poop and a garden hose. Until that point, Jon had watched the antiwar protests and marches on the TV and tsk-tsked in disapproval. After that night, though, he became convinced that, if he disagreed with the protestors, he had to do something. “Hell no, we won’t go,” they said. He said, “Well, then, I will.” And he’d decided with great confidence that staying in the United States Navy and applying for flight training was the right thing for him to do.