Categories
Commentary Stories

Reyna Grande Comes to Frisco

IMAGE: Reyna Grande signs books at the Frisco campus of Collin College. Photos by Pedro Chávez

 

Sometimes you get the unexpected. That happened on Tuesday night, September 25th, at the Collin College Conference Center in Frisco, Texas, during a Hispanic Heritage Month event that featured Reyna Grande. She is the author of a couple of novels and the award-winning memoir The Distance Between Us. A sequel to the autobiography, A Dream Called Home, will be released on October 2nd. Her memoir is used widely in schools across the country. She was born in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, in 1975.

The event was made possible by the Student Activity Fee Advisory Committee (SAFAC) and the Center for Scholarly and Civic Engagement (CSCE), and was spearheaded by communications studies professor Whitney Pisani. She teaches at the Collin College Plano campus. Professor Pisani had been in contact with Ms. Grande for the past year, trying to find a way to bring her to the school for the speaking engagement. The deal was finally wrapped up about four weeks ago, according to the professor.

It was probably worth the wait, especially for students who read the memoir as part of their class requirements and for others that were present at the event, because Ms. Grande didn’t disappoint. Besides explaining how she ended up coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant in the mid-nineteen-eighties, she also discussed some of the content of the book The Distance Between Us, and answered a few preselected questions from students. Ms. Grande’s main focus of her talk, though, was about a different kind of distance: the one that divides people.

That was the unexpected part of the presentation. She first mentioned the current “Hispanophobia” that according to her is being promoted by the current administration, vilifying people of Mexican ancestry in the United States. But she also explained that blaming newcomers to the country has been around for a while. She mentioned, as an example, Founding Father Ben Franklin’s fear that German immigrants would not assimilate and President Theodore Roosevelt’s verified anti-immigrant’s beliefs.

“There have been many dark times in our history,” Ms. Grande said as she recalled the discrimination of Irish immigrants, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. But she was also hopeful, mainly about the current state of affairs and name calling that is taking place in some corners of America.

“Fifteen years from now,” she said, “we are going to look back and realize how we came together as a country.”

Ms. Grande is probably right. Judging by the full house of diverse students and others that came to listen to her at the conference center, the inner soul of the country seems to be on the right track. Especially with schools and professors that promote the understanding of other peoples’ cultures and idiosyncrasies, like Collin College and professor Pisani. Institutions and folks that effectively take steps to shorten the distance between us, trying to eradicate misunderstandings, ignorance and other ills that tend to pull us apart.

“I want to be a global citizen,” mentioned Ms. Grande towards the end of her speech. It was another hopeful thought about people and about an often divided world.

“We can come together as a global community,” she added.

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Commentary Stories

Ed Rasimus, Fighter pilot

 

IMAGE: Ed Rasimus during a book signing event at the Dallas Museum of Flight, 2011, Love Field, Dallas, Texas.

 

A MEMORIAL DAY’S REMEMBRANCE: A HERO’S BURIAL

Approximately four years ago, Ed Rasimus was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a solemn occasion, with military honors, with family and friends, and an act that included the throwing of nickels on the grass to “save a fighter pilot’s ass.” Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, but his wife Carol was there, along with a cadre of Air Force buddies whose jobs of yesteryear involved the hurling of explosives to the ground and picking aerial dog fights with the enemy’s flying machines.

For those interested on viewing the events of that day, please click on the link below. It’s a video of the ceremony and the act that followed at the O-Club: the singing of “The Balls of O’Leary” by Ed’s friends of yore. Don’t know the name of the person that produced the video, but it was posted on Ed’s Facebook page by James Gundel.

Edward J. Rasimus, our friend, was a retired fighter pilot and the author of three books about the Vietnam conflict. He co-authored the last one, “Fighter Pilot,” the bio of legendary ace Robin Olds. Robin and daughter Christina were the other co-authors of that book. Ed flew over two hundred and fifty combat missions during two tours in Southeast Asia. I met him in Spain, near Madrid, at the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He was the Ops Officer then; I was a WSO, a backseater, in the F-4 (a dual seat fighter jet also known as Phantom II or Big Ugly). I flew with him on several occasions, at Torrejon Air Base and at other NATO outposts. Also had the pleasure of parting bread with him and, of course, a few tequilas. He knew about chow, about wine and about enjoying life to the fullest. He was classy, too. I learned a lot from him. About a lot of things. He was a good soldier, a good man.

Some twenty years later, when I lived in San Diego, California, I stumbled upon a book on the shelf of a Super Crown bookstore in La Jolla. The book was called “Fast Movers;” it was written by John Darrell Sherwood. Before browsing its pages, I had the premonition of finding something about Ed in that book. Don’t know why.

But I sure did. His name was printed first on the table of contents. It read, “Chapter 2: 100 Missions North. Ed Rasimus and the F-105 Experience. Page 38. What a find. In that chapter, the author writes about First Lieutenant Ed Rasimus, sitting at the O-Club at Travis AFB on his way to Vietnam. And talks about Ed’s background, his training and about his fears. Wanna know the rest? You gotta read that book.

For now let me just tell you that “Ras,” as we called him then, was one of a kind, not just a fighter pilot. He was a leader, of all of us, the airmen that flew with him. The ones that parted bread with him and learned from that master that the final mission in life is often never planned.

Boy, we really miss Ed and his teachings. Rest in peace, sir.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/iHaoUlMam80?&autoplay=1&showsearch=0&rel=0feature=player_detailpage

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Anecdotes Commentary

Old Fighter Pilots Just Fade Away

PHOTO: Ed Rasimus (left) and Air Force friends at finca party in Spain.

 

NOTE: I wrote this piece almost a year ago for my other blog, thevirtualcolumnist.com. During our few and final mini-reunions with another Air Force buddy, Carlos Lerma, Ras had bugged me about writing a book on the Mexican experience in America, but I insisted on wanting to write novels. With his unique way of telling it like it is and after reading a proof of my wannabe novel, he told me to stick to writing commentary. Great guy that Ras.

*  *  *

It’s tough when you lose a friend. Especially an Air Force buddy and a fighter pilot like Ed Rasimus. We called him Ras. He died on January 30, 2013, but I was reminded of his passing about ten days ago, on September 29. He would have been seventy-three years old on that day. Several other buddies posted tributes to Ras on his Facebook page. I did too. It’s weird, he’s gone, but his social media connection still lives on.

We both served in the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron in the seventies, at Torrejón Air Base, near Madrid, Spain. He was an aircraft commander; I was a backseater. For a while, he was also the Ops Officer. Ras was a good leader and had a keen sense of humor. We got to know each other well. That usually happens when you’re in the military and you get deployed a lot and spend week after week together with your buddies in different corners of the world. You become family.

I lost track of Ras after I left the Air Force in seventy-seven, but sometimes thought of him. I had this wild idea of writing a novel in which the leading character was going to be a retired fighter pilot, someone like Ras, living with his honey in Costa Rica, soaking in the sun and sucking suds at proverbial retiree joints. I had plenty justification for modeling my novel’s leading man after him. There was a suave side to Ras and a sophistication not usually found in folks that hurl their bodies and aircraft to the ground for a living.

He was at his best at our Finca parties, the fun, afternoon shindigs in real bullrings, in which we had a chance to make fools of ourselves trying to fight well-grown calves. (vaquillas). We had two of those events while I was stationed in Spain. Ras went all out for them. He dressed the part, not as a bullfighter, but like one of those aficionados that yearly run the bulls in Pamplona. He wore the jacket and the red scarf and along brought a real bota filled with tinto (red wine). There was a Hemingwayesque look to Ras, which translated in the ring into flirting with finesse and genuine bull fighting skills. He was good. No calf ever took him down. He would follow his act with a stroll before the crowd of friends after taking several sips from his bota. It was expected of him, to bring on his swagger.

After thirty-four years, I ran into him again. It was in 2011, at an F-105 Thunderchief dedication ceremony at the Frontiers of Flight Museum near Love Field, in Dallas, Texas. Ras was there as one of the speakers and to sign his published works. He had written two books on his travails flying bombing missions in North Vietnam. He had also co-written “Fighter Pilot,” a book about Robin Olds, a legendary Air Force ace. It was nice seeing Ras. He made a couple of his typical remarks, sarcastic but fun. I just laughed. It seemed like yesteryear, he hadn’t missed a beat. It was a happy reunion. Before leaving the museum, we promised to see each other again for beer and chow. He lived in north Texas, about forty miles from where I lived.

There’s much to be told about that brief span in time that began in the museum encounter and the three lunch and beer meetings we had thereafter. To truly savor those moments, I must save them for a future column. For now I just want to say that Ras didn’t live much longer after our last, May 2012, mini reunion. Two other Air Force buddies were with us on that memorable rendezvous.

I’m sure he fought back and tried to hang on to life so he could write more books and give us additional insight on the dubious war he fought in Nam. But he didn’t make it. It was easier for Ras, I feel he would agree, to dodge bullets and missiles when dropping bombs on Hanoi than to fight the ravaging trials and tribulations of a terminal illness. Those final excruciating days were, without a doubt, challenging times. Yet, he was tough through the end. A few days before his death, he was still writing on his blog, still telling us how it was and how it ought to be. There is no doubt, he had some good insights about America and about the world we live in.

He was the Ras of old, tough, genuine, to the point. A fighter.

He never gave up, never complained about his illness. Having known him well, I bet he accepted his fate and planned appropriately for his final flight, to trod once more “the high untrespassed sanctity of space,” to put out his hand and touch “the face of God.”*

*From the poem “High Flight,” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.