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.
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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.