It is Memorial Day, 2017. It is a day that we honor those that have died to protect our freedom as Americans. During my 24 years in the Air Force I lost around 13 friends to aircraft accidents in peace and wartime combined. This morning, as I stare out of a window onto a peaceful vista of acres of oaks and maple trees sprinkled across rolling hills, I think back on those thirteen. I thought that I would pay a Memorial Day Tribute to probably the one closest to my heart on this Memorial Day – Paul J. “PJ” Weaver.
I first met PJ Weaver when I was a student pilot at Reese Air Force Base in 1984-85. PJ was a T-38 Instructor Pilot (IP). He had the biggest grin and heart among all the instructor pilots. In many ways PJ reminded me of “Hoss” on the TV Western Bonanza — A big man with a big heart. Everyone, commanders, fellow instructors, students, all liked and respected him – a rare combination.
When he taught one of my academic courses I learned more about him as a person. The most interesting was his love for GI Joes. He had played with them as a boy and collected them as an adult. He made it a habit to buy the newest model when it came out. One day he came into our Aeronautics class, and was really frustrated, visibly upset. He shared, “I am so angry, I went to buy the new GI Joe last night and it is the environmental GI Joe. The package says, ‘returning from the debacle in Vietnam, GI Joe turns his attention to environmental matters’. GI Joe isn’t an environmentalist, he’s a warrior, this is ridiculous”. We all got a chuckle as PJ’s face slowly faded from red.
This episode revealed PJ’s deep love for his country and his desire to protect it. I later learned that PJ had returned, voluntarily, to be a T-38 IP to prove something to himself. He had wanted to fly fighters when he graduated from pilot training in 1980. However, as the assignment process unfolded, he was given a C-130. Though he loved the C-130 he wanted to prove to himself that he was capable of flying fighters. Hence he volunteered to return as a T-38 IP. Two things you should know. It is rare for an active duty pilot to volunteer to return as an IP (an IP has to watch others fly, an active duty pilot does most of the flying themselves). Second, the T-38 is very much like a fighter plane.
Content that he had proven something to himself in the T-38, PJ returned to the C-130 (Herc) World. He eventually ended up in a Special Operations Unit at Hurlburt Field in Florida. His AC-130 would be involved in the most dangerous and important missions. In the early morning hours of January 31, 1991 while supporting Marine ground operations near the Kuwaiti border during the liberation of Kuwait in the First Gulf War, Major Weaver’s AC-130 took on heavy ground flack and crashed into the Persian Gulf. There were no survivors. The AC-130 operations are designed to occur at night, PJ and his crew had lingered into daylight to make sure the ground troops were supported. That was so typical of PJ.
To this day, I carry two parachute spacers in my flight bag. One of them has the initials, “PJ”. They were PJ Weaver’s at Reese Air Force Base in 1985. I consider them as one of my most highly prized possessions. Men like PJ Weaver have helped make America great. It remains to be seen if we will stay that way. In the meantime, as a fellow follower of Jesus Christ, I look forward to catching up with PJ some day in Heaven.
PS For more information about PJ, including his motorcycle and judo exploits, please see the following website: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=17906340