I was eleven when I first saw his name on the wall of my father's new squadron at NAS Miramar, VF-121. The squadron was the Pacific Fleet Fighter Weapons Squadron and upon first entering the building, there was a wall painted with an F-4 Phantom firing a Sidewinder at a Mig. Underneath the picture were the names of Squadron alumni that had kills in the recently ended Vietnam War. At the top of that list was "Cunningham/Driscoll" accompanied by five red stars denoting the five Migs they had shot down in Vietnam; including the notorious Col. Toon, North Vietnam's leading ace. At that time, before the eye exam that ruled it out, I wanted nothing more out of life than to become a Naval Aviator. Randy "Duke" Cunningham was my hero.
Years later, in college, I attended a meeting of the Young Republicans to see now-Congressman Randy Cunningham speak. He spoke glowingly of our military and he still had that strikingly similar appearance to the great John Wayne that led to him being called "Duke." Afterwards, I told him about that wall and what it meant to me. He was as gracious as anyone could be when surrounded by a throng of admirers. Even though I could not Fly Navy, he was still a hero.
When the charges of corruption were leveled against him earlier this year, I was confident they would be exposed as the equivalent of the political smear against Tom Delay. The more I read about the charges, the less convinced I was that they were.......so I stopped reading. Yesterday, Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty to taking bribes and Tax Evasion. While the adult that I have become is resigned to reality, the eleven year old boy that still lives inside of me is devastated. To that boy, he will always be a hero.
Sometimes I wish I were still eleven.
Thanks to the Mudville Gazette for the Open Post.