There is a distant place, just beyond the invisible mind’s eye, where disbelief lives. It is the place where the memories of our most extraordinary encounters with life reside, encounters we can’t revisit because time has moved on and our current minds cannot fathom we actually lived through our pasts. I experience the occasional flash of awareness that I actually survived twenty thousand hours piloting jet airplanes and survived a year being shot at in military combat in service to my country. Indeed, what a strange ride it has been. Certain life events are unforgettable and change us forever. Our personal philosophy of life determines whether those experiences become positives or negatives. As former United States Senator Max Cleland of Georgia suggested in the title for his book, Strong at the Broken Places, about his body-shattering ordeal of surviving Vietnam, we must always seek to identify the blessings in our lives although they may be draped in the trauma of crisis.
The dark gray Philippine sky had thick clouds that hung over the land like a dirty blanket, convincing the drenched populace living below that the sun no longer shone. Lieutenant Bill Smoyer and I bounced along the rain-soaked streets in the U.S. Air Force standard dark blue bus that jerked and swerved from side to side, attempting to avoid the pothole-studded streets. It was Monday morning, September 2, 1968 and we had just completed Air Force Jungle Survival School the day before. We had gone through F-4 fighter training together six months earlier. Spiffy in our beige Khaki(1505) summer uniforms with open collars and straight-cut trousers held up by navy blue belts, we sat across the aisle of the bus from each other, two young officers, both twenty-four years old, attempting to conceal our anxieties.
Bouncing and swaying in the blue Air Force bus, we felt like two alien travelers in a foreign land. We wondered whether either of us would ever return to Clark Air Force Base again, alive.
Bill interrupted the quiet. “Let me bum one of your Salems, Dumbshit.” I deliberately hesitated in reaching two fingers into my shirt pocket to withdraw a cigarette. Rolling my eyes, I complained, “Jesus Christ, man, I buy ’em and you smoke ’em.”
Extending his hand to retrieve the Salem, he responded, “Fuck you very much, Bee.”
I laughed and took another gut-burning swig from the fifth of Smirnoff vodka I held wedged between my legs. I passed the bottle to Bill. He gulped such a hit it made me wonder if he would be able to keep it down. I withdrew a Salem from my shirt pocket, lit it, and took a deep draw. During a pause in the otherwise incessant rain shower, I stared through the color prisms of water drops dotting the bus window and fixed downward upon the brownish black-feathered hens and roosters strutting around the trash littered yards of the shanty homes that lined our route. I felt, remote and detached, like I was viewing my existence rather than actually being a part of it. My mind revisited the shock and dismay I felt about the impoverished humans I had observed existing on a thread of life in the refuse at the outskirts of cities in Mexico like Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana, the people to which Franz Fanon had labeled “the wretched of the earth” in his book of the same title. They eked out meager subsistence, cloaked in spiritual hopefulness, holed up in cardboard homes living off daily food scrounging. My mind seemed to have a mind of its own, running its own picture shows outside of my control. It fastforwarded to the future. I saw my copilot self sitting in the F-4 Phantom, whizzing earthward in a five hundred mile an hour dive, dropping napalm on the thatched hooches of Vietnamese peasant farmers. I could see them in my mind, taking their breakfast rice while the same scrawny-looking hens and roosters scurried wildly for their lives in the front yards of their jungle abodes. I grimaced and snapped back into the reality of the bouncing Air Force bus, my temporary refuge from what laid ahead of me.
It was like a slice of ephemeral heaven spinning and twirling to the music inches from Donna as she moved and swayed rhythmically like a single pink rose suspended in a soft breeze, close enough to me that the fragrance of her cologne intoxicated my overflowing senses. Music was always wine to my soul. Being able to experience the music with her elevated the magnificence of the vocals and transformed the encounter into fantasia. Donna and I became lost in our communion with the swirling reverie of the music. Like musical paradise, James Brown’s funky cut “Popcorn” came over the speakers without a break from the previous number. We both noticed Donna’s date finally return to the table with a sheepish grin cast our way. I had hoped he would have gotten mugged and dragged into the alley or something or perhaps noticed what a great time Donna and I were having and decided to go home. Thoughts of “bogarting” the guy’s date swept across my thoughts until I saw Donna issue a furtive wave his way acknowledging his return. I loved James Brown songs, especially “Popcorn” and “Cold Sweat.” Donna seemed to have a little soul herself. She hung right with me, not that that was such a feat of talent. Then, the deejay, as if answering prayers from paradise, shifted the mood to Aretha’s mega hit “Do Right Man.” An infusion of guilt penetrated my conscious mind. By my actions and intentions, I had disqualified myself as a candidate for Celeste’s “do-right man”. I switched to another channel. The bizarreness of the scene was intensifying. I was convinced some supernatural power had taken over our experience. With the smooth grace of Don Quixote extending the hand of chivalry for his Dulcinea, I slowly pulled Donna to me for a third dance; this one was slow and called us into embrace. The dance gyrations of the up-tempo tunes had turned us both damp and steamy. Our bodies sharedtheir wetness. I leaned my head close to Donna’s and lost total sense of self as the delusion I could croon captured my reason. I sang in a vibrating softness into Donna’s ear, permitting my lips and cheeks to guide her into a romantic trance with me. I held her tightly, too soon entertaining the agony of the dance being over and having to do the right thing and surrender her back to her date who waited in incomprehensible patience at the table sipping another Budweiser. Tasting Donna’s perspiration while holding her was more than I could endure. I felt once again weak and vulnerable, helpless in the amazing unpredictable flow of life’s unannounced, mystifying excursions into adventure. Chivalry called. I had to be a gentleman. I furtively kissed her beckoning cheek, still caressing her gently, neither of us realizing the music had stopped. Shaken back into the reality of silence as the deejay paused between cuts to permit the crowd to dissipate from the dance floor, I thanked Donna from the depths of an unknown place for so unselfishly sharing her time to dance with me. I escorted her to the table and she introduced me to her date, John. I apologized to him for briefly monopolizing Donna’s time and acknowledged him for being so accommodating and patient. Hah! Before there was time for further interaction, I escaped the club and whisked myself off into the Hong Kong night, as quickly as I had appeared.
Few authors have written a more honest book about male neediness than Brian Howard Settles, a former airline captain and combat pilot. In this page turner memoire, the author reveals the cost men pay to feed their insecurities when the subconscious self is dominated by gnawing notions of childhood abandonment and adoption disconnect. Settles creatively exposes the hypocrisy of men in confessing his own double standard of unfaithfulness, veiled in the macho facade of toughness and invincibility as he takes the reader deep into the world of the real men don’t cry mystique. With the brilliance of a wordsmith philosopher, the author shares his gripping story of an adopted, bi-racial orphan who became a fighter pilot for the wrong reason, in a controversial war. In No Reason for Dying, Brian Settles crafts a ruthlessly honest testimony about men searching for themselves. His wartime experiences in Vietnam and their behavioral impact on his later life are sure to ring all-too-familiar with veterans of the Gulf War and the war on terror; it is the universality of war's horror that is poignantly captured in the pages of No Reason for Dying. Now an adjunct college professor, his is the voice of the warrior-poet, professing the wisdom that “we must always seek to identify the blessings in our lives although they may be draped in the trauma of crisis.”
A father, with his two sons, turned the station wagon into the entrance of the long driveway and paused, the three of them staring at their ranch home draped in darkness among the tall pine trees. Their silence bespoke their disbelief at how quickly optimism and joy in life had been replaced with sadness and uncertainty. We were returning from my mother’s funeral in Indiana; our life in Georgia would never be the same. It was just the three of us against the world, wondering what new boogeyman of calamity would befall us next. We soon got the answer.
It was one of those traumatic life events that made me wonder why the world waited until I became an adult to fall apart. Reasonable people could have thought it an impossible outcome, so dreaded that when it crashed into my life, I was left blinking in disbelief. I was employed by Eastern Airlines as a copilot on the Boeing 727 jetliner, with more than twenty years’ experience. Being hired as a pilot for Eastern, after surviving almost two hundred combat missions in Vietnam in the F-4 Phantom fighter jet while flying for the U. S. Air Force, was one of the happiest days of my aviation career. The privileged status of a unique, rewarding, and high-paying vocation was the ultimate vindication for years of sacrifice, brain-twisting hours of study, and unstoppable dedication to being an achiever. On 4 March 1989, all that discipline and experience was jeopardized as I addressed one of two monumental choices: To strike or not to strike? That was the question.
A saying of uncertain origin suggests that God protects drunks and babies; few quotes I had ever heard seemed closer to the truth. It indeed had application to the helplessness I felt presiding over my sons’ welfare as an absentee, single-parent cabdriver. Yes, they were teenagers, the presumption being that they might be imbued with a bit more sense of responsibility than infants, but, as I reflect now, in the clarity of hindsight, it was nothing but the grace of God that brought all of us through that ordeal of my airline unemployment. Many unpardonable mistakes could have been committed and I had my share of them. I am proud and grateful to my sons for their ability and dedication to keeping the wheels on our familial buggy.
Parents, in loving their children, vainly wish for them to avoid the youthful pain of bad decisions, romances that disintegrate, job losses, and dreams that don’t come true. Committed parents desire to be successful in parenting, to guide, coach, counsel, correct, and cultivate the characteristics of responsibility. I loved being a father. Tragically, when the love wisdom for parental guidance is absent, there is no discipline, no respect for authority or learning, and failure is predictable. I just hadn’t expected to be parenting alone. In the pain of my father leaving home when I was eight years old, an adopted orphan with an adopted sister, I witnessed my mother’s agony over her dissolved marriage, the sense of diminishment, humiliation, and failure that accompanied it; add to that her challenge of raising two rambunctious children. After Daddy left us, I knew I wanted to be someone’s father someday, one who would be a better one than the one who adopted me, then abandoned our family, rarely paid child support, yet frequently showed up in the spectator stands at my football and basketball games for unearned gloating.
Sons and daughters crave approval from their fathers, even more so those who have been abandoned through divorce. I was determined from my youth, if I were ever blessed to be a father, that I would be about being a strong, loving one. Thirty years later, the boys’ mother and I lost the spirit of commitment for what successful marriage requires. There was love and respect, but, through time, unresolved issues deepened in magnitude and the inspiration for solutions became obscured in the murk of ego and instant gratification; apathy and hopelessness became bedfellows. There was no custody battle; I was going to be with my sons, but I just never imagined the déjà vu of raising my children alone, just as Mama had raised my sister and me, as a single parent. It was nothing short of God’s grace and mercy that we got through it, if not unscathed, at least alive.
Surviving as a single father, driving the cab, without a main squeeze in my life, made my frequent runs to pick up customers at the clubs a tad tortuous, fighting off the visages of the beckoning titillations. I ventured in and out of the clubs quickly retrieving my fares to avert the visual seduction. It often assisted in breaking the routine of the cabdriving day to get a dispatch call from Claude or Jessie for an apartment customer and discover the client was one of the showgirls cabbing it to work at the Cheetah or Pink Pony. Gym bag in hand, with makeup tight and perfumed body, they were eye candy to behold, creating a driving hazard as I unsuccessfully resisted furtive glances in my rearview mirror. Struggling with the issues of their private worlds, they were no different from any other working girls—facing financial challenges, burdensome work schedules with little time off, and, yes, boyfriends who were jealous of their work exposure. I admired them for their spirit of hustle and determination, putting up with creepy customers and bosses who routinely sought to exact favors in the afterhours. Some of the dancers I met were working on college degrees or technical certifications, which often placed them in an ironic superiority over the very patrons who flocked to their clubs to ogle them. I felt compassion for their existence and their struggle, always being hassled or gamed by perverted males seeking to exploit them. I did not want to be one of those males, although I may have come close in my more youthful times.
The orange glow of sunset was advancing on a quiet Thursday; the Consumer Electronics Show had just left town and the cab world was settling back into normalcy. I was ready for the regular Buckhead weekend: yuppie barhopping mania. I was number one in the Buckhead zone when the radio silence was broken by Jessie, “Car 39, and Brian.”
“39, go ahead!”
“Pick up at Ladies & Lace, sick employee needs to go home,” Jessie issued.
“Roger, I got it,” I responded. Hm, Ladies & Lace, probably some beauty pie on a menstrual cycle, I thought. Fortunately, I was stationed at my favorite loitering spot, the Seven Eleven on Pharr Road just off Peachtree, which placed me right around the corner. The dark gray of an increasing overcast sky covered the streets of Buckhead in gloominess. As I waited for the traffic light to change, my mind drifted onto the various workday activities people called their life. I knew the dance girls at the so-called titty bars, depending on the affluence of customers, made a living wage, but were time-limited by age. Not a lot of male patrons are inspired to log time and dollars fantasizing about a forty-year-old mother of two pole dancing; it was pretty much a young girl’s gig. Lingerie modeling was a bit lower on the nobility pole. What little exposure I had to these businesses was through dropping customers off at seedy modeling shops on Cheshire Bridge Road. There was a different class of clientele interested in that kind of voyeurism. The girls who worked these joints seemed to be a bit more down on their luck, even dropped out from life and struggling to make a way for themselves.
My attention was abruptly snatched back to the changed green light by the impatient horn of a business-suited type, anxious to get to his happy-hour watering hole. I proceeded the short distance past the Bank of America and turned right into the limited parking area in front of a small house converted for business, with a picture window glowing blue with a neon-lettered sign that simply announced Ladies & Lace. It had a faded façade of bleached yellow paint and the windows were draped in silky, vibrant-colored curtains that fell short of their beautification intent. The exterior front door was open—probably to facilitate those inside who had an interest in seeing who was pulling up. No sooner had I set the gearshift lever into Park than an older lady, appearing manager like, poked her head out and shouted, “She’ll be right out.” My cabbies’ mind began to play the familiar scenarios: would this be a long wait? How far would the trip be: $4 to the Buckhead apartments or a $10 ride up to the perimeter on Roswell? My presumptive analysis convinced me that the trip wouldn’t be major due to the nature of the employment and the usual demographic of these employees. I changed the radio station to one of my favorite programs on NPR, “All Things Considered.” Noticing activity at the front door, I looked up to witness a woozy and staggering young girl being assisted down the steps by two females. The girl, maybe nineteen or twenty, was clad in an off-white silky blouse, black fishnet stockings, ridiculously designed six-inch high heels, and a leather micro-micro miniskirt. Inclined toward gentlemanliness, I asked, “You need any help?”
“No sir, we can manage,” they replied, leaving me impressed with my elevated status of being addressed as Sir—an impression that quickly evaporated upon concluding that the greeting was a subterfuge for something heinous about to occur.
is a unique literary excursion into the private world of former airline Captain Brian Settles who flew almost 200 missions as a Vietnam combat pilot in the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. Written in the poetic language of a true wordsmith, the author invites the reader into his guts and glory world, the culture of bravery, combat flying, and what it took to endure. The revelations about his fighter pilot existence bleed with a realism that is heaped with humanity, the challenge to excel, and survive a combat tour in an unpopular war. In this diary style read, Settles takes readers on a graphic flight into the agony of isolation, deprivation and dying that are the bi-products of aerial combat. In steamy detail, Captain Settles confesses his failures to overcome the temptations of infidelity thrust upon him, a child of God whose neediness to prove himself temporarily dwarfed his faith. Settles’ in your face exposé of the surreal world of the fighter pilot oozes a sensuality that is only exceeded in its intensity by his candor. Readers won’t find a more honest book about marital faithfulness, male ego and war.