Monday, April 19, 2010

The Tontine

You've heard of the concept, but may not have known what a tontine is. Look it up and you'll find it described as an "investment scheme" but really it is something quite different. It is the ultimate game of "Survivor."

The classic tontine had the members of a military unit buy a bottle of fine Cognac and mount it in a display case. Each year the group would gather to salute their fallen comrades until finally the last man alive would drink the brandy.

The Doolittle Raiders have a board with a cup for each member and over time the cups are inverted until one survivor will use his last standing cup.

The River Rats have fought hard not to be a tontine. There have been battles over the changes to membership criteria but wise leadership knew that we must adapt or the legacy will be lost and the good work of supporting scholarships for children of POWs and MIAs will be undone. We've added current tactical aircrew members and supporters of the organization to the roles and in the process created a mix of folks who can tell the stories to the next generation and maybe even overcome the tendency of revisionist historians to demean what was done by some very brave men.

ThunderTales has been a bit slow the last couple of days as I've been on the road to Orlando and four days with the kind of friends you can only gain through one process--sharing of intense experiences. It is always much more my great good fortune to be able to be with them than their's to be saddled with my presence. I am honored to be among true heroes and great warriors.

There is also the chance to stand slack-jawed looking at the youth entering the profession. This time it was a chance to lean on the bar with a proud father and his son.

The son was tall, clean-cut, athletic and looked just a bit too young to buy a drink in a legal bar. I estimated him at 18-19 years old. His dad introduced him to me as a Raptor pilot. Yep! A real, living, breathing god of tactical aviation flying the F-22 for a living!

He wasn't quite as green as I was when I went right out of pilot training to the F-105. He already had more than two years flying the F-15C including some time in the Sandbox. But, damn, he looked young.

I can't tell you how much I envy him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our organization, The Viet Nam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) had the same legacy problem/question. As a majority, we decided to remain both non-political and an association of RVN experienced pilots. There are other helicopter pilots organizations dedicated to other conflicts, ie. The Combat Helicopter Pilots Association, etc.,( the fabrication of "war stories" at the bar may continue! ). An unfortunate byproduct was that many former AF/Navy/Marine/Vietnamese/RAAF helicopter pilots didn't feel comfortable in VHPA just because of the sheer number of former Army pilots ( understandable when one thinks of the demographics of the RVN era helicopter pilot ). So, we are "A Tontine."
As a personal aside, like you, Sir, I am in awe of my fellow organization members when attending annual meetings. As a gun pilot, I never had to attempt the things my friends and classmates did during insertions and extractions of hot LZs/PZs. Some of those "slick" pilots did things with Hueys that no 19 or 20 year old aircraft commander should have been able to do; but, that's what a 1000 hours of combat flight time in a year long tour will do for the learning process. Those guys truely were "God's own lunatics!"
regards, Alemaster