Requiem for an Airman
By Jerry Cosley

Marking a 39-year career with retirement in 1981, every minute of Capt. Walt Gunn’s subsequent life continued as a joyous expression of his deep love for flying, airplanes, people who worked on or around them, and the family, friends and students that understood his unswerving enthusiasm and devotion to aviation. Walt “flew west” September 15, 2006, and a memorial service was held September21 in Fairway, KS.

His memoirs, A Life Aloft: from DC-3 to 747 was published by Wings Publications, and featured this poem by C.R. McDonald, titled, Earthbound.

Is there magic in the heavens
Can one feel the sky’s allure
Does the roar of power quicken
Heart-beats, with a force obscure?
Are men tempted by the beauty
Known to only those who yearn,
While in mystic flights of fancy,
Fires of saddening longing burn.

Is the sky a wanton temptress?
Do men vie for her caress?
Can the thrills of mundane action
Bring again, true happiness?

Like a sailor who has ventured
Through the waters still unknown;
Braved the tempest, charted courses,
Watched the stars at night, alone;
Nevermore can rest contented
In the homeland by the shore,
Though must chafe and strain, relentless,
‘Gainst the shackles evermore.

So must men, when wings are weakened –
‘Though the spirit still be strong,
Bow to Fate’s un-yielding mandate;
Earthbound now, however long.

Highlighting the memorial service was a eulogy -- a  love story, really --  offered by his granddaughter, pediatric physician Dr. Allison Henschel, and an anonymous poem titled, The Last Check Ride.

Dr. Henschel -- “Walt was family to many of us, a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a safe ride to a far off place, and a great story teller. I am not half the story teller he was so I won’t even try to go there. When thinking about what to say to you all, I was flooded with an overload of random thoughts – sights, smells, sounds, feelings started to overwhelm me. I realized that so much I was recalling would be familiar to many of you so I’d like to share some memories with you.

“The smell of leather, Old Spice, the farm, engine grease

“WD-40 and ‘for now’ fixes, and jerry rigging everything

“The ripple of the tall grass and waves over the pond as be ‘buzzed the barn’

“The exciting quiver in my stomach when we would stall the engine and drift and
recover – and Amy thinking she was going to throw up if we did it again!

“Lake Lotawana – swimming off the dock, the 4th of July fireworks, always
tinkering with something and spraying for ants, stories of his kids and family
growing up at the lake and all their adventures if you will

“Counting cows from the sky and ‘touch and go’s’ in the neighboring fields

“Landing the Porterfield on a short grassy strip while avoiding power lines and
cows in the field

“Not too many people were likely pulled over for going too slow on Highway 50,
while counting calves

“Lectures to and from the farm, in the kitchen, in the classroom, in the pool … on
what seemed like an endless range of subjects

“Stories you have heard so many times you could finish for him but would NEVER do it justice

“The train under the tree at Christmas and all of its glorious chaos

“The Milo turning colors and the soybeans ready to be cut

“CHECKLISTS

and ALWAYS personally checking the entire airplane before even getting in

“The creak of the window and the deep, booming “CLEAR PROP” before the prop started spinning

“The sounds of the engine as it revs up and the hum as you reach altitude

“The crackle of the radio and communication with the tower

“Reading water towers and highway signs to check our course

“Cracker Jacks and Dollar Store cookies or moon pies

“Black licorice and throwing candy out of his airplane to friends below

“Burnt sugar and popcorn bunnies at Easter

“His easy-going ear-to-ear smile

“His Ho-Ho-Ho laugh

“The whistle that always made you come running (even my friends)

“The endless animals (sorry Lu) -- the ducks, turtles, dogs, horses, salamander – at least no rabbits that I remember anyway

“Forever checking his wingtips – even on the highway

“Constant motion and commotion

“The sound of the baseball game on the radio, football on the TV, and the rustle of the paper all while he is telling you about something else entirely

“Learning the cranial nerves at age 10 – On Old Olympus Towering Tops, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops and something about the hippocampus – it took me years to figure out and appreciate what in the world he was talking about

“Getting hosed down at the carwash after a day on the farm – or jumping in the pool to wash off because we were too dirty to go in the house (again, sorry Lu!)

“The Plaza lights from inside the London taxi cab

“Baseball caps and cowboy hats – he wore so many different hats, all of them so well!

“Psychiatry Grand Rounds at KU

“Wednesday nights in Warrensburg

“Bidding on animals at the Kingsville Livestock Auction

“The American Royal

“TWA calendars, 747s and DC-3s

“Signed book copies

“Glenn Miller Band/Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin/Marilyn May/Linda Eder/Ronan Tynan

“Walking us down the wedding aisle

“Walking me down the hill at KU and handing me my medical diploma

“Making sure we all got where we needed to go safely

“Triple-E passes and standby – you never know who you might see

“Home made soup, Nancy’s lasagna and “super” salads, Italian dressing and cherries

“Buttermilk

“Saturday lunch at Romanelli’s with ‘the boys’

“Paseo High School reunions

“Homecoming at Central Missouri State University

“Bartering with tenants for rent ... work, old machines and other stuff

“Amy’s horse Bev …

“Trish’s famous Springerli Anise Christmas cookies

“City Market shopping – buying red roses

“Any physical work at the farm … mowing … fencing … tearing down … building up

“Seeing young people succeed

“Serving libations – challenging guests to suggest a liqueur he didn’t have!

“Football – pro, college, high school, didn’t matter

“Listening to talk radio, and talking on talk radio

“A deep respect for learning and knowledge and life

“And always, HAPPY LANDINGS

The Last Check Ride (anonymous)

I hope there is a place up there in the sky,
Where old flyers go on the day they die.
A place where a guy can buy a cold beer
For a friend and a comrade whose memory is dear.

A place where no lawyer or doctor tread,
Nor FAA type ‘ere be caught dead.
A quaint little place, kind of dark, full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke.

The kind of place where a lady could go,
And feel safe and protected by men she would know.
There must be a place where old flyers go,
When their flying finished, and their air-speed gets low.

Where whiskey is old and women are young,
And songs about flying and dying are sung.
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d flown west before,
They’d call out your name, as you came through the door.
They’d buy you a drink, if your thirst should be bad,
And tell all the others, “He was quite a good lad.”

An then through the mist, you’d spot an old guy,
You’d not seen in years, though he taught you to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
“Welcome, my son, I’m pleased that you’re here.
This is the place where the true flyers come,
When their journey is over, and their wars have been won.

They’ve come here at last to be safe and alone,
From the government clerk, and the management clone,
From politicians and lawyers, the Feds and the noise,
Where all hours are happy, and they’re all good ol’ boys.

You can relax with a cold one, maybe deal from a deck,

This is heaven, my son … you’ve passed your last check!