Reflections of duty, honor, service, friendship, and flying

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker and author

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Friendships come in many types, some with frequent visits and others that time attempts to distance. Even with the latter, the best will pick up where it left off as if the time between was mere days rather than years. 

Augustus Randolph “Randy” Presley, Jr.

They’re found in places like schools, jobs, and neighborhoods. For me, flying and the old Mount Pleasant airport facilitated many fond friendships like the one Randy Presley extended to me many years ago. I knew who he was before that because everyone knew him as a businessman and community leader always offering a smile, a good story, and friendship to everyone he met. 

We were also friends through Glass Club Lake just down the road where several Mount Pleasant residents had cabins. When I moved back to East Texas from Boerne just outside San Antonio, buying a place on the small lake in the summer of 1998 led to one of our catching up and storytelling sessions at the annual stockholder’s meeting and fish fry.

“I’ve got one for you,” I said. “Watching the San Antonio news three or four years ago, I saw something about a sonic boom prompting phone calls and furor. When the reporter interviewed the Air Force pilot about the incident, I pointed to the TV and told my kids, ‘I know him, that’s Jack Presley from Mount Pleasant.’” By then, Randy’s smile that had been growing larger by the minute turned to laughter as he picked up on the story about his son where I left off, “Well, here’s the part of that story the news didn’t report.”

That return to northeast Texas was short-lived before a dozen or so years later when I returned once more with the new owners of the Mount Pleasant Tribune. Randy called to welcome me back, but it was his response to my column on a legendary Paris, Texas, pilot and subsequent emails that came to mind last week upon learning that Randy had passed from this life at 90.

“I really enjoyed the article about Junior Burchinal,” that response began. “I doubt if anyone in Mt. Pleasant spent more money with Junior than me! I always wanted to fly a P-51 Mustang and after convincing him that I could fly a T-33 from the back seat with him in front, he finally checked me out in his.”

The Junior Burchinal P-51 Randy flew (in current owner’s paint configuration) — Tom Griffith photo on mustangsmustangs.com

“The P-51 was a plane I had always wanted to fly ever since I soloed off the old E. P. Hendricks grass strip outside of town across the highway from the old Willie Banks store on US-67,” Randy wrote in later emails. “I flew his Cubs and Taylor Crafts until Gus Hoffman built what (became) the first Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport. Those were a really interesting few years flying (Burchinal’s) planes. His airport was a place that took up all the spare money I could find and from which I did a lot of fun flying.”

“I flew 55 combat missions before the North (Korea) gave up,” he wrote another time. “It was interesting times and I am glad that we saved the country from communism. I always regretted missing the opportunity to fly (P-51s) while I was still in the USAF. In Korea, there was as many as three squadrons of F-51’s, as they were legally referred to in later years. I was flying the F84G ‘Thunderjet.’ We did the air-to-ground work while F-86’s flew top-cover for us. The old F-84G was not supersonic and anytime your airspeed got past the ‘red line’ the controls would lock up, and the only thing you could do was pull off power and put out the speed brakes to get (it) under control again.”

“So much for my long flying tales. I apologize for the long email,” one of his last messages ended. “As you can tell, I still have a lot of interest in aviation although age has stopped much of my flying.” 

In another message, he fondly recalled a return to Korea some years ago with one of his squadron classmates. “I was really amazed at how South Korea had progressed and the capital of Seoul is now a beautiful city.” Again, he ended his missive with, “I got carried away and sent you a lot more than I planned. This was for your information only and not something I wanted published. Always good to hear or read about you. RP”

I’ve honored his request until now, but these tidbits will be nothing new or revealing to those who knew Randy. They’re simply his reflections on a lifelong penchant for duty, honor, service, friendship, and his love for flying.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: A Republic F-84G Thunderjet like the aircraft Randy flew during the Korean War — The Warhawk Air Museum photo, Nampa, Idaho)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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