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Classic Wings Magazine Luftwaffe Resource Center WWII Naval Aviation Research Pacific
Final Cut-The Post War B-17 Flying Fortress and Survivors - 5th Edition


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 1:53 pm 
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With the exception of his friends in Breckenridge and back home in Memphis, I doubt anybody here knew Gary longer or better than I did. Unlike most of the people here, I actually knew him as a person and outside of the internet. He was not someone that I just emailed or talked to on the phone once or twice. He was one of my dearest friends and I count that as one of the biggest blessings in my life. The details of how he ended his life don't need to be talked about here, or anywhere. I hope that the people that do know what happened, like me, have the decency, respect for Gary's memory and Christian courtesy to not spread it around.

When I saw the original post about his death, I knew what had happened. I even told my wife that. I contacted the poster and asked if he had details but he didn't. I made a phone call and left a message with somebody that I knew would know what happened. I had just finished contacting the original poster a second time when my phone rang. The individual who called me told me the details my friends death. A few minutes later I received one from my squadron ops officer. He'd had a call from our maintenance squadron with a message to contact a mutual friend of Gary and I down at the CAF in Midland. They had been trying to contact me for some time, even going as far as trying to contact my parents to get a hold of me.


I knew this was the path Gary was headed down. We had talked about it several times over the last few years. These problems started a long time before he ever started working on warbirds. Two weeks to the day prior to this tragic incident, I spent about 8 hours at Gary's house. After that, we drove over to my parent's house in Big Spring and spent several more hours having dinner with my folks. During that last day I was at his house, while we were digging through the treasure trove of aviation junk he had, he made several statements that looking back, told me this would be the result. In retrospect, it wasn't a cry for help. He was telling me what he was going to do. Gary didn't want help. Gary was tired of this life.

Gary told everyone that he had plans to move to New Zealand and work on warbirds when he cleared out all the parts at Austin Acres. I know this was true but I also knew he would never make it down there and he knew it as well. I knew something was wrong because he kept trying to give me everything he had at the house. He insisted that I load up parts and take them home with me. He tried to get me to take an entire trailer of stuff home with me. I ended up playing it off with a "I'll take everything the next time I come out". He asked what I was going to do when he left his Stratolina to me in his will. I laughed it off, he did too. We ended up sitting in his hot rod that he was building and discussing ideas for making it look more airplane like. We laughed about how funny it must look for two fat boys like us to be sitting in such a small truck. Like all conversations I ever had with Gary, even the most desperate ones, it ended in laughter and both of us agreeing and reassuring each other that everything would be ok. We had made plans to get together and start a real good inventory of his stuff at Austin Acres on the weekend of 14 November.


During the last visit to my parent's house for dinner, when it was time to leave, he hugged my Mamma and Daddy and thanked them for the best time he'd had in long time. He also took three tupperware containers of my Mamma's cooking home with him and told a hilarious story of eating a "varmint" he killed on the airport when he was a poor, self employed airplane mechanic back home in Memphis. We were sitting in the back seat of the car when my parents drove back to Midland to drop him off. He told me that he had always been envious of my family and appreciated them treating him as if he was one of their own.

I watched my friend deteriorate emotionally over the last several months. His problems got worse and he refused to take help from anybody. Just a few days before his death he emailed me to ask how my parents were doing. He knew Daddy had a recent knee replacement and he was driving through Big Spring and wanted to see if he needed to bring my parents anything from "the big city". He was also planning on staying for supper "If my mamma didn't mind".

I emailed him back and told him that my parents were expecting him for supper if he came through. On Wednesday he emailed and said he wasn't feeling good so he wouldn't be over. Thursday night I emailed him and told him that I had parking passes and crew badges for him if he would come to the Alliance airshow but I never heard back. Friday I intended to call him but I never did do it. On Saturday night, at the airshow party I thought about texting him and seeing how he was doing but I didn't. On Sunday I almost sent him a text message but just didn't get around to it. When we were flying home on Monday morning I was cleaning out all the text messages from my phone and found the ones from the Midland airshow weekend when I forgot how to get back to his house and he had to text me directions. As I deleted all the messages but those three about the directions, I thought to myself I really need to call Gary. I so wish now that I had.



There are a few things I'd like to point out about Gary.


Gary had the help of many, many people, mostly his dear friends in Texas and back in Tennessee in the past and up until the last moment. As recently as the Midland airshow, several of us sat down and talked about how to help him. This is something that had been done many times in the past. I have seen, with my own eyes, people physically try to help him. He had very professional help in the past and still had help on offer that he refused to take. Some of the reason was that he didn't want to be a burden to anyone and part of it is that he just didn't want to do anything about it. There were some other, personal and medical reasons, but I'm not going into them.

People can wail and gnash their teeth about Gary not calling them for help in his desperate hour. He didn't call me this time and it hurts terribly because he had called me many times before. He also didn't contact some of the other people that could help him until it was too late for them to do so. He did that on purpose. He knew we would stop him.

Gary knew his life was valuable. We talked about that many times.

Gary knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had friends that loved him. He loved the Ezell family in Breckenridge more than anybody and they loved him back. He has told me many times over the years that "the best part of my life was the time I spent working for Nelson Ezell".

Gary never forgot my daughter's birthday and never failed to ask about her. He had enough influence on my young daughter's life that she once told a tour guide at the Smithsonian, after he informed her that nobody was allowed to get inside the Enola Gay, that she didn't understand that because "Gary let me in his B-29." My daughter was a big fan of Gary and I still don't know how to tell her he's gone.

Gary never failed, not one time, to tell me to say hi to my folks for him.

My parents loved Gary dearly and are torn up about this.

Gary was in Altus a few months back and spent a good deal of time we were at dinner flirting with my wife.

Gary could sweet talk a woman unlike anybody I've seen.

A good deal of what I know about working on old planes came from him.

A long time before email came around, Gary always wrote letters to check on me when I was deployed overseas.

Gary believed in God and was big on praying. He did it a lot. Unfortunately, in the end, that wasn't enough.

Gary hoped that heaven looked a lot like New Zealand. We talked about that many times. I hope he's happy there.

Any time I go to cut a corner somewhere, trim the end off of a cotter pin or bend the pig tail on a piece of safety wire in way that wouldn't pass his muster, I will here Gary saying: "Now that's never gonna work! Nelson Ezell would never stand for that and I'm not going to either!" He's said that to me many times before.

For the rest of my life, I will miss my friend.


Call them demons, problems, tendencies or whatever you want. The simple fact is that Gary, in addition to a few other minor health problems, had very serious depression that was getting worse and he refused to take the proper treatment for it.

The very sad and absolute truth about my dear friend is that he was stubborn to a fault. In his personal life, just like it was in aviation, things were done Gary's way. Sadly, it was like that up to the last minute.

I loved Gary as much as I could love a guy (in a non San Francisco sort of way...Gary would think that line was funny) and I'll be a very, very long time in getting over losing him.

As for now, I'm taking a C-17 to the Houston airshow and trying my best not to feel sorry for myself. Because that's what Gary would want me to do.

Brad Pilgrim

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:25 pm 
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Thanks Brad... it helps a lot hearing that from you, as painful as it must be. Take care of yourself.

Richard

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:48 pm 
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I only met Gary once, at a small airshow in Mississippi, long before I believe WIX even existed. He had flown in in the back of the Sea Fury from Memphis.

We struck up a conversation with him around the induction air scoop on Allison-powered Yaks, and I immediately recognized him to be one of the most enthusiastic, bright and knowledgeable folks I had ever come across in aviation.

In the years following I would occasionally tell myself that, if I ever found myself in a position where I could hire a full time mechanic, I was going to track that guy down and offer him whatever it took!

Some years later I stumbled across WIX and quickly realized that Gary was "that guy". I thoroughly enjoyed every post he wrote, as they were some of the most intelligent, thorough and well-written posts on any of the forums I frequent - aviation-related or not. I will miss his contributions very much, but I imagine he is quite busy now flying that Sea Fury in heaven.


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 Post subject: Re: A terrible loss...
PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:58 pm 
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Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2004 2:54 pm
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Location: Bedfordshire UK
srpatterson wrote:
I will always remember the first time I met Gary. It was at Midland for Airsho, and Andy Jones and I were taxing to the ramp in the Sea Fury. Unfortunately during landing we had blown a flap actuator seal and hydraulic fluid was leaking all the way in. I pulled into my parking spot and shut down, only to find Gary pulling a panel off the left wing! I didn't even know at this point I had a problem, and he had already diagnosed it before I got out of the cockpit!. Well, needless to say that was the beginning of a great friendship. I'm sure Andy still remembers the private tour Gary gave us of Fifi. I won't go into details, but ONE of us fit in the bomb bay tunnel and his initials were not AJ. Anyway, this is such terrible news and my heartfelt wishes to Gary's family. A truly great guy and a great loss for the warbird community.

Blue Skies, Gary.


Patty et al,
I don't often post on WIX but I felt this terrible news warranted something.
I remember that wonderful weekend in October 2004 clearly.
Gary was a gracious and charming host to us, and the guided tour of the CAF aeroplanes was very memorable.

I can offer only my sincerest condolences to Gary's family and friends. At a time like this there are no glib statements or answers to be made--just sorrow.
May Gary be at peace now from all this World can throw at a person.

Best
Andy Jones.

PS. Here's a snap I found on an old hard drive of that warm and happy October afternoon.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 3:17 pm 
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Some things in life just make you go numb. This news is one of those things.
To say this is sad news is like saying a 25 year old Macallan is a nice Scotch.

Thanks for everything Gary. My heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and friends.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 3:21 pm 
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Never met the man From his posts here you had to be his friend. Talked by PM's once and that is all. Rest in Peace Sir!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 3:35 pm 
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[quote="Manonthefence"]To say this is sad news is like saying a 25 year old Macallan is a nice Scotch.

quote]

Like a lot of folks here, I'll be raising my glass tonight (with some good scotch) when I get home and toast Gary. Rest in Peace.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 3:48 pm 
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Gary was a great guy. Who knows how many lives might have been saved by his inspection, and sometimes grounding, of so many warbirds. I give him so much credit for making the B-25 Yellow Rose a safe aircraft. He showed our maintenance team what to look for, and inspired them to look further and deeper, and to fix things the right way. The level of maintenance that he inspired our maintainers to do made me feel safe not only flying on, but getting checked out to fly, the Rose.

Gary will sure be missed. I think the best way to honor him is to keep the maintenance of our planes up to HIS standards! That would be a living legacy to Gary.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:16 pm 
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Brad - your last post was an excellent summary of some of the issues with which Gary was dealing. I think it will help others who did not know him personally or well to better understand this sad happening. I know it was not easy to write. You are a true friend. May you both fly safe.

Randy

P.S. CAF HQ just sent out a special On The Fly Edition - The Passing of a Friend with a link to the tribute to Gary on the website.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:19 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg South Africa
Heck :cry: :cry: ...I have only been on WIX for 4 months and I am already sad that I am going to miss his posts.
If only he really knew how many people around the world cared & admired him.

Bruce Perkins (Johannesburg South Africa)


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:33 pm 
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My computer died and I am on the road. I just read this. I'm truley and sincerly writing this through tears. I met Gary at oshkosh the first year it was done as 927. Me and bear went and introduced ourselves and the next thing I know we are posing for a picture by the nose and walking through it. I was honored to meet Gary and here he was treating me like an old drinking buddy. We traded e-mails and pm's all the time. Technology has made it possible to become friends with someone through devices. I feel horrible. I know that we all have differences and heated threads sometimes,but when it all comes down to it there are far more friendships here than anything. We lost a great one. I'm sure gary is in a far better place. I'll never ne able to see that airplane or the B-29 without thinking of him.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:51 pm 
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just got back in my office and hear the tragic news from Elroy - totally in shock and numb- had really looked forward to meeting the man someday as I heard much about him from mutual aquaintances.

What a tragedy . :( :cry: :( :cry: :( : :cry:


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:14 pm 
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I can’t believe this…

I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear about Gary leaving us so soon. I still have an e-mail from him in my inbox.

I’ll never forget the warm June day that just a few months ago I spent with Gary tinkering with that F-105 in Snyder. I learned so much in just that one day. Over lunch I got to know him as a person a bit and we talked about many things, including the fact that he was depressed that he wasn’t able to fly anymore due to some health issues he had. I am very sad that I won’t get to do that again with him.

Thanks for sharing your insight Brad, it is appreciated.

I do hope to God that you have now found the peace that you couldn’t find in life Gary. I’ll miss you.

-Derek


Last edited by viking73 on Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:34 pm 
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Cannot add much to whats been said here - still shocked and deeply saddend to hear this awful news. Gary was universally liked and highly respected here and he leaves a legacy via this forum of enormous enthusiasm, passion and skill (and his unique gift of being able to share that with his friends across the globe via WIX).

Very sad news indeed.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:39 pm 
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Like many on this site I never had the chance to meet Gary, but followed the B24 thread and learned to respect and admire Garys skill and detication to his craft. When the call went out for donations for the guns for the B24 I happened to have extra $ and made a donation. About a month or so I got a nice letter from Gary with a peice of the B24 skin, I would have never expected this, I thought just having my name on one of the gun placks was cool enough. When the B24 was out that summer doing the airshow tour I was intouch with Gary ( PM ) to meet up with him and the B24 in Michigan, but it had mech issues and could not make the show.

This new is very sad and I am at a loss for words, Like everyone else just numb :(

As mentioned I would love to see the B24 thread transformed in some way to a book in detication to this fine soul, I think it must be done and am willing to help whatever way I can.

Special thanks to Brad for sharing your insight.

Dave C


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