This photograph was taken in Miami in 1982. I was a co-pilot for Pan Am at the time and somebody had managed to sell Pan Am on the idea of publishing a book about the airline’s heritage that included a rogue’s gallery of all the pilots. Most of us bought the finished product, which is all many of us have to show for our time and for the legacy of Pan Am. In those days I didn’t own a camera so this is the only picture I have of myself in a Pan Am uniform. I’m grateful to the guy who came up with the book idea if only for the picture.
Earlier this year I finished my Saigon Diary blog (http://jackbernardstravels.blogspot.com) and started brainstorming about its successor. In the process I’ve come to see my life in stages – chunked out in segments of school(s), military time, career choices, jobs held, jobs lost, health problems, places lived, friendships, marriages, family – and those chunks have given me my current perspective on politics, art, literature, adventure, health and everything else. It makes sense to use the new blog to connect my history to what is going on in my life and the world now.
I was hired by Pan Am in January of 1967. The previous 9 months, working as a lawyer in LA, had been a miserable experience, and I saw working for an airline as a way to get out and gain some breathing room. Little did I imagine that this escape from lawyering would last 20 years. I did my initial Pan Am training as a navigator and 707 co-pilot in New York but transferred to San Francisco as soon as I could. Except for two years of medical leave I was based there until the fall of 1972 when I was involuntarily transferred back to New York. The SF years coincided with the ramp up and most intense period of the Vietnam War so I flew a lot of R&R flights to and from Saigon, Danang, Chu Lai, and Cam Ranh Bay during those years. The ’60s and ’70s were also the glory days at PAA with real First Class service as well as long crew layovers in Tahiti, Hawaii, Sydney, Beirut, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London and other great locations. It was a dream job, the best of the best in commercial aviation. Over the Pan Am years I was based in NY, SF, Berlin, and Miami, but the longest period was the 10 years I spent in Berlin.
The Pan Am years were the most formative ones in my life in many ways. I was divorced with a child when they began. I married Abby in 1968. My first wife, Carolyn, was killed in a car accident in 1971 and our son, Brent, came to live with me and Abby. Douglas and Diana were born in 1972 and 1975. We bought our first house, in Mill Valley, in 1971 and two years later we moved to Idaho when I was transferred back to NY. In 1975 I was lucky enough to get a Berlin assignment and we packed up the family and crossed the ocean to start a whole new life experience as expats. The family moved back to Idaho in 1983 but I continued to work in Berlin until 1986 when a second episode of myasthenia gravis ended my flying days.
While the Pan Am experience was wonderful in many ways but troublesome in others. I could never have voluntarily left a job that was so easy, fun, and paid so well, but it was also an unhealthy life – hard on the body, hard on the marriage, hard on the kids, and anything but normal by conventional standards. It ended for me in 1986. Pan Am went out of business in 1991 but by then I was on a different path. The myasthenia gravis put me on medical leave, but a year later when I was healthy enough to work Abby and I started our small Italian country-style restaurant in Ketchum, Idaho. I feel lucky. For some reason I have been able to look forward rather than backward when I’ve had to change tracks. Whether it was illness, divorce, a lost job or an unforeseen event I have been able to let go of the past. When I look back on Pan Am I have the feeling that it happened to an entirely different person. Did I really spend 20 years as a commercial pilot? I feel the same about the 7 years I flew Marine fighters and the 7 years I owned and operated the restaurant. They were all great times, but it feels as if they were lived by someone other than myself. I’m not sure I’ve always been able to live in the moment, but I don’t yearn for another better time that is in my past.
Today I’m married to a woman I’ve known since I was 10 years old and we live just a few miles from where we grew up. I love my life now but I’m also glad for all the other lives I’ve lived. No regrets.