Skip O’Neil is dying, he knows it, his doctor knows it, and his pretty young nurse Nancy knows it. Skip has leukemia, and he does not have much time left. As he lays in his New York hospital bed he drifts in and out of a morphine induced stupor, reflecting on his life in the Air Force.

Ron Standerfer weaves an intriguing story in The Eagles Last Flight. We meet an altruistic young man who after spending two years at the University of Illinois studying music decides that his destiny is not in music, but to become a pilot. We follow Skip as he chases his dream.

Skip’s initial efforts in the Air Force are not stellar. There are questions about his abilities, and as a result, he finds himself not as a pilot, but as the backseat driver, looking after the radar. His solution to this problem is to go back to school and get the degree he needs to advance. It is during this time that he meets Christine his wife to be.

The Eagles Last Flight is not so much an Air Jocks story as it is a reflection on the achievements and adversaries that face all of us. In many ways this is a love story between Skip and his wife Christine. Like any couple they face difficult decisions. Both mean well, and it is clear that they are very much in love, however this does not prevent them from making mistakes.

Much of the book is set overseas, and follows the relentless uprooting of the family, as is the life of the active duty member of the armed forces. The lack of local friends and family lead to temptations and situations that put a severe strain on the O’Neil family.

Although part of the book is set in the Vietnam War era, Mr. Standerfer does not dwell on the blood and gore, or much about politics involved in this rather unfortunate period of history. Instead he treats us to a look into the mindset of those directly engaged in the conflict. Yes there is bravado, and yes there are some poor choices made after drinking too much in the Officers Club. There is great heroism at the working level, and a wonderful camaraderie between the characters. What I found interesting was that the characters we meet in this book are largely people that we already know in our day to day life.

Skip is the caring family man with two young children, Christine is the stoic mother trying to carve out a life in an ever changing and challenging world. Both find themselves under intense pressure. And eventually something must give. The question becomes, what is the breaking point?

There is much more to this book, but to reveal more would spoil the story.

I found The Last Flight Of The Eagle to be a fascinating read, it certainly revealed a side of the armed forces and the cold war that I had previously not known. A little bit of Googling revealed that Ron Standerfer was a fighter pilot during the timeframe that the book was set in. I do not think this is an autobiographical work, but, I suspect that much of the material was taken from real events. I am trying to arrange an interview with Mr. Standerfer, and you can rest assured that I will be asking him about the people and events mentioned in the book.

Simon Barrett

 

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