We have questions, seek answers. We are no longer hunters and gatherers with survival our primary focus. We have doubts and uncertainties. That is the way of growing up in our societies. When clarifications come they often come in most unusual ways and come best from the heart.
One September day 39 years ago a ten year old boy was told his daddy, his hero, his most wonderfulness had left this Earth. Major Howard Tallman was a supersonic F-111D fighter-bomber jet pilot of the squadron Hounds of Heaven.
His story was unknown to me until one day early this June 2021 through this website I received this email: “…I have a rather unusual inquiry, but I am hopeful you might be able to help. I’m the son of a USAF veteran with a rather unusual connection to Wagon Mound, NM — my dad was a pilot killed in a crash near there back in 1982… for years I’ve wanted to come back to New Mexico and see if I could find the crash site. … Here’s a link …Sincerely, Bill Tallman”
Feeling an emotional depth in the request, “I am hopeful you might be able to help…” I seemed to space out much of the email. My heart must have taken over my head. I’d been given a phone number – did not even see the phone number in the note. I began to inquire of villagers and ranchers, were they living here at the time? Did they remember a plane crash in 1982? What did they know? The crash site was on Las Mesas Del Conjelon. That is enormous acreage. Did anyone know exactly where on Las Mesas the plane had crashed? On the big mesa. Had anyone ever climbed to the crash site? No. Who could help? Who owned the ranch of the big mesa?
Googles. Phone numbers, phone calls, emails, all the ranchers were kind. The crash site remained elusive. Of the ranchers, Tracy seemed most sure of the location we were searching for on the steep rocky mesa.
I contacted Cannon Air Force Base and received an email reply from the historian of the Special Operations Wing History Office. Good gracious! Kindness galore. Bill could file for an accident information report through the Freedom of Information Act. Puzzle pieces were beginning to fit into place.
As the crow flies Tracy’s ranch is about five miles away from the crash site. In those days supersonic fighter jets often flew low over the mesas and prairie, most often the jets flew in formation. That moonless midnight in September 1982 the jets had flown over her ranch. Light travels faster than sound. In her home she had not seen anything unusual that dark night. She had heard the noise, felt the earth tremble but did not think much of it… just another sonic boom.
Late July Bill emailed. Flying from the east coast he’d meet up with his long-time friend Jeff in Colorado and together they’d soon be in the village. Through the Freedom of Information Act he had the crash site latitude, longitude and minutes and a cell phone with GPS.
Still, no one seemed to know who owned the land. Without Tracy Seidman’s time and assistance the rest of this story would not have been possible. Tracy spent a day in phone conversations with Bill, with various ranchers and friends. Eventually, land ownership was discovered. Tracy made the requests, gained permission for access closer to the crash site than originally believed possible and received the fence gate lock combination. One stipulation, she was told she would need to accompany the climbers. Holy Moly, what a lady! You Go Girl!
Early on a beautiful morning, in a small grey SUV Jeff chauffeured Bill into Wagon Mound and drove up Railroad Avenue. We met on the sidewalk in front of the project veteran center. So cordial. So gracious. So special. So appreciative. So human. So truly notable was the smile, were the shining eyes of a little ten year old boy now all grown up and the staunch character of his wonderful friend Jeff – once a Marine always a Marine. Always faithful. Semper Fi. I pointed the way to NM state road # 271.
Tracy met the men and guided them to the mesa.
I waited. After some time my husband, Army veteran, joined me and was with me when the two returned from their quest.
Yes, they had reached the crash site. Mission accomplished. The two friends then said they had planned this expedition since their days together in high school. I cried, told Bill I had cried when I knew he was boarding his plane 2,000 miles away… did not know I would feel his quest with such emotion. Had he cried when he reached the site?
Our sojourn together was not long. Places to go, the two men bid me adieu. Their departure was punctuated by the clasping of hands and the kind of embraces a mom would share with her own sons knowing they might not see each other again. Safe journeys. God speed. Forever grateful.
And so it was in this most unusual way that my questions had been given answers, clarity had dissolved my doubts and uncertainties. At times the project – A Veteran Affair – has seemed impossible. At times, hindered by age and injury, the work of restoring a dilapidated ancient adobe, forming bricks of mud composed of dirt, sand and straw, maneuvering the weight of colonial bricks and buckets of mud mortar, roof lifting, floors rotten, I had debated with myself – was it time to give up? Was – is – this endeavor to assist the veteran community worth the effort?
I responded to a simple request, “I am hopeful you might be able to help…” and I was given clarity and the strength to persevere.
“A Veteran Affair” is not about an old busted up made-of-dirt building, or art fests, or paintings or trying to make the world a better place. It is about us, the ones who, at times, allow the heart to take over the head. It is about the deep deep humanity of an enormous community of those who have tasted or know of the taste of military service and of those who know of the sacrifices made by loved ones and friends. This effort in this village might appear insignificant, but I was shown that on any ordinary day it might be instrumental in accomplishing a mission unusual.
Thank you Bill. Thank you Jeff. Remarkable. Exceptional. Thank you Margaret Trujillo for your gifts of hospitality and for joining me that beautiful day late this July. Thank you Tracy Seidman. You are wonderful. You made all this possible.
Hounds of Heaven
2021 6:49 pm