Life in my home has been hectic over the last four weeks. As I am writing, we are in the middle of a massive spring cleaning. The news concerning local shootings and Supreme Court decisions continues to arrive on my smartphone.
However, I took the time Sunday to talk with my 90-year old father, Ben Rosman. It is unfortunate that he found himself in the hospital on Father’s Day and that I am 1,200 miles away. A few weeks ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and associate ailments. Yet as ill as he is, pop is joking with the medical staff and his smile, even over the telephone, remains infectious.
Until last year he was one of the most active octogenarians one could imagine, playing golf and tennis almost daily. The family truly believed that my father would out live Methuselah, but the end of his immortality is near.
In his nine decades, dad has lived a life of which most of us could only dream. He was a World War II fighter pilot, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross while flying 112 missions over Germany and Italy. He owned a very successful bicycle store in the New York City suburbs, earning accolades as the largest Lawn-Boy Lawnmower, Moto-Motor, Columbia Bicycle and Raleigh Bicycle sellers, and one of the 50 largest Schwinn dealerships in the U.S.
He has traveled worldwide, married two wonderful women, my mother, Barbara, and stepmother, Cele, is a proud father and grandfather, and has more friends than Carter has little liver pills.
Above all else, my father has been and will always be a pilot. I dare you to ask him about his adventures flying out of Pisa, Italy or Zahn’s Airport in Amityville, N.Y., or about the multitude of aircraft he was able to pilot for the most part of a century, from Piper Cubs to his beloved Beechcraft A-36 Debonair. Or about our shared flight time in the Goodyear Blimp or a 1938 Ford Tri-Motor. Just be prepared to listen for at least one hour. Two if he has the energy. His on key? “Benny, tell me about …”
For almost 30 years, dad has been living history at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport (also in Amityville), the birthplace of his cherished P-47 Thunderbolt. His life story has been recorded as part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project and is the subject of at least two books.
The basement of his home in Old Bethpage, N.Y., is his personal museum with pictures, metals, newspaper clippings, models and other reminders of his life as an airman.
In December 2001, my sister and I created a website dedicated to my dad. Allow me to share portions of two paragraphs that I wrote at the end of that otherwise devastating year.
“My father’s love for flying first became evident to me [in 1960] when he took me, on my eighth birthday, to Zahn’s Airport in Amityville. We brought two throw pillows from my bedroom, placing them on the front seat of a 1940 canary yellow, complete with black thunder stripe, Piper J-3 Cub. I needed to see over the cowling ... For the next 40 years, from Cub, to Tri-Pace, C-172 Sky Hawk, Pipers Cherokee and Comanche, and finally to his Bonanza, his passion for flight never diminished.
“We (my sister and I) honor our father for the hero he was and is still. I have had the honor of meeting many of the greats of aviation history, from the Grumman family to U.S. and Russian astronauts. But as they ride in the comfort of their worldwide acclaim, my dad will always be the pilot of their aero-plane.”
My father has decided to allow the cancer to run its course and die under his own terms. I would expect no less.
As of this writing he is going home from a short stay in the hospital. The surviving families, my sister and cousins, his stepsons and daughters, will be sad and heartbroken when he finally yields to the disease. He certainly is one of the last of his kind.
There is an old Jewish saying that one will live as long as he is remembered. I am sure my dad will meet his goal and “see” his 970th birthday.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.