A State of Mind

  The surrender of Japan and the assassination of President Kennedy, bracket an era variously known as Pax Americana, Good Times, the Best Years, Happy Days—the American High.  It was a time of solid families, effective schools, and reliable careers, a time when government and institutions were considered benign, streets were relatively safe, and America held most of the world’s wealth and production.  We lived in those years at the apogee, that weightless moment … [Read More...]

Crossing the Wide Missouri

  In the late fifties, San Francisco’s North Beach lay at the edge of history, as though the half-millennium of westward migration had halted a few blocks from the Pacific to spawn this subterranean frontier.  From doorways along the teeming sidewalks, the sounds came floating into the night—a cool sax, Dixieland, bawdy comedy, piano-bar opera, old-time banjo bands.  We came up from Stanford, wearing our collegiate world like a space capsule, roaming the gaudy streets … [Read More...]

Touching the Sky

  In 1946, the summer I turned eight, old Uncle George moved into the back room of our house in Palo Alto.  Though he seldom emerged, I would sometimes encounter him in his rumpled coat, high-top shoes, and fedora hat sitting out on the porch under a red sky in a cloud of cigar smoke.  He would tell me his bad jokes or his stories of the great San Francisco fire, and on the rare occasions when he was appointed my sitter he would talk on into the cricket-pulsing … [Read More...]

Radio Days

While my father trudged through the French winter, fearing he would not survive the war, it was my mother who died of lupus in sunny Pasadena where we had settled for her health.  My grandmother, who had been taking care of her, was afraid to tell a five-year-old the truth.  So she took me back to San Francisco, assuring me that my mother would soon follow.  As the weeks wore on, I was left to piece things together for myself.  One rainy night, by a window in our small … [Read More...]

Fragments of Eden

The images are indelible: eighty-five elephants bathing in the river in late afternoon light, a stone's throw from our launch; a pride of lions at the edge of a lake, devouring their kill in the sunset; a giraffe poised in a meadow on the end of a rainbow.  The experience of Africa is essential to any sojourn on this planet, from the flight of a thousand flamingos to the earth-shaking thunder of Victoria Falls, plunging at three million gallons a second, as though some … [Read More...]

Buzz Aldrin: Highpoint University Commencement Speech

Speech written by Wyn Wachhorst for Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, May 9, 2009 “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”  Those lines from Dickens could well have been in this morning’s paper.   While living in the richest, most powerful nation on Earth, people are losing their jobs … [Read More...]

“Never Give Up!” The Odyssey of Hap Halloran

World War II B-29

January 27, 1945.  Seven hours out of Saipan, the B-29s of the 499th Bomb Group make a right turn and begin opening their bomb bay doors, heading east for the Nakajima Aircraft Factory on the west edge of Tokyo.  Toryu and Tojo fighters rise to meet them.  On the B-29 Superfortress “V Square 27,” dubbed “Rover Boys Express” from a cartoon of the time, a sudden deafening explosion blows out a large section of the nose, filling the plane with fire and smoke.  Shrapnel … [Read More...]

An American Motif: The Steam Locomotive in the Collective Imagination

  Like the giant reptiles, the great steam locomotives no longer roam the earth.  Those massive hulks of sooty iron, cluttered with snarls of piping and valves, were the consummation of crude mechanical power.  Though technology, like evolution, has since turned from quantitative to more qualitative experiments, many still recall boyhood treks to the station to watch the snorting monster come wailing out of the night like a stricken beast, its swivel‑eye flashing … [Read More...]

The Real Revolution

MicroElectronics Group

This appeared in Gentry and Gentry South Bay, February 2008.  The recent celebration of Fairchild’s 50th anniversary commemorated not just the founding of a company but an epochal turning point in human evolution. 1957 was in many ways the first year of our time.  The launch of Sputnik put humanity in space, a leap comparable to sea creatures reconnoitering the land some 400 million years ago.  The National Guard escorted nine black students into Little … [Read More...]

The Greatest Generation

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”                                                                   —John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”          —Shrine inscription, Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima Charles McCandless’ battalion was leaving the … [Read More...]