Half a Lifetime Ago at Oshkosh 1986….
How did I get to writing this? I was scanning all these P-51s. I started to write the history and “where they are now” on each of them. I saw the family pictures and figured and decided that maybe I could do better than a simple recitation of the history of a group of P-51s. I’d appreciate it if the readers would fill in the details on the Mustangs in the comments for those who really don’t know. Also see if you can pick out which of the Directors of the EAA Warbirds is in there. So let’s talk about something more important.
Family traditions die hard, they also make memories that last forever. In our family we have been going to EAA Conventions since 1966 in Rockford. Forty seven years is a long time to go to these events. It’s amazing to see how many airplanes that were at the conventions ended up in museums. I can’t count how many friends we have that we only see one week a year. Countless family memories are associated with the EAA. I was scanning slides the other night from Oshkosh 1986 and had a few I’d like to share.
My father, Charles Hrutkay, was an A&P Mechanic. He fought the cold war in Alaska working on radar sets on F-89 Scorpions and F-102s in the 1950s. He went on to maintain airplanes with Mohawk Airlines in Oriskany, NY. It was a lot like Alaska because the winters were worse than they were at Elmdorf AFB. Mohawk turned into Allegheny, which changed into USAir. Dad went to the EAA Convention for the first time in 1966. We lost count how many more times we went after that. For us it was a father son trip. Dad and me and later dad, me and my brother. One year mom actually came to Oshkosh. I started taking my son to Oshkosh when he was young. We all went.
Dad is the guy in the lead photo in front of the Bonanza, it’s not posed, but a snapshot like so many others in every family album. At that time my skills with a camera were nothing like they are now, I was just learning, a few months short of age 27. While this isn’t a great photograph, it’s the best I have for that year. It will have to do and remind me of better days.
The future is uncertain and at best a gift. You never know if today will be the last. The weekend before we were supposed to leave for Oshkosh, I went home to see dad. It was about a 300 mile drive, I didn’t really have the free time, but I went anyways. On Sunday morning before I left we sat talking at the kitchen table, and mom suggested we go to the airport. We went to two little old airports, that I remember since I was a very young child. We had a great time looking at airplanes, talking to some of dad’s old friends. A few hours later I left to drive home. I was supposed to go pick him up a few days later to go to Oshkosh 1996.
Well, as you can already figure out, we never made the trip. Late the night before we were to leave mom called and said something was wrong. Dad had died of a heart attack in the hangar at USAir. A fitting place for him to go, maybe 25 years too soon, and 6 months before retirement. 1996 was an EAA Convention I missed, but I’ll never forget why either. Blue skies Dad.
One of these photos has a young man standing in front of Lewis Shaw’s P-51D FF-483. That’s me, cleverly disguised with hair, a lot thinner and exactly half the age I currently am. Today, I’m only two years younger than dad was in the Bonanza picture. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll have eight more trips left, maybe thirty trips if I’m fortunate. Maybe this is the last one. You never know.
So if you are thinking of doing something else this coming week, don’t do, go to Oshkosh. Spend some real quality time with your regular family and your EAA family. It’s worth it and you never know if you’ll get another chance. In a couple of days, me, my son, and my brother are all heading to Oshkosh for another week of memories. Hope to see you there.
You can contact the author Mark Hrutkay at TNMark1@Me.Com.