High Desert Hangar Stories: Keeping a promise at the Pete Knight Veterans Home

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The pedestal that waits for an F-100 to keep that promise to  those who served on our behalf, and are now living at the Pete Knight Veterans Home. (Courtesy photograph)
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Sometimes great, passion-filled ideas can find themselves bogged down in the realities of logistics and bureaucracy. The passage of time can become an adversary to whatever good intentions were behind an idea at the time of its inception.

This is exactly what has happened to a project that was promoted and conceived as a great gift to the residents of the Pete Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster.

Many things go into making a veterans home a special place for its residents. Years ago, the idea was floated around by fine individuals to install a representative aircraft display paying tribute to the namesake of our Lancaster facility, Pete Knight — ideally, the aircraft that he flew on 253 missions over Vietnam in the 1960s. Knight, the great test pilot famous for his X-15 exploits, is well-remembered for his years at Edwards AFB here in the Antelope Valley. But when it comes to the Pete Knight Veterans Home, the residents want to feel akin to the military man and his years of service that paralleled theirs. That era of history is what they were looking forward to recognizing, with the placement of a North American F-100 Super Sabre on the grounds.

With a program and vision in place, a plane was located and fundraising began. The residents at the Veterans Home were all part of the groundbreaking ceremony. Words were spoken, looking forward to that one day in the future which would end with a dedication and a promise kept to the residents, with the gifting and installation of that F-100. But years went by, and the program and the jet ran into more hurdles then its volunteer base of activists could overcome. Before long, the idea became just a memory of what could have been, and the promise was lost.

The F-100 in Vietnam: the first operational American jet in Vietnam in 1960; the first American jet to engage in air-to-air combat in 1965, and the plane in which Pete Knight flew 253 missions. (Air Force photograph)

Many of you know every month I do a history program for the residents at the Pete Knight Veterans Home. For almost a decade, I’ve come to know the residents and the staff very well. Over time, I have felt the pain of the loss of many of those veterans, whom I consider my friends, along with the staff who have moved on to other assignments and posts. I attend many of the formal programs at the Veterans Home and over the years I’ve felt a bit empty when I look out on that courtyard, see that empty pedestal and think of the gift that was promised to the residents. I’m an old Air Force wingnut and I’m also an airplane guy, and I could just never get my mind around why this “get” was so difficult. To me, and many others, it seemed like a no-brainer and should have received massive support from the local citizens and the military community all the way to completion.

So here we are today, and a couple of recent conversations now have me in the position of trying to re-light that spark and make good on that promise that was given to those veterans some years back.

With the passage of time, the ones who were at the groundbreaking are no longer with us — but in the military, we honor those no longer with us by keeping our promises and this is one that need to be fulfilled. As with all things of this size and scope, the mission will be daunting and it will take a pit bull mentality to make it happen, but like the ancient saying says, “Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back! I don’t expect this to be easy and it will take a community and volunteer base committed to not only seeing it through to completion, but to maintain it for generations of veterans to come.

The time has come to make good on this promise and I’m ready to serve and see it to completion. In my next installment, I will get into more of the nuts and bolts of how to make it happen. For now, I would like to hear from any of you who would like to be on a team and help keep a promise to some very special men and women, paying tribute to the war time service of our Valley’s own Pete Knight, Vietnam combat pilot.

Until next time, Bob out…
 
 
 

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