Wings of the Tern Blog

May 30, 2010

Tribute to Rick O’Neal

Filed under: Current Posting — wingsofthetern @ 10:52 pm

In the chapter “Fly Boys” of my book, I mention my old Air Scout buddy, Rick O’Neal.  I understand that Rick was killed some years after we lost contact with each other while flying an airplane in the Sierra Mountains.

He was the jovial kid with the old yellow and white Metropolitan car.  One summer, Rick got a job as a tour guide at the William S Heart Park in Newhall, California.  For those that are not familiar with the name, William S Heart was a silent film cowboy and director.  The Heart park sits atop a hill with picnic areas, hiking trails and a herd of American Bison.  His old Spanish Colonial Style Ranch house is now a museum containing Hearts original furnishings, a collection of western art and Native American artifacts. Several of us guys often drove up to visit the place while Rick was working there and sometimes Rick was able to take us into back areas of the house not otherwise open to the public.

Rick was always doing screwball things.  One time while we were all out in the desert hunting Jack Rabbits, Rick got the big idea that he wanted to know how fast he could jump from a moving car.  We started out about one mile per hour and Rick jumped from the car onto the dirt road that we were driving on.  Each time, he would climb back into the car and we would increase the speed.  This continued for some time and each time he was able to remain on his feet.  Finally we reached a speed where no matter how he tried to keep running, the speed of his body was more than his feet could keep up with and he tumbled over and over again in the dirt.

Rick never seemed to have as much money as the rest of us.  At the time, I had a car route with the LA Times newspaper and was making pretty good money.  When the movie “How the West was Won” came out, we both wanted to go see it.  These were the days before multiplexes and all the new movies first came out in the big theaters down in Hollywood.  That particular movie was released in Cinerama and was playing at the Warners Theater on Hollywood blvd.  Cinerama was the wide screen system that came out in the sixties where three cameras were used to shoot the scene. The scenes were spliced together on a supper wide screen that had very noticeable seams.  At any rate, when Rick and I arrived one Friday night to buy tickets, Rick didn’t have enough money for anything but the cheapest seat so I had to buy the same to sit with him.  We ended up in the very last row of the very last balcony.  From out vantage point, that Cinerama Screen looked like a small screen TV.

One of the last occasions that we were together, was when I was in College.  Rick had gone into the Army, but had gone AWAL from Basic training.  He ended up in Golletta where our other old Air Scout buddy, Dave Pluth was attending UCSB.  I guess, after some discussion, Rick decided to return to Fort Ord and Dave volunteered to drive him back up to Monterey.  They stopped off in Hollister to pick me up and together, the three us first went to have a beer on Cannary Row.  In a little bar named Flores (named after the Cat House in Steinbeck,s  book) the three of us had a last beer together.  While a young hippy bartender played folk music on his guitar and the smell of rain drifted in through the saloon style doors, we talked about old childhood adventures and the Vietnam War.

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