Yeager’s wife embraces ‘write stuff’
It looks like I've got a new pen pal. Actually, more like an old pen pal: Victoria Yeager, wife of Gen. Chuck Yeager, the great World War II flying ace whose days as a jet test pilot were immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff."
Apparently if you mention Chuck Yeager in print, you'll hear from Victoria Yeager, his second wife, whom he married after wife Glennis died in 1990. You don't really want to hear from Victoria Yeager. She doesn't e-mail to say what a swell guy you are. She seems to have assumed the position of chief custodian of all things Chuck Yeager, and no mention of the great man in print escapes her scrutiny, even a passing line published by an obscure humor columnist in Hawaii. Every perceived offense has to be addressed, every sentence dissected and offending reference corrected. This lady's got time on her hands.
"Just because Tom Wolfe wrote something doesn't make it true -- the facts often ruin a good story," Victoria wrote me. "Much of what he wrote is because Gen. Yeager wrote it for him (and wasn't compensated). However, we can correct you on one point: Gen. Yeager was not hard-drinking and sure isn't today."
She refers to this bit from my recent column on NASA astronauts apparently being drunk while flying in the space shuttle: "Anyone who read Tom Wolfe's book ... knows that test pilots like Chuck Yeager were quite the party animals. ... The early astronauts were hard-drinking jet pilots."
I fired back an e-mail pointing out that I said the astronauts were "hard-drinking," not Yeager, who was not an astronaut. And Wolfe did depict the early jet pilots as party animals. I suggested she was not doing the general any favors by "micro-managing" his legacy and trying to control history. She fired back: "Saying Gen. Yeager was hard-drinking does give the wrong impression to youngsters and some perpetuate it because they think it's cool. So it's a bigger issue than micro-managing."
But I never said he was hard-drinking. And ... well, I realized the absurdity of arguing over a single sentence from 6,000 miles away, so I sent her an e-mail apologizing for my tone and assured her I was a huge fan of Chuck Yeager. In fact, after an Aloha Airlines plane lost its roof over Hawaii in 1988, I interviewed Yeager, and he later autographed a copy of the article, which I gave to my older brother, a Navy F-18 jet pilot.
I first suffered the wrath of Victoria when I mentioned in a column that Yeager had once been hit with some buckshot while hunting in Hawaii.
"Your information re: Gen. Yeager being shot in Hawaii with buckshot is completely false," she wrote me. It isn't. In fact, I checked again with my source this week who was there and confirmed it happened, but on Molokai, not Kauai as I had reported.
I think Victoria and I are on friendly terms now. Gen. Yeager, in his 80s, loves her and backs her 100 percent. A fighter pilot needs a wingman -- or wingwoman -- watching his tail, and Chuck Yeager definitely has one in Victoria. I suspect I'll be hearing from my new pen pal real soon.
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