It’s never easy losing a friend but sometimes it’s for the best and other times it simply can’t be avoided.
I want to tell you about three close friends I’ve lost. Despite the previous disclaimer, all of these incidents have been my choice. I could have done the “Grin and bear it” routine. I made the conscious choice not to do so.
Let me tell you about my old friend Rick Mungo. Many of you already know Rick as the former director of USAFA’s Farish Recreation Area for over two decades.
Rick and I met at Farish around 1985. Two old Vietnam vets fightin’ bureaucratic insanity tooth and nail. For virtually everything positive we tried to do for the facility there were 10 Academy bureaucrats ready to tell us why we couldn’t do it. After awhile, Rick simply stopped asking and started DOING. To say that approach worked well would be the ultimate understatement.
Can you say “Voted NUMBER ONE FACILITY IN THE *WORLD* Air Force wide!”?
Thanks to Rick and a superb – albeit tiny – staff, Farish quite literally became “THE KINGDOM OF FARISH”(a HAPPY PLACE where STRESSED OUT TROOPS COULD GO FOR A MINI-VACATION) and was even referred to as such by numerous Commanding Generals, the Secretary of the Air Force and many more.
The Farish motto hung prominently on the office check in wall: “If you wanted STRESS and BS, you’d STILL BE AT WORK!”
When Secretary of the Air Force, Shiela Widenall, came to tour the facility, Rick agonized over rolling out the RED CARPET for her only to determine our budget wouldn’t all for a red carpet.
And it was Rick who suggested we could get TWO RED CARPET *SQUARES* and GLUE THEM TO HER FEET.
Yes, to visit The Kingdom of Farish was to walk straight into a hybrid cross between M*A*S*H and a MARX BROTHERS MOVIE.
Witness the (and I‘m not kidding) “Robert MacNamera Memorial Fish Cleaning Station.
After being informed by an Academy bureaucrat that we can’t have fish blood IN THE LAKE, we dummied up a photo replacing the fish cleaning tray with THREE URINALS…
Good times – so very many good times, as Rick and I became the closest of friends. Shoulder to shoulder. Never, ever a cross word between us.
My son spent tons of time with Rick since he, like everyone else, just immediately adored him. Come to think of it, I don’t recall ANYONE who didn’t fall in love at first sight with his wry sense of humor and farm boy smile. Perhaps it was exactly that popularity that led us to where we are today.
Among his many talents and laurels, Rick is an ordained minister. Aside from that, he’s a former Special Forces Captain who suffered horrendous injuries in Vietnam. Still, he ran marathon after marathon, pushing his body to the limit.
We put in a lot of hours together over the years. After eight years, I could no longer stand the stupidity and endless crap from Acada-Crats whose only purposes in life were to draw a paycheck and stand in the way of anything resembling progress and/or logic. I left for what I figured was a two week writing stint with the High Mountain Sun (Now, nearly 18 years later, the MOUNTAIN Jackpot.)
Meanwhile, Rick remained in constant demand from any and everyone. When in doubt, CALL RICK MUNGO.
We still visited often but Rick became increasingly tied to his parents’ failing health. I was busily dealing (or perhaps not) with my son’s drug addiction. The gap between Rick and I slowly widened.
Rick conducted the funeral service when my son overdosed and killed himself.
Honestly, I can’t tell you which of us Ken’s death hurt more.
Finally, like an extended nightmare, Rick’s parents passed on, ending his seemingly endless trips to California. Even then, EVERYONE STILL HAD THINGS FOR RICK TO DO. PLACES TO GO. PEOPLE TO SEE.
And I could literally feel the toll this was taking on my friend.
So I bowed out. Slacked off. You see, even with as little time as we were spending together, I wanted THAT TIME TO GO TO RICK – ESPECIALLY FOR RICK.
I wanted him to climb aboard a yacht and GO SAIL THE HELL AROUND THE WORLD! HAVE AN ADVENTURE! HAVE HIS LIFE BACK! I wanted his BIGGEST WORRY TO BE KEEPING THE HAIR OUT OF HIS EYES IN THE SALTY SPRAY OR DOUBLE CHECKING HIS LOGISTICS TO MAKE SURE THERE WAS ENOUGH ICY MEXICAN BEER IN THE GALLEY. MAKE DR. HUGO QUACKENBUSH AND I PROUD OF HIM!
Now, some years after Rick’s retirement and the fall of The Kingdom of Farish – after all, nothing lasts forever – I find my old friend has not only married, but recently undergone life threatening surgery. DANGEROUS ENDEAVORS. BOTH.
Would I do the same thing again? Oh yeah. One of the primary things about being a friend is to know when to let your friends go on to a better life.
And I love him, think about him and miss him nearly every single day.
I always will.
A toast. To Absent Friends!