The bad news
was that his activation took the Van Brunt family temporarily out
of our lives. But they were still our best friends, and our families
often exchanged phone calls. Late one night when the war was winding
down, the crank telephone in our home office rang our ring: three
longs and a short. There were no dial phones in rural west Texas
at that time.
My dad answered. He talked for a few minutes, and when he hung up
he excitedly announced that Van Brunt, as we called him, was going
to buzz Notrees at noon the next day. I didn't know exactly what
buzz meant, but I was excited anyway because my parents were excited.
I finished my homework and went to bed and slept the sleep of the
young, and in the morning I did what I always did: I rode exactly
one mile to school on the school bus with my brothers and sisters
and many school mates to the little country school where I worked
and waited for recess and the lunch hour.
Lunch hour was really important because it was our mother's belief
that if at all possible, a child should have a hot lunch, and to
that end she often picked us up in the family Oldsmobile and rushed
us the mile back home for a lunch that she had prepared herself.
Or, if Mom felt comfortable enough with the family funds, like she
did that day, we would stop at the famous Cap Rock Café in Notrees,
and we would get to order anything we wanted. I always ordered a
hamburger. I was wired up tight waiting for the buzz. By now I was
fully aware that it was going to be in an airplane, but I had no
idea what it was going to be like, or if it was really going to
was the height of the busy lunch hour at the Cap Rock Café that
day in Notrees, Texas, and I was around
ten years old. I remember exactly where I was sitting and exactly
what I was eating when the activity in the café full of oilfield
workers stopped dead still when we heard a sound like a gigantic
Their first thought was of a gasoline refinery one half mile away,
and their faces reflected dread and horror. But it was not my first
thought, because in the midst of the shock and suddenly stilled
voices as the jet roared back up into the sky, I dismounted my barstool
in a rush and yelled out to everybody, "It's Van Brunt, it's Van
Brunt!" and I raced to the front door of the café.
I was the first one out as shocked adults, dropping silverware and
with mouths full of food, chased after me to see what it was that
had scared the hell out of them and caused young Mike Moore to be
And there he was, Willard Van Brunt buzzing Notrees, heading east,
climbing steeply into the blue winter sky and doing aileron rolls
like the famous victory rolls of our fighter pilots coming home
from a successful combat mission in World War II, but this was a
shiny new Air Force jet, a Lockheed T-33 Thunderbird that most of
us had never seen before.
With eyes glued to the sight, we saw the airplane hook around at
the top of the climb and start a steep dive back toward the café.
Wide-eyed and mesmerized now, we saw the jet to our right, less
than a mile away. It leveled out right over the highway in front
of us, and in an eerie scene that our brains could hardly comprehend
the jet seemed silent in its rush toward us.
As it approached at a dizzying speed, a strange buzzing sound preceded
it, a sound made by trillions of molecules being rapidly pushed
out ahead of the jet's path, and then, just as quickly, there was
another brief silence before the jet's whooshing roar hit us with
the delayed sound of jet exhaust. When the airplane blasted by us,
it was so low to the ground that all of us awed spectators could
see the two helmeted pilots and the oxygen masks covering most of
their faces. Both men were looking down at us, seemingly right in
the eyeball; I felt they could see me.
The sleek jet couldn't have been more than a hundred feet above
the ground when it pulled up into another steep climb, and again,
after more aileron rolls, it topped out high in the sky, leaving
us engulfed in that delayed roar of jet exhaust and the smell of
spent jet fuel. It was surely louder than the proverbial opening
of the gates of hell.
Willard Van Brunt commenced another diving turn, and he came down
right at us, right down the "main street," barely telephone-pole
high, giving us one last breathtaking thrill as they streaked by
us. That last pass filled just a second, a long second, frozen in
time, down low at our level again, and we all knew the show was
over by the way he climbed, without rolling.
I could not take my eyes off the airplane as it shrank to a speck
in the sky, heading east, back to its base. Finally, and without
my brain's permission, my eyes blinked, and the jet disappeared
into the distance. It was all over in less than two minutes, but
in reality it has lasted a lifetime. What a show!
To a ten-year old boy with visions in his head of World War II airplanes,
and with a bedroom ceiling full of suspended models of those old
airplanes, the sight was a roaring harbinger of the future. The
jet age had come to my consciousness and to that of many others
who had stood with me, awestruck by what we had just witnessed.
Slightly dazed, we all slowly went back into the Cap Rock Café to
talk about and contemplate what we had experienced. We knew we would
never forget what we had just seen. It was a different little guy
who climbed back up onto my barstool. Totally impressed, I wondered
if I would ever in my life have a chance to do what I had just seen.
I finished my hamburger--the hot lunch my mom wanted me to have--and
then went back to school. My World
War II mentality dimmed, and the dawn of my jet age had begun.
In 1967, fifteen years or so later at age 24, at Reese Air Force
Base in Lubbock,
Texas, and as a civilian flight instructor training air force
students, I was given the privilege of taking two jet trainer flights
in one day. You can bet that as I streaked upward and did aileron
rolls in that twin engine jet airplane over the panhandle of Texas,
I was thinking euphorically about the famous Cap Rock Café and the
folks watching Willard Van Brunt as he blazed down main street and
then back up high into the memorably blue west Texas skies.
© Mike Moore
shoe horses, don't they?"
August 8, 2006 Column