How can anyone say just a few words about Leo in such a short period of time and do any justice? I cannot, but will make an attempt to honor him the best way I know how.
Leo and I had many "lives" together starting in 1969 when we first met at the University of Colorado, where we both were in the School of Aero Engineering. Both of us were wet behind the ears, but I could see even back then that Leo was a focused Individual--one who knew exactly where he was headed. Both of us had a passion for flight and became fast friends as we went through 4 years of college and AFROTC together. As both of us went to Air Force pilot training, little did we know our career s would parallel and intertwine.
Leo was a fascinating, multifaceted individual - a "Renaissance man" of sorts. His interests were as broad as his sense of humor. Throughout his life he was all the following and more: devout Christian, devoted husband, Air Force Officer and staunch patriot, a Grateful Deadhead, musician, audiophile, astronomer, rocket scientist, physics professor, a genius writer, fighter pilot, test pilot, humorist, and friend to all.
Leo had a magic pair of hands, the golden touch, where flying was concerned. He was not the best banjo player I ever saw, but he could make an F4 Phantom sing any tune he pleased. I watched him acquire these skills in our early days in Boulder, CO ., where the Cubs we flew strained to cross mountain passes, or played a game of inches beneath power lines. Fortunately for the both of us, we soon adopted that well known philosophy in the Air Force - "Don't do anything dumb!"
In spite of his great reputation as a fighter pilot, Leo underwent a self-induced image problem. His dear mother, Doris, always called him Lenny, as well as his college buddies. This name was not strong enough for the Master of the Air Force's fine st megadeath machine! In a dusty old bar in Cloudcroft, NM. he boldly announced, while pounding on his chest; "From this day forward, I am not Lenny, Leonard, or Len - Nerd, I am Leo!" So it was.
Leo's sense of humor and writing abilities rivaled the collective talents of Dave Barry and Will Rogers. He was a master of the use of one liners. One of his favorite Rules to live by" included - "Never, never, eat anything bigger than your head!" It is comforting to know his advice will live on. 3 weeks ago my 4 yr. old son Connor, upon receiving a huge piece of cake at a restaurant, exclaimed "Daddy, it's big as my head!'
Probably Leo's favorite Grateful Dead quote was, "Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools!" I usually heard this during discussions about some less than admired authority figure in Leo's immediate chain of command. Leo had this talent for being humorously belligerent, but getting his point across more effectively than anyone else was capable. I'll never forget one air crew meeting at Holloman Air Force Base where morale was at an all time low. Leo got the entire squadron t o "boycott" the meeting, and hide. As the Operations Officer walked into the briefing room, Leo was the only pilot present and seated. When asked where the rest of the squadron was, Leo replied "The boys and I had no real interest in attending. I drew the shortest straw and was elected to take notes for the rest of them!" Not a happy OPS Officer.
In another instance, after his tour as a physics professor at the USAF academy, Leo had the opportunity to become brow beaten, along with the rest of his F117 Stealth Fighter buddies during a "You guys are doo doo" briefing by one of their commanders . These briefings are often Air Force standard. The Commander at one point stated that it didn't take a "rocket scientist" to fix the problem at hand. Leo then nudged a couple of his buddies and asked "Do you think I ought to tell urn I am a rocket scientist?!"
Leo's letters are works of outstanding humor and literary genius. I'll never forget one where he describes a less than wonderful encounter over the phone with an individual at the Military Personnel Center in Texas. Periodically we had to update what was called a dream sheet conveying our desires for future assignment. Leo wrote me saying these people were irritated with him and stated "How was I to know there are no F15s in Aspen, Colorado!"
I could go on forever with glimpses of his humor -- catsup willys, driving blindfolded up snowy mountain roads while I yelled directions to him from the right seat, sticking a pressurized can of Cool Whip in his dachshunds mouth and watching the dog eat as fast as it could while whipped cream quickly oozed between its teeth. These quips would last a lifetime!
Along with his humor, Leo had a very serious side to his nature. Someone smart once said "The quality of one's life is reflected in the quality of his commitments." Leo led a quality life. His commitment to his country as an Air Force Officer and Fighter Pilot was without equal. At one point, Leo had a break in his AF career and was working for the Mitsubishi Corp. as a test pilot. I happened to visit him one day and he was in a very depressed mood. He stated he enjoyed his job, but realized his skills were doing nothing more than making a foreign corporation rich. He relayed to me his sense of loss at no longer contributing to the further cause of serving his country. Very soon after that conversation be was back in the Service doing what he loved best. The rest of his career and his promotion to full Colonel is a testament to his commitment. We had a conversation a couple of weeks ago where I stated in amazement how ironic it was that he was ready to retire from the Air Force after 20 years and become a stand- up comedian or repaint the VW Microbus and follow the Grateful Dead, but, instead got selected to full Colonel! To this he replied, "Maybe the good guys are finally winning!
Leo's biggest commitment in life was to none other than his wife Claire. I have never seen a couple so fulfill each other. Leo and Claire literally bloomed in this marriage. They were inseparable - so much so, the two were virtually one entity. I like to claim credit for first calling them "Cleo". A practice both of them adopted, as evidenced in their last year's Christmas card.
I'd like to close with another unforgettable quote from Leo. At a farewell party held in his honor when he left the Air Force the first time Leo stated, and I believe he would say it again today: "Don't think of me as leaving this road we're all traveling, I'm just changing lanes."
With that in mind, I cannot say good-bye to you Leo, but simply good-
bye for now, my friend.