Author (L) Ed Sleeper (R) on the author's solo flight on his 16th birthday - Photo: Linwood Lothrop

Author (L) and Ed Sleeper (R) on the author’s solo flight on his 16th birthday – Photo: Linwood Lothrop

Veterans Day in the United States is a time where we as a country pause to remember those who have served in the armed forces. There are many of us in the aviation enthusiast community who got into the hobby because of their service in, or interaction with, the military. I’d like to share with you the story of a remarkable man who was an accomplished military and civilian aviator; United States Air Force Colonel Edward B. Sleeper (Ret.).

I’ll spare you the long story about how I came to meet Ed and be involved in his exploits, and just tell you a bit about him. I’ll throw in a few of the exploits as a bonus. He would’ve wanted it that way.

A Douglas WB-66D Destroyer on display -Photo: Alan Wilson | FlickrCC

A Douglas WB-66D Destroyer on display – Photo: Alan Wilson | FlickrCC

Ed entered Air Force aviation cadet training in 1956, graduating as a navigator. He saw service in this role in the B-66 and B-52. He eventually entered pilot training in 1964, and was assigned to the C-130. He flew several combat missions in Vietnam. Later assignments placed him around the world in numerous positions and during all of this, he helped raise a family and completed a masters degree.

Ed during his Blind Bat time. 817th TAS crew, L-R : TSgt Frenchie Poynter, engineer; SSgt. Ron OMps, loadmaster; Capt Ed Sleeper, pilot; 1st Lt Doug Beacham, navigator; Capt. Dave Behrens, co-pilot - Photo: Doug Beacham

Ed during his Blind Bat time. 817th TAS crew, L-R : TSgt Frenchie Poynter, engineer; SSgt. Ron OMps, loadmaster; Capt Ed Sleeper, pilot; 1st Lt Doug Beacham, navigator; Capt. Dave Behrens, co-pilot – Photo: Doug Beacham

After his 32-year U.S.A.F. career, Ed worked for General Dynamics in Brussels and Finland before eventually returning to the family home at South Thomaston, Maine. He was active in the local Republican party, Rotary, and the Flying Club. He also flew for Penobscot Island Air and was a flight instructor. He even maintained a security clearance and often flew for government agencies as needed.

Most of the time when we flew together, Ed wore his signature sage green pilot’s jacket. It had “been around the world” with him and it had the marks to prove it. It also proudly wore the patches of a storied career. One unique patch was the “Blind Bat” patch. Blind Bat was an operation in Vietnam where parachute flares were dropped over the Ho Chi Minh Trail to  illuminate night movements.

Suffic e it to say, his jacket alone was enough to make any aspiring pilot-type kid starry eyed. On top of that, he was just a great guy. I got roped into many of his off-airport operations. He needed to clean out a barn once, I don’t even remember why, but I was the muscle. At the end of the day we had an empty barn and a very overloaded pickup truck. He said we looked like a bunch of “Oakies.” I’ll admit, I had to look it up.

A C-130 Herceles - Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | JDLMultiMedi

A C-130 Herceles – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | JDLMultiMedia

Ed also taught me the value of sneaking off during one’s assigned duties to take pleasure in the finer things in life — like ice cream. We often left the airport to head to Dairy Queen mid-project. One day we snuck off to St. Stephen, New Brunswick for lunch and I’ll never forget that day. We ate at a questionable Chinese restaurant while Ed told stories about the food he ate “During The Big War.”

Ed spoke often of his Air Force career and of Vietnam, but never negative things. He would just joke and call it “The Big War” and tie it back into some great flying story. The only decoration he ever told me about were the “Zaire Jump Wings”, an opportunity he just couldn’t turn down.  Only in death would I learn about his Distinguished Flying Cross, the truth about his time at the 817th TAS during the Blind Bat missions, and his bravery.

There are many stories bouncing around in my head as I write this, but I can never seem to get them to come out on paper the way I’d like. I’m sure it’s that way with a lot of things in life. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Caption: Eric Capnaux Auxier (L) friend Pio (R) and Author (L) carrying on the tradition of combining aviation and goofing off at LAS.

Eric Capnaux Auxier (L) friend Pio (R) and Author (L) carrying on the tradition of combining aviation and goofing off at LAS.

We lost Ed in April of 2004 shortly after he was diagnosed with Leukemia. I had just finished my initial law enforcement training and had been a little out of touch due to being so busy. I had put aviation on hold as the events of September 11, 2001 had helped dampen many of my generation’s airline career aspirations. In short, Ed’s death caught me off guard.

I made the two-hour ride home for his service and sat politely in the rear. I don’t know why, but at the time, it wasn’t that upsetting. Maybe it’s because I was young, maybe I was too self absorbed. What I do know is that as the years wear on, his advice rings more clearly in my ears and I find that I miss him more now that I’m older.

The biggest lesson I learned from my friendship with Ed was to surround yourself with people who share a passion for the things that you do. And to joke. And tell stories. And help others.

Hug your veteran friends today, folks; their service helped make them the person you love and, at least in my case, he made me a better person.

CORRESPONDENT - SANFORD, ME. Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer from Maine. Mike grew up around the airport and has a professional background in public safety and business.

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7 Comments
Scott Shearer

Thanks, Michael. That was very nice.

JL Johnson

Thanks for the heartfelt story. I can think of no better way to honor a vet than to tell his story and the impact he had. Well done, Michael.

JL | AirlineReporter

Michael,

The tribute you wrote above to Ed is all that any person can hope to achieve; that is that he affected someone’s life in a positive way. Ed would be very proud (I’m sure he is) of you and how he affected you regarding aviation and life in general.

Keep writing; you have an honesty and sincerity in your words that is a gift.

BigSix (Dave)

I’d like to express my deepest thanks to all how have left kind comments about this piece. It was a special piece for me to right about my friend Ed. In the course of writing this, I was lucky enough to speak with Doug Beacham who flew as a Navigator with Ed during the Blind Bat missions. I am glad to report that he didn’t change a bit and our chance encounter affirmed how I imagined his Air Force life to have been. If it wasn’t for the constant encouragement of the “avgeek” community, I would not be where I am today in terms of my return to aviation after public service. Thank you.

*Michael L. Lothrop * Freelance Aviation Writer P.O. Box 651 Sanford, Maine 04073 207.907.8949

*Contributor to http://www.nycaviation.com * *Professional references/company affiliation contact info available on request. *

Doug Beacham

Ed would be proud of your article. He took great pride in teaching anyone who would listen about his love of aviation and the “characters” he knew from back home.
I flew with him from June 1967 until July of 1968 in Vietnam and over the “trail” in Laos. He was born to fly! He loved flying the C-130 and was able to practice his short field landing skill all over Vietnam. We often landed at airstrips no longer than 3000′ in length with great ease…well most of the time ‘with great ease.”
As a Forward Air Controller over the Ho Chi Minh trail he was the best there was. Several times his aerial skills and good judgement saved out lives.
He was not only a great aviator, but a fine human being, and a true patriot. He loved our country. Like you, Michael, I will always miss him. He could sit on our cargo ramp at some airfield and regale us with stories about flying and characters he had known back home for hours without repeating a single line.
“Easy Ed,” as I called him, was one of a kind.

Mike, Nice article about a fine man. Thank you for sharing!

Hi Mike, thanks for the great words. Ed soloed me in Owls Head with the Piper Cherookie N76 on the first picture. Great Memories of a Great Guy come back to life. Even after the terrible 911 attacks, Ed continued giving me(a foreign student from Germany) flying lessons without hesitation. I will never forget his great character and I still fly here in Germany thanks to this great man. David

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