BY ROBERT B. ROBESON
If I’d wanted an easy life, I could have taken up quantum physics, brain surgery or attempted to open a McDonald’s on the moon. Instead, even though I’ve suffered from acrophobia (fear of heights) since a scary incident at the age of five, I’d always dreamed of becoming a pilot and writer.
A college writing instructor gave me the best writing tip to spur me into action in accomplishing both goals. His advice was, “don’t be intimidated by any fear. Your writing and any other dreams carry motivation that are capable of defeating anything intent on hindering your success in life.” I believed him and acted on his advice.
Incredibly, the first three articles I wrote in college were accepted for publicatifor on the first attempt. Number four brought me back to reality with my first of thousands of subsequent rejections. That’s when I began taking rejection as a challenge and not a defeat. This professor gave further advice. “Always be writing. If you’re rejected frequently, it means that you’re motivated for the love of the art.”
I joined the Army National Guard as a medic at the age of seventeen. After basic training, and later being promoted to sergeant, I graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. As an officer, I was now eligible to apply for helicopter flight school. The Vietnam War had heated up and, although any height above sea level still caused me psychological concern, I knew that completing this course would help me secure my second dream of volunteering for active duty to be a medical evacuation pilot in Vietnam. If combat was survived, I surmised there would probably be plenty of unique missions and adventures to write about.
In flight school, I learned to camouflage and control my fear. In combat, the more I flew the less height mattered to me because I knew our patients were hurting a lot more than I was. While flying 987 missions, I had seven helicopters shot up by enemy fire and was shot down twice in one year (1969-1970). Yet my flight crews were able to evacuate over 2,500 wounded and ill patients from both sides of the action. Sometimes what appears to be the worst possible thing that can happen to a person turns out to be the best. True to the perversity of human nature, the challenges and fears that confronted me the most were precisely those that proved exhilarating when I lowered my head and gutted through them.
I spent nineteen years in Army Aviation living, writing and flying on three continents before retiring after 27 years of military service. In college, a few writing instructors also advised me to “write about what you know”. But that “know” can often come at a hefty price. Over five decades later, I’m still writing and publishing stories about those often troubling aviation moments. They have always been great nonfiction and short story starters.
Since 1967, I’ve been published over 930 times in 330 publications in 130 countries and 70 anthologies. This includes the Reader’s Digest, Soldier of Fortune, Writer’s Digest and Aviation Digest, among others. I’ve learned never to give up while being rejected in anything. One of my favourite manuscripts (“Special Delivery”) featured a Vietnamese baby girl born on my aircraft in 1970. It’s an “evergreen” article that’s been published 27 times…but rejected 55 times.
Memorable writing and flying are achieved by trying and trying some more. It’s like attempting to hit the ground when your jet engine is shot out at 1,500 feet. You can’t miss! And I should know.
About the Author
Robert Robeson is a life member of the National Writers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dustoff Association and the Distinguished Flying Cross Society. He was the operations officer and then commander of the 236th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) in Da Nang, South Vietnam (1969-1970). After retiring as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army, he served as a newspaper managing editor and columnist. He has a BA in English from the University of Maryland—College Park and has completed extensive undergraduate and graduate work in journalism at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. He’s a four-time, international Amy Writing Award winner and has been awarded fifteen George Washington Honor Medals for essays, articles and speeches on freedom by the national award juries of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. He retired in Lincoln, Nebraska (USA) with his wife, Phyllis, of 54 years.
(“Google” “Robert B. Robeson” for a variety of his published articles, short stories and poems.)