The following is the message I delivered at New Hope at the memorial service of my friend and New Hope family member William (Bill) Standifer III. Bill was an amazing man who blessed a lot of people by just being who he was. It was an honor to share these thoughts at the service. I'm thankful I will get the opportunity one day to see Bill again.
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
I chose that Scripture to use today because to me, it fits the man we are here to remember.
It’s hard to believe we are here today. Not that anyone expected Bill to live forever, no one does, here. But having known him for years and having seen the iron discipline he practiced at the table – “I want the tilapia with no seasoning – none. I want salad but no dressing, no cheese, no croutons…” I guess I was believing that the engineer was working the process well enough that he’d be here a good while longer. So when the events of the last few weeks began, and the dominos kept falling, we all prayed as hard as we knew how. At the end he just slipped away from us or maybe more appropriately, he flew behind above the cloud cover. I know this, he fought as hard as he could. He had said “I’m a fighter pilot. We don’t quit until the bullets are striking the cockpit.” His love for his sweetheart and his family was so strong. But while the will was strong, his equipment just failed. And now we are here, today.
I sat down with Terry and Harriet last Sunday to talk about what would happen today, and while we did just that, they did a lot more for me. They went back and charted Bill’s life all the way from his birth in Eufaula, Alabama to the end. They shared their hearts with me, and I learned a lot more about the man we remember today. I’m going to share some of what I learned today, because I think it will help many of us put today in perspective. And I think looking at the route Bill plotted for himself and for his family might help us make better decisions about the paths we are on.
Alright, so everyone knows a few fundamentals of navigation- on a map, north is always up, the sun rises in the east, and compasses usually point towards magnetic north. What you lack is the knowledge that for many is the hardest to get- where you are. If you know where you are, and where you are going, then all you need is a true reference point to triangulate on and you are set. Let’s take that basic knowledge and use it here today.
The first thing you would know about Bill Standifer is that he knew where he was. From Eufala, to Atlanta, through Georgia Tech and out with a degree in electrical engineering, Bill never forgot who he was. A lot of people do, you know. But Bill had brought with him his faith in God and he had been blessed to find the one true love of his life – his beloved Harriet. Most of us who know them think of them together, say their names together, because they were as truly One as anyone we are likely to ever know. They were going together when he was 18 and she was 17, after he started out dating Harriet’s sister. He soon corrected that mistake and always made the point that “I got the better sister.” The Scripture said “to act justly.” Bill did, by making and honoring commitments again and again and again throughout his life. If he said he would do something, you could take it to the bank. So his pledge to “love, to honor, to cherish, until death do us part” was only the last one he lived up to.
The commitment to serve his country was one he certainly fulfilled. He was only going to be in for five years, but once he got into fighters, he met his other passion –flying. And from then on until his retirement the couple’s path began to take them to places all over the world. I absolutely loved hearing Harriet tell about the days a young family spent “living like the locals” in England, driving all over Europe in an Austin Healey, weekend flights to Paris and back for $25 round trip, and their Europe on $5 a day adventures. What a life! When they came back to the States even Terry was a proper English lad who wowed his chums at school when he told them “my dad eats snakes, flies fighter planes, and we just got here from England.” Skeptics were converted when every word turned out to be true. I suspect that wasn’t the only time someone heard about the life Bill, Harriet, Ross, Terry, and Chip had together and wondered if it all could be true. But it was.
“To act justly, and love mercy…”
I grew up in a family of veterans. My father and mother both served in the Pacific during WW2. My father say a lot of combat with the 24th infantry division and my mother got to Australia, the Philippines, and Okinawa. Neither wanted to talk about what they saw. The only thing I ever got was that “It’s not like the movies, son.” I can’t imagine what Bill saw during his time in the service, but with 100 missions in the Vietnam War where 382 F-4s were lost in combat, and were running at 40% of aircraft during the first couple of years flying out of Thailand, I know he lost many friends while carrying out his missions. Harriet told me there were some songs that were played at the funerals in chapel she still didn’t like to hear. So I suspect there was a lot he didn’t care to talk about either. He was true to his oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic though, believing that giving the Vietnamese people a chance to make their own choices about freedom was the right thing to do. Here at home Harriet did what she could to raise the boys and waited for her love to return. And he always did.
The family lived the transient life of a military family while stateside, bouncing from assignment to assignment back and forth across the nation. Everywhere they lived, Bill and Harriet tried to help the boys see it as a great adventure. It surely must have been. Terry told me that those ants his dad ate – well while camping Bill shared that knowledge with the boys. “They taste like cherries” is what Terry told me, but he did say to make sure to get the biggest ants you could find. Bill would find a way to get an adventure started wherever they were. At Nellis it was hunting for rocks and at Hill it was skiing and hunting for fossils. He taught the boys how to work on cars, and a lot more.
The end of his Air Force career came sooner than Bill would have liked it to. He had hoped to get a squadron of his own, but the glut of qualified people meant a lot of good men had to leave and Bill left as a Lt. Colonel. There were people at Hill that were upset about his being passed over, and some were upset about Bill not getting his “last flight” in his beloved F-16. They didn’t know that Bill had already taken his last flight. For those of you not familiar, a last flight is where a retiring aviator can take their plane up and pretty much do whatever they want until the gas runs out. I’ve seen a couple of those and they are spectacular. Aileron rolls the length of the runway, pulling back on the stick, standing the plane on its tail going straight up out of sight, or cutting the pylons in the parking lot – most are flashy look at me events. Bill’s last flight would have seen tame to those folks, but for him it was the most exciting flight he could imagine. He flew to Enid Oklahoma , to Vance AFB where Ross was stationed and pinned his wings on. That was Bill. He gave himself away.
Decorated Pilot, instructor pilot, test director, he moved into the next phase of his life, a stint at Eglin running the test wing and then a short retirement and a long career with Wintec. I was interested in how that transition went from a sociological point of view. Fighter pilots always seemed to have a certain worldview that sometimes didn’t play well with others. But Bill by this point had a path traced clearly of giving himself away. No surprise then that he went on there to have an accomplished record spanning 20 years, or that the people he worked with became more than coworkers, as we can see by their attendance here today.
Bill made people better – made them want to be better. His quiet confidence made you feel as though if he believed you could do something then darn it, you could do it. Harriet talked about her decision to by a plane and learn to fly, and how she had doubts, but Bill would have none of it. She said “Bill gave me the confidence to do things I never would have done.” I could sure understand why someone would feel that way. I know that when we would be over in the fellowship hall on Wednesday nights, we’d get into some spirited discussions about one point or another and Bill wouldn’t say a word. But you could tell he was taking it all in. From my point of view, I felt he was giving me his respect while quietly encouraging me to bring the Truth to target. To where we live. He could be a tough audience there, but quick to laugh over lunch.
The last few years he spent a lot of time with his beloved grandchildren, sharing with them the things he loved to do – flying, shooting, riding roller coasters. He loved his family, was very proud of every one of them. I know having all boys might have seemed to some a loss but Bill always said the best way to have girls in the family was for your sons to marry them, and he was very thankful for his daughters in law. In return, you got a long up close and personal look at just what marriage is supposed to be. “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Terry told me that his Mom and dad “ didn't tell us how to live – they showed us.”
Yes they did.
I started out pointing out that “If you know where you are, and where you are going, then all you need is a true reference point to triangulate on and you are set.”
Let me finish quickly by pointing out this: Bill knew where he was. Because he was grounded by his parents as their only son, and shown the love of God early and often, Bill knew exactly where he was.
Bill knew where he was going. Whether it was winning the love of his life, raising three fine men, carving out a dream career as a fighter pilot, helping Wintec – Bill had a plan and he worked it. Well, so did God. There were many times in his life that except for God’s grace he could have been taken.
Even in probably his deepest felt loss – not getting the squadron command he had worked for – God was at work.
You see Bill had a heart attack at work. But his doctor was minutes away and the help he needed was readily available – which they would not have been had he still been in the Air Force. Bill got some extra years. Many of us got a blessing from those years. And as the end drew near, Bill knew where he was going. The Bible records Jesus saying “I go to prepare a place for you.” I wonder what hangar Bill is operating out of now.
He knew where he was and where he was going and he had that one point to triangulate from. God’s love and the arms of his sweetheart. Those arms had to let him go, but God never will.
Can I encourage you today to examine where your flight plan is taking you? To really take a look at just what you are using as your fixed reference point? To weigh what you are committed to against how much those commitments really ultimately matter.