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Siblings remember the groundedness of their fighter pilot dad



Hey. It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Ahead of Veterans Day, we remember Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Encinias. He served as a U.S. military pilot in World War II and Korea and Vietnam. He flew about 240 combat missions. And he did this at a time when very few pilots were of Hispanic heritage. Two of his children, Isabel and Juan Pablo Encinias, came to StoryCorps to remember him.

ISABEL ENCINIAS: Do you remember that military whistle that he would wake us up with (laughter)?

JUAN PABLO ENCINIAS: Yes (laughter).

I ENCINIAS: That was just the most intense, terrifying thing. When I was little, I remember him flying in in his fighter jet and us waiting for him on the tarmac and thinking, oh, my God, what a hero my father is.

J ENCINIAS: He used to tell me of other pilots vomiting before the missions because they were so scared, and he just couldn't understand why. And it kind of makes sense 'cause he was that kind of unflappable person.

I ENCINIAS: Yeah, I agree.

J ENCINIAS: One time, there was a mission where one of the other pilots was shot and was losing consciousness. So our father, who was flying a different plane, over the radio, guided him to a jet base. You know, he wasn't concerned about commendations or medals, but he was proud he was able to help save one of his fellow pilots.

INSKEEP: Exactly.

J ENCINIAS: As he got older, he was diagnosed with dementia, probably due to so many blows to his head bailing out of planes and all that. But even at the end, when he cognitively wasn't all there, he would hear a plane and just look up and stare at it in the sky. And you could tell that he just wanted to be up in that plane with every ounce of his being.

I ENCINIAS: Maybe he's listening to us somewhere up there (laughter).

J ENCINIAS: I hope so.

I ENCINIAS: What do you miss most about him?

J ENCINIAS: It's the solidity of knowing he's there. There was just this groundedness that he brought when he was around that I really miss.

I ENCINIAS: I agree.

INSKEEP: Juan Pablo and Isabel Encinias remembering their dad, Lt. Col. Miguel Encinias, who received two Purple Hearts, 14 Air Medals and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He died in 2016 at 92. This interview will be archived with all the others at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "HOME HOME AT LAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jo Corona