I flew into Montgomery Field in San Diego yesterday with a student pilot who’s preparing for his checkride. We shutdown the SR22 and decided to debrief the flight over lunch at Casa Machado. On our way out, I was perusing the wall-to-wall photos in the lobby and noticed a black and white picture of two guys sitting in an F-4 Phantom. The photo was signed, “America’s first ace in Vietnam – Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham”.
The photo wasn’t a surprise. Montgomery Field is in his district, after all. But the image of Cunningham smiling from the front seat of that Phantom was quite a contrast from the sniffling, self-admitted felon who’s on his way to jail for accepting millions of dollars in bribes.
Very sad. Cunningham had a fine career in the military. A successful fighter pilot, Top Gun instructor, and member of Congress, he had been granted some of the highest privileges our country can offer a person. And he threw it all away. For what? Weren’t the six figure congressional salary and attendent benefits enough?
Countless Americans struggle for years to overcome adverse circumstances and build themselves up from nothing. Duke Cunningham was handed the world on a silver platter and chose to flush it down the toilet.
He could have been a strong advocate for our aviation infrastructure, a much needed ally in the war against user fees, TFRs, and more. Instead, he’ll rot away in prison. Much like a Richard Nixon, any good he’s done will be overshadowed by the spectacular way in which he’s fallen short of even the most modest expectations Americans still have for our elected officials.
Part of me wanted to take his photo off the wall and tear it in half. Instead, I turned my back on it and walked out to the SR22 and mid-day sun.