Monday, September 13, 2010

Col. Phil Bruce's Final Promotion

From Dad's pictures
The words of a Sheryl Crow song caught my ear today.  Even though it was unrelated to death, it has an uncanny correlation:

But is there someplace far away, someplace where all is clear
Easy to start over with the ones you hold so dear
Or are we left to wonder, all alone, eternally
But is this how it's really meant to be?

Thanks to Christ, we aren't left to wonder why.  1Thess. 4:13: "But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve like other people who have no hope."  

It looks like I will be sharing a eulogy at my father's services.  While it is not easy to reflect on his passing, I think it is theraputic to do so.

Col. Philip Bruce was a classic, best-of-the-best, old-school Air Force officer.  Although he retired when I was very young, and I never really got to see him during his prime years in the Air Force, he never lost his sense of military honor, discipline, and courtesy.  He did not treat his Air Force rank and pilot wings as a job, but as a supreme calling.  He gave the Air Force all of his time and energy, and he was rewarded greatly.

Not only was he a quintessential officer on and off the job, he was also very humble.  He didn't talk much about the prestigious positions and awards he received in his 27 years of service.  In fact, I didn't realize how amazing his AF career was until I asked him as a teenager.  He never made a big deal of being a pilot, and most of the people he interacted with never knew his rank.

I will always remember Dad as a guiding influence on my life.  His understanding of science and technology helped me to see the world in that light, and encouraged me to consider studying engineering.  Talking with him about tools, cars, and airplanes gave me a solid foundation for intuitive understanding of technological areas.  He helped me understand the basics of math and science, and I am grateful for this every time I use scientific notation, unit analysis, or any number of other skills in college coursework.

Last week in Air Science class, we discussed how the Air Force is not merely a job, but is best viewed as a profession, with all the dedication and responsibility that a true profession requires.  Reading in preparation for the class, I realized that because of Dad's example, I already knew the dedication required for a successful AF career years before I ever joined AFROTC.  I knew that an Air Force career comes only second to God and family.  It is a calling, just like being a pastor or missionary.  It is fulfilling, worth investing years of whole-hearted time and effort.  Commissioning as an officer isn't a take-it-or-leave-it, see-how-it-goes experiment, it's a go/no go decision point in life that will require total dedication.  Without being harsh or demanding, while still being a consummate gentleman, he prepared me for the sacrifice and commitment that the military requires.

Through two years in the program, and four weeks of intense training in Alabama and Mississipi, I never once questioned whether I wanted to stay in ROTC.  I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt, and when I heard that Dad's health was failing two weeks in as I was in Mississipi, it was truely surreal.  The man who inspired me to take this course, to go where I was being yelled at and challenged 24/7, was about to pass into the next life.  I think part of the reason that I was able to stay strong and finish well was because I knew it was what he would have done if he were in my boots.

Ever since the afternoon of 19July, when I got called out of that mission debrief by my CO and advised of my dad's possible passing, I have worn my dad's dogtags as a symbol of my devotion to our common cause.

I guess what I'm trying to say is actually one of the best things that could be said of a retired officer - years after retirement, he was still an officer whose very aura automatically instilled qualities and characteristics in his children - qualities that the Air Force has to alternately teach, critique, and yell into cadet's heads through years of training.

Col. Philip Bruce, even though we never crossed paths in uniform, I salute you.  It was an honor to observe and be influenced by your life, and I would like to think that Grandpa was with Peter at the gates as you reported in to your final duty station.


Link to pictures from Dad's life and career:


  1. Bro, All I can say is wow... phenominal thoughts put forth very poetically! I definitely feel similarly as it relates to the legacy dad left for us. I really don't believe we'd have the family we do if it wasn't for dad's incredible example! I hope you'll share alot of this during the service if you can.

  2. powerful, my brother. so powerful! even 5 and 1/2 weeks after dad's passing, your words still bring tears to my eyes. THANK YOU for taking the time and opening your heart to honor dad in this way.