To those of you who reached out to my dad and embraced who he was – both in life and in death – my family and I thank you more than words can say.
I have not read the posts on the Bulletin Board, but I have been told what is being said. I wish to address the BASE community, from the family’s point of view, about his life and death.
From the time he was young, he lived his life without fear and he lived his entire life genuinely CARING about people.
When he was 16-years old, he was stabbed by a friend during a card game, lacerating his liver and just missing his heart. He walked home and wasn’t going to let anyone know it had happened, so as not to get his friend in trouble. Fortunately, my grandmother realized what had happened and that saved his life. Dad forgave his friend and the two were friends until that friend died from cancer several years ago.
He loved his country and served honorably in the Army, joining the 82nd Airborne. Both were parts of his life he was very proud of. When he got out of the service, he made many, many skydives, thus leading him to the door of Mike Pelkey and a controversial stunt that almost crippled him for the rest of his life. It was his jump from El Capitan, or “El Cap,” as they affectionately referred to it. It was a subsequent skydive that broke calcium free in his foot that enabled him to walk normal again and join the Pomona Police Department – something the doctor told him he never could have done surgically back in 1966. My grandfather loved him DEARLY and was afraid he would lose him. Out of fear for what Dad might do in the future, my grandfather told him how stupid it was and that this jump didn’t mean anything.
Although he stopped jumping out of respect to the Police Department who requested him to do so, his heart was always in the clouds! He now had a dangerous job to do (next to Los Angeles, Pomona at one time had the second highest crime rate, per capita, in California). In addition to protecting citizens, he would help kids on the street get out of and stay out of trouble and he would pick up homeless people and take them for a meal, then to a shelter.
Although he had a family he didn’t see as often as he would have liked, he went to school nights to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Behavioral Science and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. He graduated from the FBI Academy with honors in an intensive 3 month training program for law enforcement management. He retired as a Lieutenant in 1989.
As if driving in California isn’t dangerous enough, around 1995, when he was 55 – when most people begin slowing down in life - he bought a Harley Davidson fatboy and would ride with my husband and me, and other firefighters and cops and friends. Besides local riding, he would ride in Sturgis and Laughlin on their annual runs. His riding scared me, because he rode like a COP and a SKYDIVER, always scanning the scenery from side to side. But by the Grace of God, there were no accidents.
Two years ago, when he and Mike found that they were credited with being the first BASE jumpers, you all embraced them and he was as close to on top of the world as it gets!!! How would it feel to be told as a young man that what you had done was stupid and it meant nothing, only to learn when you’re a Senior Citizen that you were, in fact, a pioneer and that you had earned respect from like-minded people who loved what you had once held so dear? It meant everything to him and from the SECOND he left Bridge Day last year, it’s all he wanted to do. He lost 70-80 lbs., worked out, practiced his jumps in the pool, watched training videos and trained when he got to West Virginia. He had had back surgery last year and he had no cartilage left in his knees. His plan was always to land in the water, to avoid the pain of a hard landing.
The accident was JUST that. A terrible accident. Make no mistake, he knew the dangers he was facing, but he was NEVER afraid of danger – had that been the case, perhaps you would still be jumping only from planes. Perhaps not – there are many courageous people out there like him – but he DID do it and WASN’T afraid.
I’m reminded by my mom how much he loved to live on the edge when he was a young skydiver – pulling below the deck and having his license suspended on more than one occasion. On Bridge Day I believe he was in awe of his surroundings and got caught up a little too long in the freefall. Then, when he was in trouble, it was too late.
He told us all he didn’t want to die, but he wasn’t afraid to die. That he had made peace with God and done everything in his life he could have possibly hoped for. This jump (the 40th anniversary of his El Cap jump) would have been the crowning glory, but it wasn’t to be, and the family has peace knowing that he died doing something he loved, that he had the courage to see his dream through once again and that where he is now – he is surrounded by the love that he gave on earth and is looking down on everyone hoping that you pursue your dream and continue to live your lives with passion and courage. In case you want to be reminded of what tru PASSION sounds like, go to NPR.org and listen to his last radio interview on the Bridge that day. The message, his mind, his heart – it’s clear what his calling was!!!
Dad expressed his love to everyone he knew – always. If you were special to him, you knew it – whether he just met you, or whether you were old friends! There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t tell me and my sisters he loved us and was proud of us. Very few people have that and I know how blessed I was to have him as a father and in my life for as long as I did!!!
Thank you to those who gave their kind words to me. The friends that we have met along the way - Nick DiGiovanni, Chris Pope, Marah Amberlyn Strauch, Jason Bell, Johnny “Utah”, to name a few – I send out HUGE hugs to you and wish to remain your friends. Ted Grove, BASE 963 – your words to me and my family in your card were amazing and warmed my heart more than I can tell you– “I’m so happy I met Brian and saw his eyes sparkle.” Diana Kaiser - thank you for your personal message!!
I LOVE you Mike, Toni, Jacqui and Brian (my dad's namesake) Pelkey - MORE THAN WORDS CAN TELL YOU!!!!
To those who I haven’t met, but who defended him and the pursuit of his dream – I send HUGE hugs to you, as well and hope to someday meet all of you!! Rhonda Lea - it would be my honor to meet you!!
If you are a critic of what he did, he was a firm believer in people’s choice to speak their minds. I hope that some of what I have written has given you pause to remember when you first held a dream – before you pursued it. How it felt, and how you went for it with everything you had. I ask that you respect the man and respect the dream.
Tina Schubert Lindebaum