Editor’s note:

ON Friday, May 5, Air Force Academy Class of 1979 will hold a memorial dedication ceremony for the crew of Spirit 03 of the U.S. Air Force 16th Special Operations Squadron. Maj. Paul Weaver, a 1975 Alamosa High graduate, was the gunship aircraft commander performing an armed reconnaissance mission during Operation Desert Storm when Spirit 03 went down over Kuwait on Jan. 31, 1991. This story was originally published in The Pueblo Chieftain on March 9, 1991. Alamosa Citizen founder Chris Lopez was a reporter working for The Pueblo Chieftain when he was assigned to report on Weaver’s death. This is the story he filed.

Remembering Maj. Paul J. Weaver,
an officer and a gentleman

IN God’s country, a young Paul Jennings Weaver would look upward to the sky and dream about the day the wild, blue yonder would be his trafficway.

He would bend his head back and look all around, as far as his eyes could see. He wanted to fly in a jet that streamed across the sky, leaving a trail to follow over his family’s farm five miles south of here on the Henry Road.

“Paul was a great one to look up at the sky. I had seen him so many times look up at the stars — just gazing,” said his father, Paul Weaver Sr. “He always said the ground was his enemy and the sky his heaven. I heard him say that several times. He said when he was up there he felt safe.”

His chance to fly came when he earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy upon graduating from Alamosa High School in 1975. There also were invitations to West Point and to Annapolis for the Naval Academy.

But it was the Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs that would give him the chance to fly the most. Besides, his parents would still be close by.

Jan. 15 — “This is the day of the big deadline. What will transpire tonight or tomorrow? Of course, by the time you receive this letter I suppose we will all know the answer to that question.”

THE WIND IS sweeping across the Valley floor, sending a chill through your body. The TV crew has come and gone. Margaret Weaver admirably made it through the interview. But now she’s not so sure what to do with herself.

In Saudi Arabia, Paul remembered how cold the Valley wind could be. In a letter home, he wrote, “When the wind blows here, it’s not unlike the Valley in the spring.”

He wrote other letters:

Jan. 11 — “Here we are, at the center of history, ready to do our mission. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am to be here with these great guys. More and more I see my decision to stay in the Air Force as an act of providence. Daily I thank God for letting me be here and I pray that I can serve honorably. Our workplace is covered with posters made by school children from all over. To me this is the most touching thing I have seen.”

Jan. 15 — “This is the day of the big deadline. What will transpire tonight or tomorrow? Of course, by the time you receive this letter I suppose we will all know the answer to that question.”

Jan. 17 — “Can’t begin to describe what is going on here … We sit in anticipation for missions to be flown soon. I pray for our safety and that of our fighter friends. All these years of training …  I think of you folks and the anxiety you must be feeling. Once again, realize that I have sought this end. ‘Nor law nor duty laid me fright, nor public men, nor cheering crowds, a lonely impulse of delight, drove to this tumult in the clouds …’ Oh well, my flare for the dramatic. I am so proud of my guys. I’m also proud of you, too. No farm kid growing up could have asked for better parents. Thank you for all the love and help you’ve given me through the years.”

ONE OF THE last people to see Maj. Paul Weaver alive on the ground in Saudi Arabia was his roomate, Capt. Paul Havel. They saw each other hours before the fatal mission. Both were in good spirits. The war was going well. Everyone would be home soon.

Havel and Weaver go back three and a half  years to when they first met at Reese Air Base in Lubbock, Texas. Weaver was Havel’s instructor in pilot training.

“As an instructor pilot, the class kind of took to him,” recalled Havel, speaking from Florida a day after returning from Saudi Arabia. “Being an instructor pilot was not a job people liked to have in the Air Force. But with Paul it was different. He went out of his way to help everyone. He was just a very kind person and everyone picked up on that.”

Once in Florida, the pilots lived together on two occasions.

First, Havel moved in with Weaver for eight months before they got separate housing. For the past six months, Weaver moved back in with Havel until his marriage to Phoebe.

“Paul was like a gentle giant,” Havel said. “He was a bear of a guy. He was a warrior at heart, but when you met him he was the gentlest person in the world.”

THERE WERE TWO last communications from Maj. Weaver before his plane, with a 13-man crew aboard, went down. His mission, said his dad, was to provide air power to Marine ground troops fighting in the Battle of Khafji.

Khafji was the first time allied and Iraqi troops engaged in a fierce ground battle, and it came three weeks before the allies officially launched a ground war.

Maj. Weaver, flying around 9,500-feet, radioed in that he had a Frog missile sighted and would be home in five minutes. The next communication was a faint “Mayday.”

The Weaver family is proud that their son and brother died helping other troops escape the same fate. They’re glad to hear that the battle at Khafji helped the allies learn a lot about Iraq’s capabilities and, in a comforting way, believe their son helped lead the allies to victory.

MARGARET WEAVER IS in her son’s room, reading a poem that hangs on his wall. It’s called “High Flight,” written by pilot officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. She explains it was Paul’s favorite poem.

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

“Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace where never lark, or even eagle flew — and, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

Without suspicion, she leaves the bedroom as if she wasn’t in there; as if she wasn’t supposed to be in there. Paul, she said, never liked anyone disturbing his room. It was his private place. She carefully closes the door and walks away.

Her husband is on the sofa thumbing through a photo album. It’s Paul’s photo album, one the family has kept with all his pictures from grade school, through high school and the academy.

With each page he turns, Paul Weaver Sr. sheds a tear. He’s a stern man, who has never felt so weak.

Paul was his only son, and he was so proud of him. Once, when Paul was scheduled to fly in a four-plane formation at halftime of an Air Force-Navy football game, the elder Weaver called the Air Force to remind the stadium announcer that his son would be flying in the formation and he should announce Paul Weaver as one of the pilots.

Of course, it’s tradition at the Air Force to let the crowd know the names of all the pilots flying in the formation. Paul Weaver Sr. wanted to make sure this wasn’t the one time tradition was broken.

“Paul could have been President of the United States,” his dad said, looking at a picture of Paul that sits on the family mantle. “And he would have been the best president.”

THERE ARE thousands of happy endings to the Gulf War. Homecomings and heroes’ welcomes that will keep the country feeling good about itself.

But there are also a few broken hearts resting with families like the Weavers. For them, their son won’t be coming home. Then again, in a strange way, maybe he has gone home — to God’s country.