Personal Essay: Saturdays with Dave

By Tabitha Evans Moore | Editor & Publisher

David E. Fruehauf, a local and aeronautical legend, left us on Saturday, October 10 at the age of 83. (Lynchburg Times Photo)

Like most friendships, it happened by chance. Dave Fruehauf and I were both morning walkers. I often ran into him and his trusty sidekick, Jack, near the Lynchburg square. In fact, we so often collided that I began to keep treats in my front pocket for both Jack and our town dog, Buddy the Beagle. Several days a week, Jack got his treat and Mr. Dave got his hug as part of my morning ritual.

One day, Mr. Dave suggested we meet up at American Craft Distillers of Lynchburg after our walks for a Bloody Mary. I don’t often drink at 10 a.m. on a Saturday but sitting with Mr. Dave meant I could soak up a bit of this local treasure and so I was always game.

Talking with Dave Fruehauf was fascinating. For those of you who don’t know, Captain David E. Fruehauf was kind of a big deal. He was one of a handful of Air Force pilots to ever fly the famed, stealth Blackbird SR-71. In fact, he safely ejected from the plane during practice maneuvers in California in the second SR-71B Blackbird Lockheed ever manufactured for the Air Force.

The sleek, high altitude multi-million dollar reconnaissance aircraft could exceed Mach 3 … that’s three times the speed of sound. Usually it came loaded with a variety of sophisticated photographic equipment but this one was a training plane built for two pilots.

The plane crashed on approached to Beale Air Force Base on January 11, 1968 and instructor pilot Lieutenant Colonel Robert. G. Sowers and his student, Fruehauf were forced to eject around 3,000 feet and a mere seven miles from the end of the runway near a string of high tension power transmission towers. They landed safely in a nearby field as the plane burst into flames on impact.

Originally built in the 1960’s, the Blackbird existed as an Air Force top secret spy plane. In total, 32 Blackbirds were built through 1999 when both the USAF and NASA retired them. Twelve were lost in accidents and none in enemy action. Today, the SR-71 continues to hold the the world record it set in 1976 for the fastest, air-breathing manned aircraft.

Mr. Dave could often be seen wearing a SR-71 Blackbird baseball cap and Cold War history buffs and aeronautics fanatics would often light up when they spotted it. They’d approach and Mr. Dave would demure until I cut him a look and nudged him. Though I heard it numerous times, I always loved the way he told the story of that day.

It late August, Mr. Dave was missing. I stopped in American Craft Distillers around our usual time … and nothing. I shrugged and then headed to Lynchburg Veterinary Hospital to pick up flea meds for my pups. As I turned to leave, I spotted Mr. Dave, his wife Wanda, and Jack.

“Jack!” I exclaimed all excited and then I looked up to see Mr. Dave’s red, swollen eyes. “Oh no, what’s wrong?”

That’s when Dave and Wanda explained that Jack had cancer and didn’t have much more time. I left devastated for my friend.

Jack did indeed leave Mr. Dave on September 24. By that time, Mr. Dave was in the hospital battling his own health issues. Dave’s wife and Dr. Morton made arrangement so Mr. Dave could say goodbye to Jack one last time from the hospital. On October 10, at the age of 83, Mr. Dave left to be with his friend.

On Sunday, I went down to American Craft Distillers and had one more Nashville Hot Bloody Mary just like Dave always ordered me. I could feel Dave and Jack all around and when tears formed in the corner of my eyes I blamed it on the spice.

I sipped it slowly as we traded Dave stories. I savored it because it’s the last one I’ll ever drink. Without Dave, they just aren’t the same. •

{Editor’s Note: We will publish Dave Fruehauf’s full obit and funeral arrangement once they become available.}

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