While my wife finished making my lunch, I walked to the safe where I kept my .38 Special handgun. I withdrew the pistol and ammunition and placed them on the kitchen counter. My left hand trembled as I loaded six bullets into the cylinders. There was no physical reason, just the fact that I didn’t want to carry the pistol in the first place. When I finished loading the pistol I put it in my jacket pocket, picked up my lunch bag, and with my wife’s blessings and prayers, went to the car.
Setting my lunch on the passenger seat, I buckled my seat belt and sighed a deep sigh, wondering why my life had come to this. A God fearing man, I was trying to do my best to follow His word, and here I was carrying a lethal weapon to do so. I shook my head, said a prayer, and put the pistol on the console between the seats. It was time to go into hell!
While driving to the Control Center I remembered the many years I’d loved my job as an air traffic controller. It was intense and challenging work, but I’d thrived on the teamwork. I had always felt a part of something special and took pride in the fact that we safely handled hundreds of flights and thousands of passengers a day. For years I couldn’t wait to get to work, then June of 1981 it all changed for the worse.
That’s when our PATCO union declared their intention to strike, but they needed 80% of its members to vote “yes” in order to do so. The first vote failed, but the union pressed on.
I had been a member of the union for years, but the benefits to me were minimal. I saw no need to continue membership, so I dropped out several months prior to the June vote. Under these new circumstances I became an outcast. Former friends, and I mean close friends, became nasty and vicious toward me. More than once I was cornered by them in the locker room or break room where they would get in my face and sling vitriolic slurs of hate. They would rail against me for quitting the union, challenge me, question me about my faith, and then laugh at me as they walked away.
For me it was very simple. In the Bible, Romans 13:1-7 tells us to respect the authority God has given our leaders. The Federal Government employs air traffic controllers. Our employee contract says it is unlawful to strike against the Federal Government, and when I signed on I took that oath never to strike. Now I was faced with a choice to either follow God’s word or the union’s will. In my mind the union could come and go while the US Government would ultimately decide what would happen to air traffic controllers. I didn’t necessarily choose the government, but rather I chose God’s word, direction and will. That made me an outcast.
Harassment within the control center after the failed union vote was frightening. The union applied extreme pressure on those who hadn’t supported the strike vote. It was not uncommon for union members to surround my work station and harass me, and make threats. They’d do anything distracting that might cause me to make a mistake with the planes I was controlling. The job was tense enough without sworn enemies hovering over me. Their sinister laughs were unnerving as I tried to handoff a plane from my flight control to another controller. They would even surprise me by sending planes to me at the same altitude as one I was controlling, just to see if I could prevent them from crashing. Supervisors simply watched and laughed at the hijinks, and took no corrective actions.
That’s why I carry a pistol. Harassment didn’t just happen at work. I was accosted by union members at the gas station, the grocery store, or even shopping. Threatening phone calls were so frequent and mean spirited that my wife was a nervous wreck. We had to leave the phone off the hook.
The union finally got their 80% “yes” vote and went on strike on August 3rd, 1981.
When I arrived at the control center I faced a picket line. They knew me and my car, so the yelling and jeering would begin and rise to a level that vibrated my car windows. Some would pound my car with their fists or spit on my car windows, while others stood in front of my car attempting to stop my progress through the gate. But I forged on, creeping ever so close until the men would finally step aside to avoid being run over. It’s the only time in my life I felt terror. My nerves were frayed. I could feel my heart pounding in my head, and I knew my blood pressure was sky high.
The pistol was always there, but I didn’t want to use it. I always thought I’d use it only if I were personally attacked and threatened with bodily harm. Not the harassment of crossing the picket line. I thought I could rely on the Federal Marshall’s who were present, but they just maintained a semblance of order.
I was nearing the end of my rope. For two months I lived with these venomous reactions to my personal decision to follow God’s will. It took a heavy toll on my heart, mind, body, and family. Depression came, set in, and burrowed deep until it was a burden that was harder to carry than my pistol.
The stress of the day would pour out in tears when I got home. The depression led to sleepless nights. I prayed, then I prayed some more. I wanted to be right. I wanted to be a good Christian. But the pain and agony was such that I began to understand how Job felt at the Devil’s hand. What price must I pay to demonstrate my Christianity? It was becoming too much to bear. Suicide was rearing its ugly head the deeper I went into depression. When will this cruelty end? Will it ever end?
Yes, it ended on August 5th, 1981. The union finally went out on strike, and just two days later President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers and their supervisors. I kept my job because I was not a union member, nor did I strike, and I continued to work until retirement.
In the end, my prayers were answered. My faith in God was renewed. It did pay to follow God’s word, in spite of the torturous road I traveled. God triumphs over evil, but in His own time and place. Our role is to believe, to have faith and to be patient.