Stairway To Heaven

by Chris de Serres

I had a good group of friends in high school, but there was this one kid who annoyed the hell out of me.  He was always so damn intense about everything he was into.  Often when we got together i’d ask my friend Steve, “is Darren coming?”  Depending on how he answered there was a 50% chance I wouldn’t show.

He was one of the few friends I knew with a car so I had to suffer through his poor musical tastes to get a ride.  He listened to this group you may have heard of.  Led Zeppelin.  Totally awful.  A guy just screaming at the top of his lungs and a bunch of guitar wankery.  I was listening to cool shit like Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer.

The biggest presence in a small town like Oak Harbor was the Navy base.  It was the only thing here.  We all wanted to be Navy pilots after high school.  Top Gun had come out a few years earlier, followed by the lesser known Iron Eagle.  We ate it all up.

My vision was poor so I couldn’t be a pilot.  That’s okay.  Full Metal Jacket came out and I decided I wanted to be a paratrooper in the Army instead.  But Darren and the rest of my 20/20 gifted friends held out for the Maverick fantasy.

Darren was the only friend who achieved the Top Gun dream.  His high school grades weren’t good enough so he had to go to a small college, but he did so well he got a full Navy scholarship after his first year.

I ran into him once after Office Candidate School.  I had just finished my Army enlistment and was quite jaded with the military experience.  He was on the opposite end, on the cusp of starting a promising career as a Navy pilot.  He was, as usual, annoyingly and intensely motivated to fulfill his dream.  A year later I heard he was flying F/A-18’s on the USS Constitution.

In October of 2000 he flew for the last time.  It was a routine training mission off the coast of San Diego.  His plane went down a few minutes after it left the Constitution.  His body was never recovered.

He’s someone I think about on Memorial Day.  I hate to admit it, but he was right about Zeppelin.  So I am giving that old classic Stairway to Heaven a spin in honor of you, Lt. Darren Jewell.  Thank you for your service.