On the 24th of each month, we run a pair of queries against our EAA membership database, one happy, one sad, to put it simply. The first pulls a list of new EAA Lifetime members, which we run each month in the Members and Chapters in Action section of EAA Sport Aviation magazine. The second query returns a list of our members who have died, or, in our vernacular, gone west, and that list also runs in the magazine.
When the query is finished, the results are sorted and copied into a spreadsheet, and then reorganized by a series of formulas before being pasted into a Word document, tidied up, and handed off for copy editing. It’s a simple, quick, and mechanical process, but, when preparing the list for the Gone West section of the magazine, I force myself to slow down, to read every name. It’s a moment of peace, a small slice of quiet reverence that may be meaningless to most, but brings some mindfulness to me.
Sometimes, those names are familiar — my dad’s name went in about a year ago, and I’ve seen a few friends pop up over the years as well, a sad trend that will only continue as I get older. Mercifully, these lists very rarely bring surprises, but when they do, it’s a jolt — Excel is not exactly the kindest way to deliver bad news. When I pulled the list for the September 2021 issue, I came across one of those surprises when the name Joel Godston, EAA 441437, of Seattle, Washington, who had actually died about five months ago, popped into my pivot table.
Joel and I were semi-regular correspondents, and he frequently sent me a day-making bundle of compliments after reading one of my features in the magazine. That would restart our conversations about his history, his time in the Air Force flying two of my all-time favorites, the B-47 and the F-86, and his number one passion, flying nearly 400 Young Eagles and supporting the program in myriad other ways. Joel was always unwaveringly upbeat and enthusiastic, and frequently reminded me that I had an open invitation to visit him and his wife of 62 years, Annemarie, anytime I was in Seattle.
I always meant to accept that invitation.
Even though I get to Seattle about once a year, I never did.
There was always a reason — tight travel schedules, limited time with family and other friends, work to get back to. Reasons that were inarguably legitimate at the time, but crumble like ash when I realize that they kept me from doing something that is now impossible — meeting Joel in person. The news of his loss came as a surprise, as did the strength of its impact.
Life’s most potent regrets come from the things we meant to do but didn’t — when I look at Joel’s life story, I can’t imagine he had many regrets at all, and, in spite of my missed opportunity with him, I hope I can say the same one day.
One of the most endearing things about Joel was the fact that he frequently attached a small story to his emails to me, something between a casual CV and a mini-biography called When Did You Know. It was always accompanied by a picture that he loved sharing and resharing, an informal shot of one of the times he met Chuck Yeager. Joel would downplay his story, modestly and offhandedly referring to it each time as “…more information about me than you ever wanted to know, but now you have it!”
He was wrong. I always wanted to know more about this gentle and happy man who once served his country as the nuclear-equipped vanguard of a cold war that thankfully never got too hot. Joel was a nice guy who loved to fly and devoted a big piece of his life to inspiring both kids and adults, sharing his enthusiasm for aviation every chance he got.
In Joel’s honor, then, I’m sharing When Did You Know, unedited, just as he shared it with me and who knows how many lucky others.
When Did You Know
By Joel Godston
Born on July 4, 1934, living on Staten Island, when at the age of 9, I knew I wanted to be involved in Aviation. My parents helped me purchase a Thor model airplane motor…. really wasn’t much good…. would not run very well even on the motor stand I constructed…. built u-control model ‘high speed’ model airplanes… Graduated Curtis High School in February 1952…went to RPI to become an Aeronautical Engineer and in Air Force ROTC… Graduated… was in the Air Force pilot training class of 57-H…. First flight in a ‘souped up’ Piper Cub was on February 2, 1956…. Became a pilot after almost being ‘washed out’… flew B-47’s with an Aircraft Commander who flew B-17’s in WWII…. flew F-86H’s and F-84’s in the Mass. Air National Guard…
Worked at Pratt & Whitney, division of United Technologies, Inc. for about 40 years….. Now retired mentoring and ‘teaching’ aviation related subjects with elementary, junior, and senior high school students, and previously adults in Dartmouth’s ILEAD program….Received the EAA Leadership Award in 2006, and in 2010 The Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award from FAA “In recognition of your contributions to building and maintaining the safest aviation system in the world, through practicing and promoting safe flight operations for 50 consecutive years”…
Organized Airport Awareness Day and Young Eagles Rally at Lebanon Airport for 4 years and Dean Memorial Airport for 14 years… continued flying in our 1976 Cessna 182 to travel, and fly youngsters to become a Young Eagle, an EAA program chaired by Sully & Jeff, pilots of the now-famous US Airways Flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River… My last flight in our 1976 Cessna 182 (N1408M) was in October 2011 and sold in 2012… VERY sad; but I had 55 years, 1,996 hours flying time with 1,762 take-offs and landings… much fun, challenges, excitement, and pilot-in-command time… In 2014 I became a ‘Ground Pounder’, member of EAA Chapter 26 Seattle, WA co-chairing monthly newsletter, “WIND IN THE RIGGING, belike”, and doing mentoring/seminars on many Aviation related topics with youngsters & ‘elderly’.
Being in Aviation, EAA Young Eagles program (flown just under 400 youngsters), and mentoring youngsters has been, and is, a VERY rewarding experience.
Joel Godston was 86 years old. He is survived by Annemarie, a brother, a sister, sons, a daughter, and a number of grandchildren. His full obituary, including the family’s suggestion for remembrances, can be found here.