By Lanier Laney
Rebecca Sprecher of Dataw probably never thought when she graduated from UNC and joined Pan Am as a stewardess that she would end up spending one Christmas on the shore of the Arabian Sea at a Karachi camel auction lit only by lantern light but that was exactly what happened when her usual flight to New Delhi got diverted due to fog.
Becky’s written a wonderful fictional book based on the amazing facts of her career with Pan Am when she was based out of Honolulu for five years in the 70’s that includes her heart-rending participation in the Fall of Saigon and Operation Babylift. It’s just been published and it’s called “Flying: A Novel.”
Pan Am’s image of glamour, sophistication, and international presence led many to think of it as a symbol of America around the world. Unfortunately it was this high profile that led to the airlines undoing culminating in the terrible bombing of the ‘Clipper of the Seas’ over Lockerbie Scotland by Libyan terrorists. “That was the day the heart of Pan Am died,” say many veterans of the airline.
Becky just got back from a Miami event called “Pan Am’s Worldwide Family Reunion.” They gathered near Dinner Key, where the original Pan Am terminal was located and the flying boats took off and landed in the 1930s. Says Becky, “It was a kind of poetic justice to be landing in Miami for the Pan Am gathering the day that Libyan dictator Gadaffi finally met his end. This has been a meaningful time for any Pan Am’er, not to mention the families of all the victims. We dedicated our book to them.”
Rebecca is a gourmet cook and her husband Gregg is a wine expert. “We served a beautiful six-course meal in First Class on Pan Am, and that taught me about good food. Our main course recipes were adapted from Maxim’s in Paris. I remember standing in the galley, teaspoon in hand, waiting for the hors d’oeuvre cart to come back so I could dig into the leftover Iranian caviar. It came in lipstick red tins,” said Becky with a smile. By the way, she still can fit in her uniform for those of you wondering. “My diet rules are simple: eat everything, but in moderation; deprivation is for the birds. There are no limits on champagne, however.”
I asked Becky what were her “I will never forget” experiences during her years with Pan Am. “Obviously the fall of South Vietnam and evacuating the refugees and orphans would have to be the most important historical moment. But I loved going up to the cockpit at sunrise as we were on descent into Papeete. Our approach took us between the islands of Tahiti and Moorea, and we would dip our wings when we flew by the Club Med on Moorea to let them know we were arriving, and would be on the first ferry over. It was breathtakingly beautiful”.
Becky’s book “Flying: A Novel” takes an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the airline world, its eccentric characters, glamorous stewardesses, and the tumultuous history of America of the time. Says Becky, “You can buy our book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Author House. It is available in hardback, paperback, Kindle and Nook formats. We hope it will be in Beaufort bookstores soon. We felt the time was right for a serious book about the lives of these flight crews, and how close they were to history.”
While the book is complete fiction, the authors (Becky wrote it with fellow stewardess Paula Helfrich) believe that flight crews deserve a serious hard-hitting story about airline life.
“They are all heroes” says Becky, “It’s the flight attendants who will get you out of an aircraft if it goes down. It’s the flight attendants who see our soldiers off to war and are the first ones to welcome them home again. They volunteer for the evacuation from war zones and natural disasters at great personal risk. They work long hours and they sacrifice missing their children’s birthdays and daily family life. It’s vigilant flight attendants who really pay attention to what goes on in that airplane and protect us from passengers who do us harm. And yes, sometimes they make the ultimate sacrifice and give their lives.”
We are glad that a Beaufortonian finally gives them their due, in a story that is both riveting and fun. Job well done Becky!