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Historical novel recounts author's days at 'Willie'
By Doug Snover

February 18, 2006

A small plane circles over the Arizona State University Polytechnic campus in the far East Valley. Its drone is barely noticeable, nothing like the shrieking jets that ruled this piece of sky when this was Williams Air Force Base.

But the almost-subliminal sound of that single airplane might be enough to trigger powerful memories in Terry Isaacson as he stands outside his office as vice provost of the Polytechnic campus.

Memories of the mid-1980s, when Isaacson, now a Kyrene Corridor resident, was a U.S. Air Force colonel and Wing Commander at “Willie.”

Approaching his 64th birthday, Isaacson was a career Air Force officer who now is in his second career as a university administrator.

A 1964 graduate of the Air Force Academy, he has taken to heart the words carved into a marble monument at the Academy: “Man’s Flight Through Life Is Sustained By the Power Of His Knowledge.”

“You know, those words on the statue are certainly true, but there’s more to it than that. Man’s flight through life is enriched by the love of family. It’s guided by the power of his principles. And it’s rewarded b the joy of doing things for others,” as Charles Turner said.

Charles Turner is not a real person, although he certainly shares some traits with Terry Isaacson.

Charles Turner is a character in Isaacson’s new book, “A Flight Through Life.”

Isaacson, you see, has embarked on a third career: Novelist.

“A Flight Through Life” is a historical novel published in 2005 by PublishAmerica, a relatively new publishing house in Baltimore. The novel tells the story of three generations of the Turner family through their shared love of airplanes.

“Aircraft, Charlie … It’s an aircraft,” Charles Turner corrects. But “Grandpa,” as Charles Turner is known in the novel, never explains the difference.

Terry Isaacson chuckles when he is asked to explain.

“There is no difference between an airplane and an aircraft. I don’t know. I’ve always referred to airplanes as aircraft, probably due to my experiences at the Academy. I probably overdid the airplane-versus-aircraft distinction in the book.”

So … is Charles Turner in the book really Terry Isaacson? Is “A Flight Through Life” an autobiography?

The question brings another chuckle.

“People ask me if it is autobiographical, and the answer is no. But people write about what they know and their experiences, so there’s obviously some of my experiences in the story.”

Isaacson, for example, was a fighter pilot. But he was not shot down in Vietnam as two of the book’s main characters were. And he does not own a private aircraft and live in Stellar Airpark, as Charles Turner does in the novel.

Nor do the characters in his book have Isaacson’s athletic history. He doesn’t mention it while being interviewed by The Wrangler News, but during his time at the Air Force Academy, Isaacson was a three-time All-American wrestler and he was nominated for the Heisman Trophy in football in 1963 along with such famous players as Dick Butkus and Heisman winner Roger Staubach, of the Naval Academy.

“All of the characters in the book are a blend of other people that I know, including my uncle and my father. The characters just become a blend of people. You create a character that fits the story. Many of my classmates were killed in action or were taken prisoner of war.”

In the novel, Grandpa Turner suffers a stroke while flying his 13-year-old grandson, Charlie, through the Salt River Canyon on the boy’s first flight. Charlie, with no previous flight experience, manages to land the plane without bodily injury, a feat that by itself might qualify “A Flight Through Life” as fiction.

Charlie never knew his father, the self-proclaimed Greatest Fighter Pilot in the World, who was shot down and killed in Vietnam trying to save his friend. That friend is captured by the Viet Cong, endures torture, but survives and later marries Charlie’s mom and becomes a true father figure in Charlie’s life, only to be afflicted with a fatal disease.

That stuff -- the tragedy, love, and disappointment -- is life, Isaacson says. “I know other people who have had similar bad luck stories in their lives, and some of them were classmates of mine,” he said.

“A Flight Through Life” is available at The Changing Hands Bookstore, the Barnes and Noble at Chandler Fashion Square, and other bookstores, according to Isaacson. A co-worker even found a copy at Waldenbooks in New York City, he said.

For most beginning novelists, however, promoting your book is up to you. PublishAmerica does not budget to promote its authors.

“You’ve really got to market it yourself,” Isaacson said. “And I really haven’t started that yet because I haven’t had time. I’ll do that when I leave the University, whenever that might be.”

Meanwhile, like all authors, Isaacson is moving on to a new work. Unfortunately, it “crashed” shortly after takeoff.

 “I started a new book, and oh my goodness, I had 14 chapters outlined and characters developed and my computer crashed. I had some of it backed up in hard copy, but I lost everything on the hard drive. I was devastated, but I learned a lesson there.”











































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