Stanley Luther’s memoir ‘A Lifetime in the Atmosphere’ recounts his adventures as a military and civilian pilot
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
What a life.
Stanley R. Luther’s autobiography, “A Lifetime in the Atmosphere: A Memoir of Flight,” is a story of a life well lived.
In the memoir, Luther tells how he truly watched the years fly by as a military and civilian pilot.
“It never went away,” he says of his love for flying, a passion that began when he was a young boy in Kansas. “Growing up, I was fascinated by flight and would look up at the sky whenever an airplane or balloon went by. I’d tilt my head back, wondering about their destinations and their journeys.”
As he tells in the book, he did more than wonder. As an Air Force pilot he logged nearly 640 hours flying military bombers, transports and fighter planes, including 108 combat missions, mostly in Vietnam. And as a civilian he’s counted another 7,000 hours flying 92 different kinds of aircraft.
‘Any chance I get, I take to the air’
“Flying has been my lifelong passion — a love affair with the skies. It doesn’t matter what kind of airplane: little, big or anything in between. Any chance I get, I take to the air with a flight instructor who allows me to take the controls. I still relish executing turns and reversals, it’s a passion that flows through my veins.”
That passion, combined with assistance from others who helped him tell his story, led to “A Lifetime in the Atmosphere.” Along with Luther’s vivid memories, the book is enhanced by dozens of photos that show Luther at many stages in life — as a perky young boy, smiling happily alongside the woman he loved, and with his family. Some recall the many places he and his family called home while others feature some of the planes he flew.
“Flying is my passion. It didn’t go away. I think it was who I am.”
His life as a military and civilian pilot took Luther and his family around the world. After retiring from the military and civilian flying-related jobs, he and his late wife, Nellie, landed in Medford. A cottage at the Rogue Valley Manor has been his home since 2007 and he says, “It’s a great place to be.”
A team effort
At age 96, the years have truly flown by. In retirement he decided to write about his life, originally mainly for his family. But what began as a series of recollections expanded into “Atmosphere,” his newly released book. He credits Nellie with “safeguarding a treasure trove of old photos, vinyl records, tapes and papers” used in creating the autobiography. Likewise, “I kept bits and pieces and thought I’d write what I did in the military.” But as those bits and pieces were collected and as his memories were refreshed — “I’d remember something and that would cause me to think about something else — I realized I needed help.”
Help came in the forms of Daniel Alrick and Julie Kanta. Over a nearly two-year period they helped polish Luther’s memories into “Atmosphere.” Kanta, who owns Plumb Creative, a Grants Pass book publishing company, oversaw the book’s design and layout. Alrick used Luther’s bits and pieces and memories to help shape the book.
As Alrick notes in the foreword, “His story is less about flying, per se, than about a man who pursued his dreams, succeeded at them, and could tell the world what it meant to him.”
Cuban missile crisis
Luther says a key element in his wanting to write the book was to remember the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which he laments “has faded from collective memory.”
At the time the Soviet Union was positioning ballistic missiles in Cuba, something the United States opposed. It appeared that a nuclear war was possible.
Luther, then a 35-year-old lieutenant colonel and B-47 pilot stationed in Kansas, remembers that uncertainty. “We were on the brink of war, and our mission was clear: we were to be prepared for a ‘full retaliatory response.’” As he writes, “But moving forward must include acknowledging how it ended well. I might not be here today had war erupted, and we came perilously close to that abyss. It’s a memory that should not fade into history.”
In telling stories of his multidimensional life, Luther, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, explains why he never attained the rank of full colonel, choosing to reject a promotion-enhancing desk job because he wanted to fly. Of the many planes he flew, the F-4 Phantom “stands out,” but his overall choice was the B-47, a six-engine, turbojet-powered bomber designed to fly at high subsonic speed at high altitudes. “I flew it for about 10 years…. It flew like a fighter jet.”
“A Lifetime in the Atmosphere: A Memoir of Flight,” revolves around the life of Stanley Luther, of a life well lived from a range of perspectives. He says in the book: “Life demands perspective, a good laugh, a lesson learned, and onward we go. There’s no cheating death forever, but for now, we can raise a glass that we’ve cheated it again.”
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 29: Corrected book prices and inserted missing word in a quote.