As we sailed over to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Leahy (CG-16), the war was raging. The Leahy was a 623-foot-long guided missile cruiser capable of destroying enemy aircraft 100 nautical miles away.
This would be my second time over in the Gulf and I knew what I was in for. On the first visit an Iranian F–4 Phantom took an attack profile on our ship at 500 knots at night just a couple hundred feet above the water in an attempt to get off an anti-ship missile. When there was no action and only fear the mood was darkened by various things. Oil well fires turned the day sky dark, poisonous sea snakes swam all around the ship, in water covered by a sheen of oil. I even remember seeing a great white shark come out of the water to devour our ship’s garbage.
In my “free” time I would study to pass my boards. I stood watches lasting up to a total of eight hours a day. It was grueling schedule as I had a full-time job on the ship managing the Auxiliaries Division and later the Navigation Department. Sleep was never certain, and it rarely came the same time each day due to the rotating 24-hour watch schedule.
Before I left for the Middle East a very close friend of mine, Susan Gilbert, gave me a journal and encouraged me to write my thoughts down. Those thoughts weren’t all good. Varying degrees of excitement, fear, sadness, and humor defined how I was feeling.
This was all before the internet, or cellphones, so when my friend would write or call me on a landline she always asked if I was writing in my journal. I did find a way to write from time to time and fill up some of those pages with things that would eventually define the rest of my life.
Some 31 years later, home in San Diego on a rainy day, I came across the journal in one of my fireproof safes. I had read the first few pages years before and placed a paperclip on one page that said, “Wouldn’t it be a great life to own real estate, collect rents and travel the world.” That turned out to be exactly what I ended up doing for a profession after some starts and stops in small business. That real estate business continues to be the foundation for the DeLaurentis Foundation and fund a great many projects in aviation as well as travel.
This time, I decided to read the remaining journal. A few more pages in, I was surprised to read: “I want to learn how to fly a plane.” Another few pages later I was shocked to find it said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have my own plane and travel the world. Going from place to place. To do that for a year would be a truly incredibly experience.” My jaw dropped as that phrase described almost exactly my most recent flight around the world over the poles that I did in the Citizen of the World in 2019 and 2020, which lasted almost nine months.
I sent Gilbert a picture of the journal and said, “Do you remember this?” At first she did not, but when I also included pictures of the words I had written, she remembered. Since that time, Gilbert became my mentor, publisher, the vice president of the foundation, and my most trusted friend. She has helped me now with four books and two audio books, and we are working to complete a 12-part docuseries called “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth and Beyond.”
What I’m trying to share is that our motivation and inspiration to fly can come from many places. That nudge can come at some of our most challenging times—in this case, at a time when I was steaming into harm’s way. Our written (and spoken) words are very powerful and do make things happen in our world. We can manifest the lives we want as I did almost 31 years before laying the blueprint for my work, my passion for flight, and eventually the foundation we would use to change the world.
I learned we just have to be open to what is available to us, take chances, and have faith along the way—maybe even a dose of courage in the midst of the chaos that can sometimes surround us.
The most important point is that the inspiration we seek to accomplish some of the biggest things in life comes from inside of us with the help of those who really care for us. These people and the forces around us encourage us to our highest potential that allows us to take flight in a turbulent and chaotic world.