An American Hero
On a cold February morning in the early ‘90’s, I was shooting sporting clays in Tampa, Florida. A cold rain ran us into a metal barn that had tables, chairs, coffee and doughnuts. I sat at one end of a long table romancing the hot coffee when a big man, followed by a black lab, walked through the door. He had a 28 gauge over and under crooked over his left arm as the cold drizzle turned into a hard rain. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the hero of the Gulf War, looked like a mountain of a man or an NFL lineman. There were only about fifteen men in the building and many ran up to him wanting an autograph. He politely obliged and then looked in my direction and walked to my table and sat down directly down across from me and my friends, Larry Bridge and Mike Stinger.
Staring dead in my eyes the General said, “Where did you get the hat?”
Startled, I replied, “A buddy of mine in Alaska who flies me into the bush gave it to me.”
You see folks; the hat had a logo that said, “Alaska West Air.”
The General asked, “You hunt there?”
I replied, “I’ve made five or six unguided hunts there.”
“Oh yeah?” he replied “Where do you hunt?”
I said, “We fly northwest out of Kenai.”
The General looked at me with the eyes of an eagle. “Young man, Alaska is a big place….where do you hunt?”
I smiled realizing the General knew his stuff. “Sir, we load up in Kenai, fly across the Cook Inlet, through the Alaskan Range past Port Alsworth, then fly into 17-B where the Chilikadrotna River feeds the Mulchatna. Sometimes we’ll float from Twin Lakes down the Chili and at other times we will fly into a mountain lake around Half Cabin Mountain or into Lake Iliamna.”
The big man stared at me with firm eyes. Then he smiled. Four men came to the table to talk to the General but he was focused on me. He reminded me of Frank North, one of my college football coaches. He stared at me with eyes of steel.
“I hunt in Alaska,” the General said. “I was stationed there for years and even today I like to fly into King Salmon.” He continued talking, “I like to hunt with a Ruger number 1 single shot in 7ml mg. When I was stationed there, I many times floated rivers hunting and only carried one cartridge for that rifle..…… I wanted a challenge.”
I replied, “Yes sir, but I bet you carried a hand gun with lots of bullets didn’t you sir?”
There was a pause. His firm stare slowly turned into a smile. “Bet your sweet ### I did!” he replied.
We both started laughing as did the other men around us. You see, I knew the General was an American hero, a soldier, but now I also knew he loved the outdoors. And for a few moments on a cold, wet February morning I sipped hot coffee and had the great honor to talk about rifles, salmon, tents and Alaska with an American legend. Most around us talked with him about the war, the Army and Saddam Hussein, but he always drifted the conversation back to hunting and the merits of a 375 H&H mag or the 44 mag compared to the 1911 45 acp.
Months later I worked out a deal with General Schwarzkopf to bring managers and salesmen with my company to shoot sporting clays in Tampa, which he graciously agreed to. He signed autographs in his new book, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” for our men. On this occasion, the General also brought along his son, Christian, so I had the great opportunity to shoot clays with him and his son, as well as my father who I had invited. The General beat me by a couple points. The man could shoot………I mean he was good! As a thank you for his time and generosity, I gave him a custom spinning rod and reel.
General Schwarzkopf, Scott Railey and John Pate
The General handled the fishing rod, looked at me, nodded and said, “It has great balance – thank you Scott.”
General Schwarzkopf, Scott Railey, shooting and John Pate
I would see General Schwarzkopf once a year in December like clockwork. He and his family enjoyed oranges and grapefruit from my grove. It was always the same scene; his office manager would greet me with a cup of coffee. It reminded me of a White House office…..almost presidential. As always, there was the Beretta 9 mm, unholstered, sitting on his desk. You see, General Schwarzkopf was a man loved by Americans, but he was still an enemy to Islamic radicals.
One of my more memorable trips was when I brought a CZ 416 Rigby to show him. He worked the bolt of the big rifle with satisfaction and we discussed the impressive cigar-sized cartridge that he held in his hand.
He had just returned from an African hunting trip and asked me, “Would you like to see my pictures?”
We sat at a small round table as the General told me in detail about shooting a cape buffalo at fifteen yards with a 375 H&H mag. He told me about hunting for a lion and how they built the blind. He explained about a lion that roared six feet from the blind. At this time the General stood up, raising his arms out and roared like a lion! At that moment I saw images of Teddy Roosevelt. It was a special time; a special place that I will always cherish.
On one trip I gave the General a Remington Rolling Block in 50-70. I watched as the m big man caressed the old rifle, thumbing the action and shouldering the arm.
“Scott, it’s going over our fireplace in Colorado,” he said.
Over the years I noticed a decline in the great man’s health. Arthritis, old injuries and wounds were taking their toll. He had made many jumps from planes and his back, shoulders and knees were crippling him.
The last time I visited General Schwarzkopf in 2008 and I was shocked at his pain and suffering.
In 2009, I took fruit, but this time his secretary met me because the General wasn’t feeling well.
I moved to our farm in Alabama the next year and lost contact with him. A few months ago while drinking coffee at my desk, my wife Kathy came in and said, “Honey, did you hear about General Schwarzkopf?”
With concern I asked, “No, what’s wrong?”
Kathy softly said, “Scott, he died.”
In disbelief, I repeated, “He died??”
My wife softly replied, “It was just on Fox News…..he passed away.”
I turned away as tears welted in my eyes. You see my friends, Americans need heroes. There are too many bad examples in our society today. Musicians poisoning young minds with hate; tramps singing at musical awards dressed as the devil and famous athletes living a life of crime are not heroes. We need real heroes…..our young people need heroes. I think of my own father, JD Railey, a quiet man….a veteran of WWII……a real hero. Heroes are important to us, whether it’s a Dad, a preacher, a football coach or a military man. The great General Schwarzkopf will be missed – he would have made a superior president. Yes, we need our heroes…..we need them now more than ever.
May God bless you, your family and America.
Posted by Scott Railey