Years ago, a boy bought his first book, a paperback bound copy of The Day The Red Baron Died. The boy had thought the Red Baron was nothing more than Snoopy’s imaginary foe in the Peanuts comic strip he would read every Sunday in The Chicago Tribune.
The boy was only twelve. He had not known the Baron had actually lived, had a real name—Manfred von Richthofen—and had been a German fighter pilot in World War I. His squadron was called The Flying Circus. All the planes were painted brilliant,
taunting colors. The Red Baron shot down eighty Allied planes from his scarlet red Fokker triplane in the skies over France.
According to a blurb on the back cover, he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five on April 21, 1918, when he chased an Allied plane far behind Allied lines, putting himself in harm’s way, a mistake he had always warned his pilots against. No
one knew who had fired the fatal shot. A Canadian fighter pilot or Australian and British anti-aircraft gunners? The book promised an answer.
The boy bought the book and read it quickly. Intrigued by the idea of fighter pilots and encouraged by a determined and curious mother, he also wrote to the author, Dale M. Titler, with questions.
His letter prompted a reply, and a correspondence ensued between the author and the boy that has lasted to this day, almost forty years later. Their relationship advanced and matured as the boy grew to manhood. In all that time, they had never met or
spoken to one another.
Mr. Titler was an anonymous, benign presence. The boy put his thoughts and questions on paper and mailed his letters into a depthless void over hundreds of miles from his childhood home in suburban Chicago to Mr. Titler’s mailbox in Gulfport,
Mississippi. The boy was buoyed by the assurance that he would receive a kind and encouraging response.
Hang in there, Mr. Titler wrote on January 30, 1980. I think you have the spark and drive to accomplish what you want in the world. Don’t try to get it all at once, however. Remember that living is the reason for life....