MIKE BRINKMAN – CONVERSATION

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Mike is a quiet guy. Mike doesn’t ask for the spotlight; he isn’t boastful, narcissistic, or flamboyant. Mike sits quietly and listens to conversations and then out of nowhere he will produce a terrific one-liner, bringing the conversation to a halt as everyone has a good laugh. Mike appears easy going and has an infectious laugh. Mike and I attended Pike high school together, but I don’t remember our paths having crossed all that much. At a recent social gathering I looked over at Mike and said to myself, I don’t think I really know him. I called and asked, “Can we talk sometime?” We set the date and agreed to meet. I picked up Mike at his home on the North West side of Indianapolis. He invited me into his home and I met his wife Mary. Mary was aware we were going to talk and she wanted me to know a few things in case he slid over them. We drove down the block to the local Bob Evans and asked for a table in the back to be away from the crowd.
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We ordered our coffee and James, our waiter, asked if we wanted to order now or later. I started by asking about brothers and sisters… “one brother, Ray, two years older, no sisters. I asked about his Dad. Mike came to life and was more than pleased to talk about his father.

Dad was an advertising guy and came up with the logo (A little man with a big yellow nose) for the Indiana National Bank. His father was also responsible for accounts with Casco Furniture and the Unbarger Feed and Grain. Mike beamed when he talked about his father; Dad worked for advertising agency Caldwell Lark & Sidener-VanRipers Inc. His dad was also a terrific carpenter and mechanic. Mike went on to tell me his dad had their house built in Pike Township and he finished the entire interior by himself. “My dad was amazing, he could do anything.”
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Mikes father encouraged him to attend college after high school, and so… Mike was off to school.

GMI – General Motors Institute. After High School Mike applied for and started attending, GMI in Flint, Michigan. GMI supports an apprentice program where one attends class room instruction in Flint for 6 weeks and then performs the job in a working plant somewhere for 6 weeks. Mike would rotate between Flint and the Indianapolis Chevy Truck Plant every six weeks. (The Indianapolis Chevy Truck plant is closed now but was located on White River Parkway.) Fellow Pike class mate Joe Dixon was also attending GMI at the same time. Joe and Mike talked and Mike expressed his fear he was not going to be able to keep up with the academics. Mike made the comment, “Joe Dixon is really smart.” Mike felt he saw the writing on the wall and finally talked with management. He indicated he was going to quit GMI and asked for a permanent position at the Chevy plant, something GMI did not do as a general rule.

Mike was unclear at this point, but thinks he was eighteen or eighteen years old when he accepted a full time position as a Maintenance Tech at the Indianapolis Chevy Truck Plant. As a Maintenance Tech Mike fixed the massive machines that stamped the truck body parts. If they stopped working, Mike was called to repair the stamping machines and keep the assembly line moving. Conveyer belts with scrap metal shavings from stamping machines would clog the belts and he and staff would have to clear the jam. “Those shavings and loose metal were very sharp and you could get hurt very easily.”
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Mike’s life was about to make a big change. Mike met a man at the Chevy plant that changed the direction of his life forever. His name was DICK POWELL.

Mike was very taken with Dick. In fact there was nothing about Dick that Mike didn’t like. Dick took Mike under his wing and talked with him about what he wanted to do with his life. Where did he want to go and what were his life’s dreams and ambitions?

Mike wanted to fly helicopters. This is a key turning point in this story and, of course, a turning point in Mike’s life. For the first time, Mike verbalized his true passion. He always wanted to fly helicopters. At the urging of Dick Powell, Mike (19) joined the Army National Guard. Dick was also a member of the Guard. Mike now had a mentor and Dick would show him the way to his passion… flying helicopters.

Mike signed up and was assigned to eight weeks of basic training at Fort Knox. After completing basic, Mike was re-assigned to the 76th Brigade at the Indianapolis South Side Armory light aircraft and helicopter school. His dream was not realized just yet as he was classified as a mechanic. But the reassuring part was he was close to the things he loved. Working on helicopters was not the dream, but it was close. He needed a way to get more experience. The only way he felt he could become a pilot was to become an officer.

OCS – Officer Candidate School. There were two ways to become a pilot, as a Warrant Officer or a real Officer. A Warrant Officer is a level between non-commissioned and commissioned officer. Mike knew he had to have the metal on his collar in order to reach his goal. Warrant Officer might get him there for a short period, but not for the long haul. He filled out all the paper work and was granted admittance.
The next stop was Fort Benning Georgia, then Fort Rucker Alabama, and finally The U.S. Army Primary Helicopter Center and School at Fort Wolters, Texas.

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The TH-55
(Mattel Messerchmidt)
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The OH-23
(Hiller Killer)
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Some flew
The OH-13
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Some even flew
fixed wing!..
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Over 41,000 students, representing over 30 countries, graduated from the primary helicopter school during the 17 years it functioned. Peak output occurred in 1967 with 600 students graduating each month. Mike was told the washout rate was 35%. For the first time in his life he was acing the written tests, but was a little unsure about handling the machine.

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In the back of his mind he was still worried if he would achieve his goal of flying a helicopter. He finished. He was a pilot! With only a few hours of flying time under his belt he couldn’t fly unless he had more hours.
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Viet Nam – Mike requested duty in Viet Nam. The only place he could fly a helicopter on a regular basis. I looked across the table at Mike and said something like… “Were you CRAZY? You can die going there.” Mike smiled and continued with the story. When he arrived in Viet Nam they asked him if he wanted to fly guns or skids. Guns means the helicopter had big guns on the front of the helicopter to shoot at people. The skid type helicopter is one that normally just lands quickly, picks up and moves out. Mike decided he was not cut out for shooting at people, so he requested “skids.” We should note that a skid helicopter has two guns, one on each side of the helicopter for protection.

 
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Then the paper work had to be sorted out, where to assign Mike. The commander looked at his records and reviewed his paper work and decided which unit and made Mike a Battalion Leader. When Mike arrived at his post, he was asked for his papers, Battalion Leader? The problem was they already had a Battalion Leader. The current Battalion Leader was not very happy and protested. The paper work was once again reviewed and Mike had five days of rank over the current leader, case closed.

Mike was “in country” for seven months with about 400 hours of flying time when he began to have a severe stabbing pain in his back. He said it felt like an ice pick stabbing him in his back. He got in his helicopter and flew himself to the medical area and asked for help. The hospital performed x-rays and tests and a biopsy and found a malignant tumor on his lung. Mike had the Viet Vam crud. He was transferred to Hawaii and they wanted to operate, open him up! Mike didn’t want to be cut on so far from home and asked if this procedure could happen closer to home. He was shipped to Alaska and they, too, wanted to cut on him, they wanted to open him up.
Again, he asked, “Can we do this closer to home?”

Back at Fort Knox it had been 6-8 months and the tumor grew smaller. The Army released him back to active duty.
Now at Fort Knox, a training station, Mike thought this might be fun.
“They really didn’t know what to do with me.”
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But the commander of the base was in trouble. The base had flunked three previous Inspector General Inspections and one more failure would result in loss of his command. Mike was assigned to clean up the place… the paper work, the supply area and personnel files, etc. At next inspection the base passed with flying colors. While at Ft Knox, Mike was able to get about two hundred additional hours in an OH23, a three seat bench type training helicopter.

DIVORCE – Divorce is never easy and Mike was not clear with me when he got married or when the marriage came to an end. Joyce Brinkman wanted a much different life style than he. Joyce wanted the finer things in life. She loved the political gamesmanship, the cocktail parties, the showing up and being seen and running for state elected office. Mike was uncomfortable with that lifestyle. At some point the six year marriage to Joyce Brinkman ended.

Retired Reserve – Mike retired from the Army at Fort Knox and then at some point, went back. He was called to duty for Desert Storm. as a staff officer in charge of “Beans and Bullets.” Mike liked Desert Storm. His comment to me was “We kicked ass and came home.”

What is it about the military life that Mike likes so much? His answer was, you could look in a book, find a regulation, and know what your job was, “It’s not hard to succeed in the military when you simply follow the rules.”
In 1973 Mike married Mary. Mary was, and is, a nurse.

Mike, now back in Indianapolis worked three years for Umbarger Feed and Grain, a year for Kittles Furniture, Engledow Landscaping Group for 4 years and the United State Postal Service.

Marathon Service Station – At the corner of 71st Street and Zionsville Road where the bank is located now, was a Marathon Service Station at one time. With 5,000 dollars in his pocket he bought the franchise and financed his supplies and fuel through Marathon.

“The money isn’t in gasoline; the money for me was in repair service.”
Mike said. Gasoline yields about 2 cents a gallon. It’s other services, like repair, is where you make your money.

I had to ask, “Didn’t you go at this a couple of times and why?”

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The first time I tried it I felt there was a strong customer base to pull from but I misjudged the customer base. And most people who start their own business say they don’t want to work for a boss. Running your own business is having a hundred bosses. Everyone who walks in the door is your boss. Marathon was happy with me. In fact, they sent people to me for training who were going to open their own station. I just couldn’t make enough money in repair to make expenses. So I quit. Later I came back and tried it again. I thought I knew more this time and could make it work. The area had more homes and the customer base was bigger, much bigger, than before. But competition was coming in all around me. And I found myself in the same spiral. I got very discouraged at the public. In general, people are just plain rude and they steal. I would put rolls of toilet paper in the rest rooms and a half hour later people would tell me there is no paper in the rest rooms. The general public steals toilet paper or anything else they can get their hands on. The other problem with running your own business is you put in a 10-17 hour day and you still have hours of paper work to do at night.

I asked Mike “What is the most irksome thing the general public does to someone like you?”
After a long moment he told me about the day he lost his temper with a customer. Mikes station at that time was a full service gas station. He would go out and fill the gas tank for you. It was raining very hard one day and a guy pulls up to the pump. I walk to his car standing in this down pour getting soaking wet and the customer rolls down his car window just a little, as not to get wet and asks me where 421 is located. I lost it! I opened the guy’s car door and pulled him out and told him if he was going to only ask me for directions he could stand in the rain with me and I would give him direction.

My question was… “And?”

Mike said he just stood there shaking like a leaf, afraid to move. I walked back inside and never saw the guy again.

I should be dead. Mike felt he had told me much of his life story. I stopped Mike and said I don’t think so…

“What? What did I leave out?”

Mary your wife, told me to ask you about your accident.

“Oh that…” Steve Pollard was a close friend of Mike’s and Mike needed a warm garage to work on his car. Steve said no problem. About seven or so Mike pulled his car into Pollard’s garage and Steve and his wife, Judy left for the evening.
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Mike works on his car most of the evening and feels he has the problem solved. He starts the car and walks to the back of the car to open the garage door to allow the fumes to escape. He slips on the garage floor, falls and hits his head on the concrete floor. Mike is unconscious on the garage floor in a closed garage with a car running.

About 11:00 PM or so the Pollards come home and answer the phone. It’s Mary, Mike’s wife.
“Can I talk to Mike?”

“Mike’s not here, is he Mary? He still wouldn’t be here… hold on let me look in the garage.”

The long and short of it, the car had stopped running at some point but Mike was still unconscious on the floor breathing exhaust fumes. The emergency people came and Mike was placed into an oxygen tent at Methodist hospital.

 
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“I finally woke up in this glass oxygen cage and started beating on the glass.” As a result of that accident Mike lost some short term memory, and memory continues being a challenge with simple things like directions when driving home from being out for the evening.
“Mike if you had any words of advice for a young person just getting out of high school starting their life… what would it be?”

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“Find something you are passionate about, if it’s not worth doing every day of your life, then don’t do it! Give 100% to your life’s work.”

“And how would you want to be remembered after your death?”

Long pause… “I would do anything for any one.”

“Mike… one last question… Life after death?”

“Well… I have done everything in life I wanted to do… I’m ready, I believe, I’m not afraid.”

About the author

Stephen A and Scott Duncan publish "ByDuncan.com" Scott photographs (Duncan Photography) and is the guy who keeps this site running. Steve (left) is a photographer (Duncan Photography) and writes to "ByDuncan.com"