Military feature: Clovis native’s novel takes flight

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

The struggles of being a fighter pilot, and being the family of one,
form the basis for a new novel by a Clovis native married to a former
Cannon Air Force Base F-111 pilot.

“The Final Salute: Together We Live On” by Kathleen Rodgers tells
the story of fictitious pilot Tuck Westerfeld as he deals with
difficult relationships, war and, most of all, survivor’s guilt from
losing friends in the line of duty.

“Even though there’s a military setting, it’s still more about the characters,” Rodgers said.

When Rodgers’ husband, Tom, retired from a 20-year Air Force career
to fly commercial airlines in 1992, Rodgers began her novel. “The Final
Salute” came out in August, published by Leatherneck Publishing in
California.

“The thing that spurred me on, that kept me going all those years,
was that I wanted to give a voice to all those men who died flying for
their country,” Rodgers said.

Although many other authors had written about the life of military
pilots and their families and friends, Rodgers said she knew she had a
different story to tell.

“I wanted to write about the psyches of fighter pilots,” she said.

Rodgers’ journey in writing began with the Clovis High School
newspaper, continued to the Eastern New Mexico University public
affairs office and, at age 19 she joined the Clovis News Journal.

Rodgers married Tom in October 1979 at age 21. Her husband flew F-111s and later A-10 Warthogs.

Starting three weeks after her marriage, Rodgers said, it seemed
like one after the other of her husband’s friends were killed, mainly
in peace time. The deaths haunted her because she saw what they did to
her husband emotionally.

So, Rodgers eventually began writing articles for the Army, Navy and
Air Force Times on subjects such as the life of a pilot’s wife and
effects of a pilot’s death.

When her family moved to the Fort Worth, Texas, area upon Tom’s
retirement, Rodgers began her novel even though she had still-packed
boxes and young sons.

In the last 16 years, Rodgers said, she has rewritten the manuscript
more than 100 times and struggled to find a publisher. She gave the
main character the last name of a friend killed in a fighter crash and
included a poem written by the man’s widow.

Cannon and Portales are mentioned in the book.

In May, Neil Levin, the retired Marine Corps fighter pilot who
operates Leatherneck Publishing, agreed to have the book printed. Levin
said he was impressed with Rodgers’ understanding of pilots’ jargon and
how they are different.

“I had a lot of personal experiences along the lines she’s talking about,” he said.

Levin said he thought Rodgers was a good writer and had her work
with one of his editors to finish a book he would be proud to put his
name on.