Mike Trahan is not a man who writes fiction. Mike writes about the reality of his life. Take the boy from West Orange, Texas. Take the fully trained pilot wearing his wings. Take the man who sat back and remembered where he came from to write his life story. Everyone today it seems is writing a memoir– but you need to have memories to write one, and just one conversation with Mike Trahan tells you that his memories are golden. Let me show you what I mean…
Q) Good morning, Mike. Let me start by asking how it feels to be a published author?
A) Well, it has been a very pleasant and unexpected surprise, Nick. I didn’t expect people to be as interested in my book as they apparently are.
Q) Did you originally write the book to just amuse yourself and your friends?
A) I wrote it for my family. I wanted them to know some history of my growing up years. When I mentioned I was writing it, my friends started saying they wanted a copy, too.
Q) It would be safe to say that the project became bigger overnight, right?
A) Well, another motivation came from my Facebook friends. I shared a few of my old flying stories, and several people said I should put those in a book. So I started on Thanksgiving weekend, and had 496 pages done by January 9. Yes, it became much more than I envisioned overnight!
Q) The Gift tells the story of your fight to go from Mike Trahan of West Orange, TX to Captain Mike Trahan, USAF pilot. You were hindered by many obstacles along the way– would you agree that your book is inspirational? That it is a story that could help a lot of people deal with their own obstacles?
A) I can only hope it will inspire people, Nick. I mainly wanted my kids to know that each failure presents an opportunity and two choices. You can accept failure and just quit, or you can go another direction to reach your goal.
Q) Let’s go back to West Orange in the late forties and fifties. How would you describe those days? I think a lot of readers will be amazed at how different things were for your generation.
A) I would describe them as a cross between “Happy Days” and “Mayberry.” The fifties were the most carefree years of my life. We kids had total freedom to roam anywhere, without fear of being kidnapped or worse. And we spent ALL our time OUTSIDE!
Q) You come from probably the most successful generation of men and women the world has ever seen. Would you say that part of that success is down to the ‘real’ freedoms you enjoyed as you grew up?
A) I think my generation succeeded because we knew if we wanted something, we had to work for it. We were not entitled to anything we didn’t earn. For example, my father could have easily paid for my flying lessons, but he knew it would mean more to me if I paid for it; and guess what? He was right.
Q) I can totally identify with that. Let me ask you something, Mike. Do you believe that spirit has disappeared from the modern world?
A) My honest answer to that would be YES I do. Right now, I am not seeing a lot of evidence that it still exists.
Q) Sadly, I think it is a dying ideology which is why I found your book so refreshing. I think many others will find inspiration from your achievements. How does that feel?
A) My achievement was comparatively insignificant on the grand scale of things, but I had simple goals in life. I only wanted to be a Husband, a Father, and a Pilot – in that order of priority – and God granted me that wish. The only way to achieve a goal is to keep trying in spite of setbacks on the way.
Q) Well, you achieved all you asked for! Let’s talk about flying. When you were fifteen you took your first flight, correct? How did that one experience change your life?
A) That flight answered a question that had been formatting in my conscious all my life. The question was, “Would I like flying and could I do it?” Once I knew I would and I could, my course was set! From that day forward, I had a goal and a focus!
Q) It was really that simple for you? You didn’t have dreams of being Elvis or a huge movie star? Flying was enough to make you happy and satisfied?
A) Remember the times, Nick. We had just finished World War II. Being a pilot was a pretty exciting occupation back them. So, that was enough for me. I might have wanted to be Roy Rogers at one point though!
Q) Roy Rogers isn’t a bad choice at all! You identified your dream and wanted to make it happen. What steps did you take?
A) I started taking flying lessons. Simple as that. People tell me all the time, “I wish I had learned to fly.” I ask them how many lessons they have taken. When they say none, I tell them maybe they didn’t want it bad enough then. I started when I was six months too young to fly solo. I had to wait until my sixteenth birthday to do a solo flight.
Q) That’s another thing I found reading your book– you don’t pull any punches. You achieved because you got off your ass and went and did what you needed to do. Is that something you consciously tried to express to readers?
A) No, it was not something I deliberately stressed. It was just the way I did it. I learned, in football, that you are going to get knocked on your ass a lot. The trick was getting up and going for it again. Life is a lot like football in that regard. Which brings up a point. Life did not bring things to me, I had to identify them and go out and get them. Unfortunately, today, people think opportunities should be dropped at their doorstep. I am talking about a work ethic that seems to be missing. I know so many people who just don’t have the drive to get out and get a job.
Q) You talk a lot about your parents in The Gift, Mike. How were they supportive of your choices?
A) They were completely supportive. Oh, there were things they would not let me do, but overall they were very supportive in my endeavors, and they did their best to help me achieve them.
Q) You have proven yourself to be incredibly driven and resourceful. As you know, there is a huge youth unemployment problem in the world today. What actions would you recommend for all the people out there struggling to find work? Do you have any advice for them?
A) I recommend doing something besides lying around wishing things would happen. Get your ass out there and make it happen! I suggest they take whatever is available UNTIL their big break comes along, instead of doing nothing but living on the Government Teat.
Q) Your other love at the time was football, right? At one point it was a pretty close call for you– you had to choose a path. How did you make that choice between football and flying?
A) Flying was always number one. Football was something I enjoyed. I was not blessed with great speed or agility, so my prospects of going anywhere with it were small. My Ole Miss scholarship was a fluke. I was a no-name player who got a chance to try out at the number one school in the country – and I made it.
Q) A fluke? You don’t believe that you could have made it?
A) No, the fluke was having an Ole Miss alumnus seeing me play and recommending me to the Ole Miss recruiter. His name was Jack Dease. Jack took me to see the recruiter and that is how it happened. I was just naive enough to believe I could play anywhere.
Q) Flying was always number one? Did you have a natural talent for it? Did you pick it up easily?
A) How can I say this with humility? I was kind of a duck out of water on the ground. When I became airborne everything came together for me. I became a part of the airplane and it became a part of me. I was a natural born pilot – another Gift from God. I was a very quick study so I did pick it up easily. I was “pretty” good at a lot of things, but not great at them. Flying was the one thing I was VERY good at.
Q) Did your instructor see your talent from your first lesson or did it take time for him to take notice?
A) Well, let me put it this way. The FIRST thing he said to me, on my first lesson was this – “Dammit, Trahan, are you trying to KILL us?” So no, I had to prove myself to him.
Q) Have you yourself ever taught anyone else to fly?
A) Yes, I am a Flight Instructor. I spent nine years in Delta’s Flight Training Department teaching Flight Engineers and then Captains. I taught some civilians to fly in light planes, too.
Q) I guess you had similar experiences and reactions to your flight instructor?
A) I’ve had a few thrills from some of my students, yes.
Q) If you had the chance to play your whole life over again, would you do things the same way or would you have changed some things?
A) I would change a few things. I would develop a strong study ethic early on and take academics more seriously. I would have let high school football be the end of my football career. College football was nice, but it was a pipe dream. Basically, I would not change anything else.
Q) In your book The Gift you talk about an operation to remove a cyst that nearly threw you from your dream. What happened in your words, Mike?
A) Yes, in my Junior year we discovered I had a cyst on my tailbone. When I went to ROTC Summer Training, the Air Force doctor said it was a disqualifying item. He said it had to be surgically removed and that there would be a two year wait after the surgery before I could get on flight status. That put me about a year and a half behind my contemporaries. It was the must frustrating point in my life. I was finished with college and all my ROTC requirements – and I had to SIT there for nine more months and wait. It didn’t sidetrack me, it just delayed me.
Q) How did you cope with all that free time?
A) While I waited, I did all the flying I could to sharpen my skills for when I did get to flight school. I taught flying, flew charter flights, etc. I worked for my Instructor at his flight school.
Q) You spent your time honing your skills and waiting for your chance?
A) Yes. I had a pretty serious workout program during that time, too – to be physically fit when I got there. All that helped greatly down the road. My friend Larry and I played three sets of tennis between 0600 and 0700 every morning.
Q) Three sets? Your determination to succeed just comes across so strongly. When you did get into ROTC you led your class for much of the time, correct? You were the top flier?
A) No, I was the top cadet in my ROTC Summer Training Flight. When I got to Air Force Pilot Training I led my class until the second to last check ride – and I had a flight that cost me that number one position. I just had a bad day on a check ride.
Q) It was just a bad day? No other reason for it?
A) I won’t make excuses. I just screwed up a check ride. I made a major mistake at the beginning of the ride (tried to take off without any fuel in the airplane) and it went downhill from there. I could do NO right on that ride.
Q) Sometimes, even the best get bogged down. So what’s next for you, Mike? Another book?
A) I am already writing the follow-up book to The Gift. This one will be about flying the line in the Air Force. First, in C-141 Jet Transports around the world, and then my year in Vietnam flying the AC-47 Gunship. Book three will be the Delta Air Lines years. I’ve learned, through this exercise, that it’s not impossible to write a book!
Q) Not at all! Not when you have so much to say! Well, thank you for speaking to me, Mike. I hope I’ve given you a good experience.
A) I’ve enjoyed this. May I add one thing though? I want to say that, throughout my life, when I wanted something badly, I always asked God to let me have it IF it was in accord with His will for me. Because of that He has had His hand on my life throughout, and has blessed so many of my endeavors, and He has also stopped me when I was heading down the wrong path. So, my everlasting gratitude to Him. Thank you, Nick!
So, what did I think of Mike Trahan? I have read and reviewed the book, and I feel he is part of something the world needs. He has experience, drive and the will to succeed. He has proven it, and his book The Gift is an inspirational read… I would suggest it wholeheartedly. You can connect with Mike on Facebook.