DETROIT — Col. Colin Chauret was a fighter pilot who served his country in three wars — World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He grew up in Bay City, Mich., where he spent his high school years daydreaming about being a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain.
He graduated, enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and never looked back. “I’m proud I made full colonel without a college degree.” he told me from San Antonio, where he lives. “You couldn’t do that today.”
He has a Bronze Star and a chest full of medals, many from the 100 combat missions he flew in Korea.
Though he has lived in Texas since he retired from the Air Force, he keeps a close eye on what’s happening in his native Michigan. He has strong political opinions, and for the past two decades has stopped being shy about expressing them. But they aren’t what you might think.
“Governor Rick Snyder? You ask what I think of him? Lower than the belly of a snake,” Mr. Chauret said. “Right to work, as Snyder proposes, should be called right to be fired without cause. Does he really hate the common man this much?
“You know, I hate to say it,” Mr. Chauret added, “but since the second Bush, there’s really been a neo-fascist element in the Republican Party.”
The colonel fumed: “It makes me wonder why I and other military have risked what we have, including those that made the supreme sacrifice, when one of our states is taken over by a little dictator. This is not short of criminal, it is criminal.”
We aren’t accustomed to thinking of career military men as liberals. But the colonel, a religious man who believe God saved him from a 1949 plane crash, doesn’t shy away from that designation.
“I am a liberal and damn proud of it,” he said. “After all, Jesus was the greatest liberal of all, and that is good enough for me.”
The colonel, who turns 90 next month, didn’t always feel this way. Forty years ago, he was a self-described Goldwater Republican. But after he retired in 1973, he decided to get the college education he’d missed.
Like many other military men, he started out studying engineering. “But that was too technical, too narrow,” he said. So instead he earned two bachelor’s degrees — one in psychology and one in sociology.
“That opened my eyes,” Mr. Chauret said. He read a lot of economics too. That led him to the political cause he most cares about: our national debt.
He wrote his first political letter to the first President George Bush in 1990, expressing concern about it. Back then, the national debt was about $3.2 trillion. He is angry that lawmakers have been borrowing — “their word for stealing,” he said — from the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Today, the national debt is $16 trillion. The colonel shares the view of many Republicans that this will ruin our nation. But he differs strongly in assessing what caused the exploding debt — and on the solution.
“It all started with President Ronald Reagan, under whose administration the rich stopped paying their fair share,“ he told me.
“Look,” he said, showing me complex charts and graphs. “He took the top tax bracket, which had not been below 70 percent since 1936, down to 28 percent, and promptly escalated the Cold War, borrowing to pay for it.
“Then President Clinton raised the top bracket to 39.6 percent, kept us out of war, and balanced the budget. Yes, he was a rapscallion in about every way,” he chuckled, “but an excellent president.
“But then we got Bush Two, who lowered the top bracket, started two wars, and ballooned the debt," he said.
The colonel knows the deficit has been at record proportions under President Obama, but he believes that was necessary to stave off depression.
Today, he spends his mornings sending mass emails to officeholders. He keeps himself trim by walking for miles in a local shopping mall with his second wife, Kittye.
He is still a proud and patriotic Air Force man. Whenever he sees a wounded veteran, he stops, shakes the veteran’s hand, and says thanks.
He raised nine children, several of whom have gone on to distinguished military careers themselves. He thinks, however, that the Pentagon budget can be cut, and he’d like to see many of our forces brought home and used to help rebuild America.
Colonel Chauret knows he is one of the fast-dwindling number of the Greatest Generation. “I’ve had a good life, no question,” he said. “I just want to make sure our grandchildren do too.
“You know, my wife thinks I don’t know when to shut up,” he went on. “Maybe it’s time to hang up the jockstrap, live a little.
“But I feel what little I was able to accomplish helped in President Obama being here for eight years. With the help, that is, of the good Lord.”
Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org