Wings of gold

Wings of gold

Naval astronaut

The pin you see in that photo is a unique specimen. At first glance it looks like the pin a Naval Aviator wears on his uniform, but that shooting star gives us pause. This is, in fact, the official uniform pin of a US Navy officer who also happens to be an astronaut.

I’ve had this pin for about 25 years. I bought at an Army-Navy store in Stoughton, Mass. (long gone now) around my senior year in high school. At the time I was certain that I wanted to be an astronaut and would attain that goal by first becoming a Naval Aviator. So I bought the pin and affixed to a cap that I wore everywhere, as an aspirational sign to myself and everyone else.

My dream took me as far as joining Navy ROTC my freshman year in college at Boston University. I would eventually drop out after that one year because I was too immature for the responsibility of college and do the work I was supposed to do. But at one point in the year, I ran into one of the officers running the NROTC unit. He was a Marine colonel and an actual Naval Aviator and I looked up to him like a puppy dog looks to his master. When he called me aside one day, I thought he wanted to give me a pep talk or congratulate me on my military bearing.

Instead he told me that since I hadn’t earned the wings I was wearing on my cap—and since wearing insignia wings on a cap was forbidden anyway—I needed to remove them and never do it again. I pleaded ignorance—only partially true since I suspected they were authentic wings—and obeyed. He was given pause upon closer inspection, however, at the shooting star, which he didn’t recognize. I proudly explained the significance and told him of my dream. He humored me and repeated his admonition.

And so for the last 25 years, the wings have sat in a succession of desk drawers and closet-bound boxes, waiting for what I know not. Maybe for the day I can pull them out and show my sons or daughters or grandchildren about how I once wanted to be an astronaut and how they should follow their dreams even if there’s the possibility of failure. Because a fear of failure is sometimes worse than the failure itself.

Meanwhile, the wings go back in a drawer until the next time I bring them out and think about how different my life would have been. And realize that I wouldn’t trade my life now for the thrill of spaceflight or flying high-performance jets.


Written by
Domenico Bettinelli