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National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Roll of Honor

Age: 56
Year of Death: 2002

Milt Stollak

Submitted by his daughter

If it takes all the future
We’ll live through the past
If the phone doesn’t ring. It’s me
Milt Stollak was a tanker pilot with Hawkins & Powers of Greybull‚ Wyoming. On July 18‚ 2002‚ his tanker suffered a structural failure in the left wing while dropping retardant on the Big Elk Fire in Colorado. Milt had turned 56 years old just six days before.

He said‚ ‘It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that’s enough reason to go for me
It’s my job to be better than the rest
And that makes a day for me.’
He began flying when he was 18 years old‚ and his entire life he defined himself as a pilot. It was who he was‚ and what he wanted to be. His career in aviation began when he opened his own flight school and aircraft rental at Van Nuys Airport‚ in Van Nuys‚ California. He operated his flight school until he discovered his passion in aviation – warbirds.

His career in warbirds began in 1971‚ when he‚ his wife‚ Tina‚ and best friend‚ Gary Ancil‚ purchased their first bomber‚ a Douglas A-26. Along with Jim Rogers‚ Milt’s friend from childhood‚ they salvaged it‚ restored it‚ and then sold it. That was the beginning of a 20 year long partnership and career in antique aircraft salvage and restoration.

Some of the aircraft they restored are still in existence today: a B-25 at the Marine Base in Quantico‚ Virginia and an A-26 at March Air Force Base in California. The last two warbirds that Jim and Milt restored were bought for the Flying Tigers Air Museum in Paris‚ Texas.

I’m growing older but not up
My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck
Let those winds of time blow over my head
I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead
Milt loved to laugh‚ and loved a good joke. He was a quiet man who made his presence known through his wry sense of humour and his practical jokes. It was in his nature to try to make a joke‚ or make people laugh‚ and he always tried to make the best out of a bad situation‚ and live every day as if it were the last.

During the off-season‚ Milt was a homebody. He’d take that time to visit with his daughter and his wife‚ work on his 1975 Porsche 914‚ and lounge in the sun. This was the time he would use to visit with his closest friends. Whether it was enjoying a long lunch at The Odyssey‚ looking out over the San Femando Valley‚ or cruising up the coast to Mendocino County‚ listening to Jimmy Buffett‚ Milt looked forward to spending time with his friends. He was an avid collector of movie memorabilia. One of his favorites was a framed montage from Dark of the Sun‚ which was a gift from close friend‚ Gary. He also enjoyed The X-Files‚ and looked forward to every episode. Milt was a Jimmy Buffett fan for 25+ years‚ and looked forward every year to the concert. In all of those years‚ he only missed two concerts.

Sometimes I catch her dreamin’ and wonder where that little mind meanders
Is she strollin’ along the shore or cruisin’ o’er the broad Savannah
I know someday she’ll learn to make up her own rhymes
Someday she’s gonna learn how to fly
Many people who knew Milt have told of how he was always talking about his daughter‚ Brandi. One of Milt’s oldest friends said that Milt’s life could be broken down into two halves – before she was born‚ and after. His closest friends said that you couldn’t have a discussion with him without Milt talking about his daughter.

Before she could even speak‚ Milt began teaching her how to play chess. When she was old enough to walk on her own. Milt began teaching his daughter to fly – he’d strap her into the right seat of whichever warbird he owned at the time‚ and imparted his love of flying to her.

But then I think about the good times
Down in the Caribbean sunshine
In my younger days I was so bad
Laughing about all the fun we’ve had
Milt was born in California‚ and all his life he remained a true Californian. Although he was based in Alaska for a couple of fire seasons‚ he held his breath‚ bundled up against the snow‚ and lived to come home to Palm Springs. All of his life‚ he loved the ocean‚ the sand‚ and the warm weather. If he wasn’t in California‚ and it wasn’t tanker season‚ then you could be sure he was vacationing in St. Somewhere.

And I miss you so badly‚ I love you madly
I’m feelin’ so glad just to be headin’ home‚
I’ve been battlin’ motel maids‚ and chewin’ on Rolaids
Countin’ the hours till I get home
Milt was less than a week away from coming home when he died. This was going to be his last year on the tankers‚ and he couldn’t wait to come home. The last conversation his daughter had with him concerned coming home‚ his Porsche‚ and his cats. He said he’d call her the next evening. He was killed the next day.

Although Milt Stollak has died‚ his legacy will live on. It will live on in any person who views one of his warbirds that are still in existence in air museums today‚ and becomes inspired to fly. It will live on in his friends‚ who will never forget the man who stood beside them‚ through thick and thin‚ and was there for them – always; it will live on in his wife‚ Tina – who will always remember the young man who drove his car through a fence around a park at midnight‚ just so she could swing on the swing-set; it will live on in his daughter‚ Brandi‚ who will always remember the father who taught her about cars‚ airplanes‚ life‚ and chess; and it will live on in a certain young man who climbed over an airport fence 30 years ago to ask Milt if he could take a closer look at his B-25. Milt looked at him‚ and said‚ ‘Sure‚ kid. Climb on in.’ Today‚ that young man is a pilot himself‚ and won’t ever forget the man who gave him his start in aviation.

Milt Stollak was many different things‚ to many different people. The one thing we all have in common is this: He flew into each of our lives‚ and we’ll never be the same.

He died so many months ago
While summer filled the air
And though I cried I was so proud
To love a man so rare
He’s somewhere on the horizon now
A place he ought to be
With one hand on forward throttle
He’s waving back at me

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  1. 200 years too late. Miss you so badly, and the weather is here. Wish you were too.

    – Bran
  2. I just want to live happily ever after — every now and then.

    – Bran
  3. The battle’s won, and we kinda won, so we’ll sound our victory cheer…where do we go from here? Miss you so badly, the weather is here, wish you were too.

    – Me
  4. 15 years – miss you, Dad.

    – Brandi R Stollak
  5. Milt was a good friend, solid person and my Jimmy buffett connection in Greybull. Always enjoyed his company and still miss him today. RIP

    – Scott
  6. The day you died wasn’t the worst day. It has been the 7680 days since then, and all the days yet to come.

    – Brandi R Stollak
  7. I played little league baseball with Milt in No. Hollywood. Even tho I was a 9 year old and he was 12 we became good friends for several years. I knew his sweet parents and remember when the Hollywood Frwy took out their home on Oxnard St. We lost track around 1964 but I’ve never forgotten him and what a great guy he was.

    – Ken Cave