Steve Lear's been here a year. If anyone overlooks him, they must not be paying
A Yule Brenner cut adorns his two-story frame. He leans into a gait that's more than a lumber, but it doesn't quite break into a lope. His stride is as distinctive as John Wayne's, but with purpose as though he's on another
Still, the owner of Lear's Main Street Pub & Grill in Enterprise will take a minute in passing to trade wisecracks or just shoot the breeze.
By Gary Fletcher
Observer Staff Writer
He usually has some little jewel to lay on his friends. His disclaimer is that he's "98 percent dishonest," but his fascinating tales ring of authenticity.
"We didn't take ourselves so seriously," Lear said in explaining why of all but one member of his squadron survived the Vietnam War.
He's full of jokes, but still on his wrist is an MIA bracelet inscribed with the name of Lt. Col. Gary Fors. That would have been his rank, Lear said.
Lear saw Fors go down in Laos.
Later, Lear and seven others flew four F-4 Phantom jet fighters over Fors' parents' rural Tacoma home.
"Their chickens probably didn't lay for two weeks," Lear quipped with a smirk that squints his eyes. The flyers then sat down to visit the parents in person.
Earlier, Lear graduated from Louisiana State University. Then he enlisted in the Marine Corps' buddy system with his pal "Jell-O.'' The characters of Lear's war stories are no less entertaining than those from the "MASH'' television series.
In World War II, Lear's father flew B-17s in Europe and B-29s over Japan with Curtis LaMae. By age 40, the B-52 pilot was the youngest Air Force colonel.
The son went through the air to air combat training that became Top Gun.
He met another WW II hero at El Toro, Calif. Pappy Boyington, who flew gull-winged Corsairs in the Pacific. Boyington's Black Sheep 211th was the sister squadron of Lear's.
"Boyington was quite a character," Lear said.
Lear's own wartime antics sound no less entertaining.
"A great commanding officer,'' Lear says of Capt. Jack McEncroe. But the commander was not above Lear's warzone pranks.
"I'll pack your duffel bag for you. Don't worry, I'll give you an extra set of everything," Lear told McEncroe when he got the chance to fly to Hawaii to meet his wife. When the commander unpacked he found Lear's dirty laundry.
In Vietnam, "we were the bait," Lear said about his 407 backseat F-4 missions. Half were north of the demilitarized zone intercepting MIGs sent up against bombing runs.
"A SAM (Surface to Air Missile) really looks big in a near-miss," Lear said.
Pilots took evasive maneuvers, then would lead one SAM toward another. The F-4's afterburner was cut and the heat-seeking missile went by, homing in on the other SAM.
Lear's wife, Cathi, did some flying of her own, too and not all without
The former Continental Airlines stewardess flew on troop transports to Vietnam.
On final approach into Da Nang one night, the passenger plane suddenly powered straight up and circled.
When she'd gathered herself to ask what had happened, the captain said that a sniper in a tree was shooting at them.
"Why don't they just shoot him?" she asked.
"Because they're afraid he'd be replaced by a better shot," was the answer she heard.
In November 1968 she met Lear at the officers' club. They married in Okinawa in May 1969. Back then marriage ended a "stew's" career.
The family's flying tradition was later carried on by Rebecca, their first born.
As an American Airlines flight attendant, her favorite route was Flight 11, which terrorists flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Rebecca was on medical leave.
She lives in her parents' Lake Oswego home with her two children and husband Kris Kaelin. A decade ago he played baseball at Eastern Oregon University.
While living in Newark, N.J., Steve Lear embarked on a career in the meat business.
Today Lear wields a butcher knife in their new Main Street Pub & Grill, which they created by remodeling the former Stockman's and another retail space.
They introduced fine dining there last year.
"I thought oregano was Italian for running a stop sign," Lear joked. "I know meat, and 90 percent of (a good dish) is what you start with good meat."
Cathi's been pleasantly surprised by her husband's transition into the kitchen.
"Had I known he could cook, I'd never have spent all those years in the kitchen. Now I don't go back there," Cathi said.
"It's been well received," Lear said. People book parties for Christmas and anniversaries.
The next family anniversary will be created in July. Lears' youngest, Katy, is engaged to Lee Latta Jr., who grew up in Joseph.
Another wedding brought the Lears to Enterprise. It was Marcie Strazer's. She manages the Enterprise skating rink. Her sister and Katy are friends from the Lake Oswego neighborhood.
Enterprise reminded Cathi of the small town in which she was raised.
On the way out of town Lear decided to "take a look at what's available. We were bound and determined to move here."
"It's a neat community. The people are great, Cathi said.
The Lears are still smiling after working seven days a week. They enjoy the personal contact with people.
They like the way people are involved in and support youth sports.
"We want to be a part of the community, maybe add something to benefit it," Lear said.
One idea might be to establish a youth basketball tournament. They attend the one in Yakima each Mother's Day.
Relationships made there have grown over the years. You look forward to seeing those people again, Cathi said.
Coaching is also about relationships. "You build on them thereafter," Lear said.
He coached basketball for eight years at St. Mary's Academy in downtown Portland.
Katy was one of his players.
"I'd never do it again. I'd lose a daughter for a season. It's hardest on the kid. You judge your own 10 times as much as others," he said.
Then he coached the Milwaukie High School varsity. The past seven years Katy has coached the junior varsity there.
"Now we share the common goal of, Are we capable of inspiring kids to overachieve?' " Lear said.
The couple's middle child, Ryan, has also worked under pressure.
Once he was called in by his boss Mark Wettle. Wettle's partners, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, were introducing a new computer system. It broke down. Ryan had to fix it on the spot in front of them.
Though they come across as lighthearted, the Lears' values are apparent. Steve and Cathi each wore out a Gary Fors MIA bracelet.
Five years ago they visited The Wall, the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
In a vendor's tent Lear reached into a pile of some 50 MIA bracelets. His first draw brought out the one inscribed with the name of Lt. Col. Gary Fors.