Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview: John M. Tippets, Author of Hearts of Courage

Joining us today is John Tippets, author of the Alaska aviation history book Hearts of Courage. We’re going to talk to John about this amazing story and how he came to write it.

Thank you for joining us today John. Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. In 1947, our family moved to the Washington, D.C. area where I graduated from Northwestern High School. I attended Brigham Young University, then served two years as a Mormon missionary in Eastern Canada.

I earned my B.A. and M.B.A degrees from the University of California at Los Angeles. While still in college, I started a career in aviation, checking bags for United Airlines, then working summer jobs with the FAA in Alaska and with the CAB in Washington, D.C. In 1966, I joined American Airlines as a part-timer in air freight and worked forty-two years associated with AMR in a variety of management and executive roles. Before I retired I worked for seventeen years as the President & CEO of the American Airlines Federal Credit Union.

Tell us a little about Hearts of Courage.

On January 5, 1943, an airplane with six onboard went missing in remote Southeast Alaska with the pilot’s only radio message of “one engine has conked out, expect trouble.” All were presumed lost. One of those passengers was Joseph Tippets, age 29, of Anchorage, Alaska, an employee of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and the first branch president of the small Latter-day Saint Anchorage congregation. Joseph was my father. My mother, Alta, who was at home with me—I was two-years-old at the time—did not give up hope that my father would return to us.

On February 3, the crew of a small coast guard vessel on a routine patrol in Boca de Quadra discovered two starved and freezing survivors of the missing plane. One of those was my father.

Hearts of Courage is the story of my father’s experiences over those twenty-nine days and his subsequent efforts to help rescue the two injured passengers still stranded in their wilderness camp. Told largely in his own words, this is a story of courage, determination, faith, and prayers answered. It is an aviation history story, a survival story, and a love story.

What inspired you to write it?

About ten years ago, I was impressed that, as the oldest of four, I knew a great deal more about my parents’ lives than my siblings and because Mom and Dad had both died (63 and 54) none of their grandchildren knew much of them at all. So I started writing Joseph and Alta’s life histories and over the years, have finished several pieces (chapters) and have numerous other chapters in various stages of draft. It has been and continues to be a wonderful project, very much a match for an Old Testament scripture, Joel 1:2-3.

As the larger project progressed, I knew that the 1943 crash/survival story was central to my parents’ lives. About four years ago, I had first drafts of two chapters about these experiences, but there just seemed to be much more that could be done. With more research, having new professional photography and art, and going through dozens of drafts, I have been able (with help from my wife and others) to do Dad’s and Mother’s story in a manner that they might have wanted to do, but never had the chance.

This has been what they rightly call a labor of love. And, it seems to have been very much inspired and, at many times, directed by my dad.

The story of the Gillam crash has been told before. How is your book different from those accounts?

An article in the Wall Street Journal a few months ago described three genres of books that have special appeal. Those were “man against nature,” “polar survival,” and “maritime.” And I suspect that “aviation” comes in similarly with maritime.

Hearts of Courage has elements of all those categories which the WSJ article mentioned. And, for good measure, Hearts of Courage also includes a love story (my parents’) and the element of a faith in God.

Faith played a large role in your parents’ lives, and it is that element, in my opinion, that made this such a moving and personal account of survival. How did your parents’ faith help them deal with being separated by the crash?

The book is about Dad’s and Mother’s lives and their faith was not only who they were, but also a very large part of how they dealt with their circumstances in those very difficult days. Their Latter-day Saint heritage, their convictions of a real Father in Heaven, of a real Jesus Christ, and of the power of prayer were real parts of how they lived through this month and their whole lives.

Even after the official search for survivors was called off, my mother never gave up hope and continued to pray for my father’s safe return. My father’s faith helped him as he struggled against the elements and allowed him to stay determined to find his way home again.

In doing the book, it was important to leave all of that in to give that perspective to readers. Along with all else—for Dad, Mom, and many others—this is a story of faith and of prayers answered.

Where can readers purchase a copy of Hearts of Courage?

Hearts of Courage is available on my website at or at

What is up next for you?

Right now I give PowerPoint presentations of the story for interested groups, book signings, and other events.

Thank you for sharing your work with us today. We wish you great success in sharing your parents’ story.

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