Saturday, May 23, 2009

5/23/09 A bomber day

I took the boys to tour the WWII bombers this morning, and they were pretty psyched about it.

The tour involved climbing a ladder into a hatch in the front of the plane, then moving to the back and climbing out the way we went in on Wednesday. The very cool nose section of the plane was visible, but roped off, so I'm extra-glad I got to see it up close (and in flight!). Julian was scared at first, but got over it pretty quickly.

First, I had to fill in a photo I hadn't gotten on Wednesday: my "seat" during takeoff, if you can call it that. The wood on the ground was the seat, the metal plate was my back, and you can see the lap belt tucked inbetween. There's a top turret right in the middle of this area (the sandaled leg is standing on it), so the two "seats" are tucked in the corners.

Around the top turret, through the hatch into the bombing bay catwalk. Today the bay's doors were open.

Then into the radio room.

From the radio room to the relatively roomy rear section ("waist," I think) of the plane involves climbing around the ball turret, as this girl demonstrates.

Gabriel and Julian on the job as waist gunners!

An attempt to piece it all together in video.

Hey, the tire is taller than me!

Then on to the other bomber. But first, we had to watch a P-51 flighter plane take off. When too many bombers were getting shot down, these planes started escorting the bombers and protecting them from enemy fighters, greatly improving their outcome.

On to the B-24. I don't know much about this plane; it's certainly taller than the B-17, roomier inside, with a much larger bombing bay and was overall easier to get around. Odd panels on the tail, reminds me of a spaceship!

And, I talked to two more actual veterans, both of whom had flown on the planes. One flew an incredible 37 missions (they were supposed to stop at 25 and it was considered extremely lucky to make it that far uninjured) and the other flew 27. This gentleman was a bombardier with two books to sell, which I didn't hesitate at all to buy both of. Even if they suck, he deserves no less!

This man was featured in the original newspaper article I saw that started all this, and he had flown cooped up in the tiny ball turret. I'm fascinated at how lucid and sharp these men were, both pushing 90. I could have stayed all day to talk to them, but the boys had other ideas.

I'm glad we got there early -- the lines got long, and moved very slowly. But I'm happy for the Collings Foundation that the lines were so long; I heard someone say with relief that this was the first line they'd had all week. It must cost a fortune to keep these old birds going.

I almost bought this sign. Feminism didn't exist in the 1940s, so it's not sexist.

Speaking of sexist, Dave took Katrina to "minastics" this morning, with mixed results. But I was really really happy not to deal with her at the planes. There is absolutely no way to carry a toddler through them, and all the standing and talking and looking at things just wouldn't have worked. She'll get lots of plane time at the airshow tomorrow. (If you detect a ring of guilt for being glad to have the time alone with the boys, you're right.)

The one thing I regretted was not being able to see these cool airplanes taking off or flying. Well, there's lots of videos and more time for that.

We'd spent all morning touring the planes and the boys finally dragged me away, kicking and screaming. But, it was just as well, a terrible headache came roaring back and I napped away the afternoon. I hate that, because we're still nowhere near unpacked or settled in -- we haven't even set up an audio system yet!! But I'm finding the motivation to set up the house very hard to come by. Touring old planes on the other hand -- it's time to live again, I'm tired of being held hostage by the house.

While I and Katrina napped, Dave took the boys to the BMX park, which I'm so glad about. They haven't done that for a while either, and after some encouragement, Julian went on all the mounds and bumps again. He had little fear of it when he was 3, but lately has been pretty hesitant. I wish I could have seen them though.

Later in the afternoon, my headache was a little better, but I really felt the need to exercise. I haven't run for a while, my back might be able to take around 5:30, knowing I was pushing it for dinner, I went to Rancho San Antonio.

As I was starting up one of the first hills, I heard an unusual drone above me...could it be? Suddenly a prop plane cleared the treetops -- could it be? The Army star was under the wings, it had 4 engines, and was the right color. And that sound! I couldn't believe it!! The B-17 was RIGHT OVER ME! I was in a spot that had a view of the hangars and runways at Moffett, so I was right in its flight path. Still, what are the odds I'd be right there at that exact moment? I was thrilled.

A minute later, I rounded a bend, and what did I see in the hazy distance: the B-24. Its strange shape was unmistakable, with the weird tail panels and its fat belly and its dark foreboding black body. The B-17 looks pretty unremarkable to a non-aviation person, as I am, but the B-24 looks truly eerie in the sky. I'd have stopped and said "What the heck is that?!" if I hadn't been crawling around in it earlier today.

I saw the B-17 twice more on my run, once with the P-51 flying right on its tail, just like 65 years ago. I couldn't believe how exciting that was. Then I admonished this the "war is glory" thing that people fall into? These planes represented the darkest of times, when fear and death and pain were necessary for liberty. There's nothing grand about it. I'm excited by the history of it, making old fuzzy black-and-white footage come alive, but these planes' real purpose is sobering and grim. I feel some guilt at how captivating the horror is, like I'm some sort of macabre voyeur who has absolutely no true concept of the fear or danger or loss or tragedy of war. Maybe it's time I learned a little more about it, beyond the heroes and survivors, and imparted some of that to the people in my house who could actually make a real difference in preventing it someday.

I'm so grateful to the Collings Foundation for some serious excitement and thought-provocation this week.


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