Many of my childhood memories include many trips to airshows. So many fond memories. Seeing the old T-38s of the Thunderbirds during the in the early 1980s, seeing many aerobatic performers, and the countless military jet demonstrations still are still vivid in my memories. Often bringing a smile to my face when I think back. Especially seeing the old, venerable F-4 Phantoms at an airshow in Miami that I can still feel the rumble of those engines in my chest cavity.
I always feel a special place for the old war birds. Seeing a flight of P-51s purring as they fly by, so graceful and elegant. As a child, I loved watching the older documentaries about World War II. G.I. Diary, and the World at War come to mind. Not too many choices those days, but I would watch, transfixed by the gallantry and bravery.
Of course, as a child, I did not comprehend the horror of the war. The grotesque mutilations that were taking place, not clearly visible in these documentaries. The old grainy, black and white footage never seemed to capture this. Still, I was fascinated. The sacrifices of these men made were impressive and awe inspiring. The funny thing, today I feel the same exact way. I often ask myself whether or not I would be able to have even a fraction of the bravery these young men demonstrated.
When I watch an old P-40, P-51, the occasional Corsair, or any war bird for that matter, I see more than an airplane in the sky. These machines are beyond metal framework, powerful engines, or machine guns. They are instruments of death, designed to deliver bombs that would not discriminate who they would kill or destroy. But these are more than an old airplane.
They are symbols. More than an airplane zooming in the sky, or resting in a museum. They are symbols of the bravery of the men who flew and fought. They are symbols of the dedication of the women who would test and ferry them, and those who worked in the factories to produce these weapons of war. In spite of the death and destructive capability, I see the enduring sacrifice far too many young men and countless civilians made. Sometimes I see video or photos of a bomber going down, wondering even after decades later, whether the boys made it out. Sometimes, the damage was too severe, and all members of the crew were lost. The sense of loss still makes me reflect on what might have been.
I love our history, and have a deep appreciation for the men and women in uniform. I love the military, and am proud of what they work and stand for. I hate war, and lament the lessons we seem to loose from the wars of our past. Perhaps one day we can learn to avoid fighting as a first response to conflict. Perhaps…
I can only smile as I stand, watching an old P-47 Thunderbolt or a B-17 Flying Fortress sputter, and belching smoke as the engine starts shaking the aircraft. Eventually, the engines smooth out and the sound is seemingly beautiful. Smooth and graceful, yet full of power. It is an incredible sight and sound, and always sends shivers throughout my body. I teem with excitement and almost burst with pride. In my eyes, I see the symbol coming to life. Much more than just an airplane.