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It's 1945 all over again

If anyone else were to tell this story, I'd call BS on them. But it's all true, every single word of it.

Yesterday morning, I noted the formal end of World War II. And I must have tripped some Karmic trigger or something, because I came into contact with two veterans of that war.

I was driving along the highway in northern Massachusetts when I saw a plane in the air. No big deal; planes have been around for a century or so. But this one was bigger than I usually see so low, especially in the Lawrence/Methuen area.

I looked again. And a third time. And a fourth. By the tenth time, I remembered a sign I'd seen by the airport, and realized I was seeing history: an authentic Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was visiting Lawrence this weekend, and I was witness to her arrival.

Later in the day, I was in a supermarket. I saw this older gentleman -- must've been in his 80's or so -- in there. He was a bit slow on his feet, so I quickly sidestepped him and went on my way.

But as I passed, I happened to glance at his cap. "USS YORKTOWN, CV-10" was emblazoned on the front, with the silhouette of an aircraft carrier. I had just snubbed one of the few remaining crewmen of the very same ship I had cited and honored yesterday.

Fate wasn't done with me, though. In the parking lot, I looked up as I started up my car and saw the very same gentleman and his wife. They had parked nose-to-nose with me, and were also leaving. I got out and flagged them down.

I asked him if he had served on The Fighting Lady during World War II. His weathered face lit up.

"I was on her from the day for 26 years, from the day she was commissioned. I started out on tin cans (note: nickname for destroyers, which were the largest unarmored warships at the time) and we fought at the Coral Sea, when we lost the Lexington, and at Midway, when we lost the first Yorktown."

I was in awe. "I was the deck captain, which meant I was in charge of moving all the planes around the flight deck." (Note: the flight deck captain is one of the most important duties on an aircraft carrier. They are essentially traffic cops, but they make sure that planes can take off, land, and be moved to and from the hangar deck below to the flight deck. And when that flight deck is almost 900 feet long and over 100 feet wide, and has three big elevators, as the Yorktown's was, that's a lot of space to manage.)

I asked him if what I had researched was true -- that the Yorktown was off Tokyo Harbor on the day the Japanese surrendered. "We sure were! We'd raised hell up and down the Jap coast. We won a Presidential Unit Citation, too."

He praised the fighter and bomber pilots as the ones who really "made the difference." And when I pointed out that if those pilots needed men like him to keep flying, he quickly changed the subject -- to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Whoever christened his generation "The Greatest Generation" nailed it. Even at his age, with all he had seen, he still refused to accept the honor he was due and insisted that the "fuss" be given to others.

As time goes on, however, we're losing these incredible men and women. And so many don't even realize what we're losing.

But that's just the way the world works. I have a personal feeling that, in sixty years from today, America will look back at the generation that's being forged by 9/11, the war on terror, Hurricane Katrina, and deem them worthy successors to The Greatest Generation.

But they'll never replace them.

(The USS Yorktown, CV-10, served from 1943 until 1970, and is currently a museum in Charleston, South Carolina. If you have Google Earth, she is located at 32 degrees, 47 hours, 25 minutes North, 79 degrees, 54 hours, 29 minutes West. Her registry number is quite clear, and I can identify several of the planes on her deck as an F-4 Phantom 2, an F-14 Tomcat, and an E-2C Hawkeye, among others.)


Comments (6)

I lived in South Carolina f... (Below threshold)
Jim:

I lived in South Carolina for almost 25 years. Whenever visitors would come a trip to the Yorktown was on the list of activities. It is an amazing place to see from the flight deck to the berthing compartments to the mess that served that floating city. I remember one thing they had displayed in the mess was a recipe for chocolate chip cookies to serve hundreds. You can spend hours touring this great ship.

Truly it was fate that you ... (Below threshold)

Truly it was fate that you met that gentleman.

I have been aboard the Yorktown in Charleston - what struck me was that, for a ship of that huge size, the bridge and everything else inside it is so tiny - except for the hanger right below the deck.

It was like the scene in Gladiator when Maximus first saw the Coliseum - "I didn't know men could build such large things."

Some time back, I wrote a n... (Below threshold)

Some time back, I wrote a novel about a B-17 bomber, based in England, and during my research came across the most fantastic eye-witness writing I have ever had the privilege to read!

It was the story of one day-time raid against Schweinfurt, written by an airman named Wally Hoffman, who writes of the 'Hell on Earth' which was a single raid over one of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. I wrote to Wally by e-mail, and received one reply, but I think the 'Man with the Scythe' has visited Washington State, as he has never replied again. The pages written by Wally are wet with sweat and fear, but throughout the writing, the same courage comes through as was spoken by the guy who sailed on the carrier

I had the rare opportunity ... (Below threshold)
CZ:

I had the rare opportunity to take a ride on that B-17 three years ago. It came to my local airport along with a B-24 liberator. They tour every year. It cost $350 for a 1/2 hour ride and what a ride it was! I got to sit in the bombarder chair in the nose when we flew over the steel mill in Gary IN at 2500 feet. Bombs away! Freakin' awsome! If you can gather enough scratch take the ride do it. You will never ever forget it.

The airport drew a few WWII airmen that day and oddly enough not one wanted to fly on it. The pilot said not many do. Including my father-in-law who was a navigator on a 17 flying out of England and flew his entire tour, I think it was 16 sorties and then they were assigned to train others. He passed away last June.

He would avoid talking about the war, one time he expressed guilt for killing so many people and seeing so many other planes falling out of the sky while his never got a scratch

I love your site and visit it daily. Keep up the fine work. Carry on.

And if you ever have a chan... (Below threshold)

And if you ever have a chance, go check out the USS Hornet. She is tied up in Alameda, California, and is the 8th ship ever to carry her name. She was the ship that picked up the Apollo 11 crew from the ocean (they have a replica of it in the Hanger bay).

USS Hornet Museum
P.O. Box 460
Pier 3, Alameda Point
Alameda, CA 94501
Email: [email protected]
(510) 521-8448
(510) 521-8327 fax

I have a blog posting on th... (Below threshold)

I have a blog posting on the same subject called Three Score Years. Check it out if you have the time.




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