13 September 2010

Old Airplanes Never Die

I took this picture over the weekend at the Pittsburgh Air Show. This is a C-47 transport, the second oldest of its type that is still flying. What makes this aircraft so special in historical terms is that it actually dropped elements of the 82nd Airborne on St. Mere Eglise, France in the early morning hours of June 6th, 1944. D-Day.

I stood by the aircraft while my wife and kids were inside a KC-135 tanker that was on display so I had a few moments to reflect on the reaction of the crowds as they walked by. More than a few kids tugged on their mom and dad's sleeves as they spotted the cooler, more modern F-16's, F-18's and a myriad of other sleek jets that stood by. Some asked their parents what the plane was, but they were at a loss for words- some old thing they muttered as they walked past. What a shame. As far as examples of living history go, nothing among the 50 or so aircraft parked on the ramp even came close.

After their tanker tour, I grabbed the boys and walked them to the C-47. "THIS" I said jabbing my finger in its direction "is the most important airplane on this entire airfield." We were able to go inside the aircraft, through the jump door on the left, and I explained how 55 odd years ago, a group of very brave men strapped parachutes, equipment, weapons and a myriad of other gear to themselves, flew across the English Channel and parachuted into the darkness of the early morning of June 6th, 1944. Standing in the back of the plane, so small and cramped compared to the relative luxury of the C-130's and C-141's that I parachuted out of, I was nearly overcome with emotion. Small groups of young men, who had barely begun to live, volunteered to hurl themselves out of aircraft over enemy occupied ground to defeat Fascism and destroy the worst evil that the world has ever know. Knowing the fate of many of the young paratroopers who jumped over St. Mere Eglise only made it more emotional- some were hung up on electrical and telegraph poles only to be shot by the Germans, one famously on town's church steeple who watched the battle unfold beneath his feet.

I daydreamed for a moment, and imagined the night before after the first day of the air show. I thought of all of the other aircraft, circled around the C-47 as it creaked and turned, sat on its tail and said to a bunch of wide eyed, youthful jets- "You know the difference between a fairy tale and a war story ? The fairy tale starts off with 'Once Upon a Time.' A war story starts with 'This is No Shit."

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