When I joined Lone Star Flight Museum in 1995, I came to the museum because of a love of aircraft and of flight. I appreciated the aircraft at the museum more as pieces of art and objects of flight than as weapons of war. Although I had a general knowledge of WWII, I had little interest in how many bombs a B-17 could carry or how many machine guns were mounted on a P-47. I had studied WWII, watched The History Channel a lot and was familiar with the aircraft, but really did not have an appreciation of the events of WWII on a personal level. My ancestors worked on the home front during the war. No one very close to me (in 1995) actually fought in the war.
However, the longer I was associated with the museum, the more opportunity I had to be exposed to the history of the planes and of that era. At the museum and on the road at air shows with the aircraft, I had the privilege of meeting and talking with many veterans of WWII. The more I learned, the more I was in awe of what these individuals endured for their country. The level of commitment to the war effort by the allied countries is simply unimaginable by today’s generations. Virtually every man, woman and child alive at that time was in some way actively involved in supporting the war effort.
I began to realize that to display these aircraft without paying tribute to those that flew and supported them would be a grave injustice. We cannot do enough to thank and pay tribute to these people that literally saved the world, as we know it. The warbirds are often referred to as “the planes that won the war,” but I believe it’s more correct to say that the warbirds are the tools used by the men that won the war. Of course, women played a huge part in the war effort as well.
I’m always a little uncomfortable when I am introduced to a “real” B-17 crew chief as “our crew chief.” Although I do perform some of duties performed by B-17 crew chiefs in WWII, my experience is only a tiny fraction of theirs. I never went through boot camp and I’ve never eaten army food. Although I’ve flown many hours on the B-17, I’ve never left the ground with tons of high explosive hanging in the bomb bay. I’ve never been shot at. We’ve never had to dodge flak on our way to an air show. I’ve never had to fight hypothermia or hypoxia. We’ve never had to limp home in the B-17 with combat damage, let alone over enemy territory. We’ve never failed to bring everybody on the crew safely home from an air show. I’ve never had to watch a friend die. I have never lived in fear that if I didn’t do my job to the best of my abilities, my family, home and way of life might be jeopardized.
Having said all that, I think it is extremely important that we pay tribute to those people who did experience those things and so much more. I believe that the addition of “live” crewmembers in period gear adds tremendously to the educational value of displaying these aircraft. I have never been a “performer,” generally do not like to draw attention to myself and in fact am quite camera shy. However, this is a message that is so important to tell that I am willing to draw attention to myself in order to help ensure that these people are given due credit. The response of the public to seeing what the people really looked like that worked around these planes clearly tells me that this is a good thing that we’re doing.
There were many millions Americans that served in the military during WWII. However, that was over sixty years ago and there are fewer and fewer of them with us every day. Pictures and movies can only tell so much. We know the added dimensions that seeing, hearing, and smelling a warbird in action bring to the experience. Providing a living representation of the people working with those warbirds takes that experience to another level.
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