I took a much needed vacation last week. I've been having the summer from hell, work commitments that have been partial cause of and only refuge from a relationship that's ended. If anyone's wondered why I've been scarce around here, yep that's why. I spent the better part of last week at my brother's place, he lives on a river and the time I didn't spend on the water I spent with my seven year old niece and eleven year old nephew, family can restore you inside.
I'm a small time aviation geek and my brother lives only a few hours away from the National Museum of the United States Air Force so my brother, nephew and myself made the drive there last Friday. It really is an impressive place, everything from the first plane the Wright brothers sold the US Army to a F-22 Raptor are on display, we spent hours taking it all in. Some of the exotic craft were what called me there, the XB-70 and X-15 feed the (near sighted) flying geek in me and while I enjoyed seeing them and explaining their significance to my nephew, they aren't what impressed me most.
There are two hangers away from the main museum area, they're on the (Wright-Patterson) air force base popper, you need photo ID to clear security to see them but they're well worth it. One is the R&D hanger with some of the exotic planes the other is the Presidential hanger. I didn't think I'd want to spend time looking at a few old Air Force Ones when just next door they had so many of the planes I used to pin up on my walls as a kid, but I was wrong.
They have a few volunteer tour guides working in these hangers, more to keep an eye on the guests more than anything I suspect but there was a very kind older gentleman who spent some time with us describing some of the displays. At one point he walked us through the plane that JFK and LBJ used as Air Force One. He showed us the elaborate communications gear which even almost fifty years later still has a high tech look about them and pointed out the other appointments of the craft. I noticed a bit of emotion creeping into his voice when he showed us the spot LBJ stood when he received the oath of office after Kennedy's assassination. It struck me then what history that plane had seen but it wasn't until we reached the aft exit that it really sunk in. They didn't want to put JFK's coffin in the cargo hold on that flight back from Dallas but they couldn't fit it into the plane in a respectful manner without removing a few rows of seats and sawing open a bulkhead. The seats were later returned and the bulkhead repaired, but they chose to leave the saw cuts visible. My nephew can be a bit of an smart ass at times (it's probably genetic) but even he could feel the emotion in our guide's voice. As he traced the line of the saw cut with his finger he told the man that he must have really loved that president, the man's eyes welled up as he tousled my nephew's hair and said that he did.
Later in the day I saw a Japanese American Air Force officer standing before a B-29 bomber parked on display. He was strangely focused on the plane and standing with a posture that made me happy to give him personal space. It took me a moment to realize that that particular B-29 was named the "Bockscar," it was the plane that dropped the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki and last Friday was the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. I would have liked to ask him for his thoughts on the moment but before I could think of a respectful way to approach him, he departed. He strode away from the display with a gate that reminded me of an honor guard, his heels clicking sharply on the concrete floor until they faded beneath the sound of an audio-visual presentation of the bombing and it's context. I watched the presentation with my nephew and I think it started to dawn on him that war in the real world isn't like war in his computer games.
Here's to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first, second and hopefully last cities that have been engulfed in atomic flames.