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Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 2,888
Jim Bow Offline OP
This started out as a Facebook post to a friend. The friend copied and pasted to the Woodinboat forum. I'm doing the same to the `bolt.
It's as fine a piece of writing that I've come across in a while.


Wishing I was home right now (as I always do when on the road.) Currently doing a short run in the US and hating that I'm missing Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada.
There seems to a lot less attention paid to November 11th down here in the South. Mostly a lot of mattresses on sale at rock bottom prices.
This morning I woke up thinking about the old fellow I met many years ago at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. I was spending the day wandering about and trying to get close to things I had no business being near. (And yes, I did manage to get over the velvet rope barrier and sit behind the wheel of Goering's bullet riddled staff car. Whisky in the middle of the afternoon will whisper bad suggestions.)
I was standing on a platform next to a Spitfire with (as I recall ) D Day markings, looking into the cock pit, and realising that even as thin as I was back then I wouldn't be able to fit in.
I was amazed at how bare bones and primitive it was. Just a stick and a throttle and a few dials, along with the "tit"...the super charger. There was still a heavy odour of fuel, and oil and glycol. How could anyone have had the nerve to climb into one of these things and fire it up and then face what was waiting above the clouds?
Presently, I heard laboured breathing behind me, and turned round to see a tiny old man pulling himself up the stairs.
He looked about the right vintage to have had intimate knowledge of the plane, and I made room for him.
He leaned in, and took a deep inhale of the interior, held it and then breathed out again.
"Does it still smell the same?" I asked.
"No, not quite. They usually smelled of **** and **** and vomit by the time you came down. You nearly always threw up, and **** yourself on a sortie. "
He shrugged. "At least I did."
We stood there for a while, him looking haunted and staring into the tiny space, and running his hands over the webbing of the safety harness, and me for once managing to keep my mouth shut.
Mostly. But I couldn't help myself.
"Would you like to get in?" I asked.
He looked around and said," They don't allow that. There's signs everywhere."
"I can't see any guards. I can help you. I'll keep watch."
He hesitated for a minute and then I unlatched the small door and held his arm as he climbed stiffly in.
I got him settled, and then strapped the harness across his chest, and stepped back. He reached out and closed one hand over the stick and the other over the throttle.
I can't begin to describe the look on his face, but he had gone somewhere else.
Where, I have no idea.
I said, "I'll be back in a few minutes to help you get out."
He nodded absently, and I went back down the stairs.
I came back maybe 20 minutes later, and found he had rolled the cock pit canopy forward. It must have been stifling. He was still there, still staring into God knows where, but he noticed me and nodded through the perspex glass. He pushed the canopy back, said, "I'm ready now," and I unlatched the door and helped him out.
Once again I was uncharacteristically able to keep my pie hole shut, and just watch as he took a last look inside. He wiped the sweat off his brow, ran his hand over the edge of the cockpit, patted it, looked at me, nodded, and said, "Thanks," and then walked down the stairs.
He'll have passed now. Most of them have.
For myself, I can't think of a leader or politician whose word I trust enough to sign up to face what this man and thousands like him faced. And even if the cause warranted, I doubt I would have had the sand.
He did though, when the time came, and among all the myriad things I have to be grateful for in this life, I have had the honour of strapping a hero into his chair, perhaps for the final time, and metaphorically at least, sending him off to face whatever lay before him, and see him come home safe at the end of the day.

"Happiness equals reality minus expectations" - Tom Magliozzi
Joined: Nov 2018
Posts: 130
Jim Bow,

A great piece of writing. Another example of why they are considered the "Greatest Generation". There will never be any better or braver. I am the son of a WW-II Veteran and very proud of it! Thanks for sharing the story.


'51 3100 5-Window (Restomod in progress)
Joined: Sep 2013
Posts: 1,421
Thank You

1951 3600 with Clark flatbed, T5, 4.10 rear
1970 340 Duster
1990 5.0 V8 Miata (1990 Mustang Gt Drivetrain)
1951 Farmall Super A

Joined: Feb 2004
Posts: 24,758
Kettle Custodian (pot stirrer)
A few years ago, I had the great honor and privelege to accompany one of those old warriors on his last flight in one of the warbirds he flew decades earlier. At the ripe old age of 19, my father was command pilot on a B-17. 55 years after he took his last flight for the Air Force, a B-17 named "Aluminum Overcast" restored by the Experimental Aircraft Association was scheduled for a fly-in at Lebanon Tennessee, and they were selling rides. The whole family chipped in and bought Dad a 1-hour flight along with several other riders. The cost was $600.00. The day before he was scheduled to fly, I visited the airport and got acquainted with one of the ground crew who traveled with the bomber. Long story short- - - -I got the opportunity to repair a piece of ground equipment essential for the air show the following day, and earned myself a free ride. Getting to spend a little left seat time at the controls of a B-17 was awesome- - - -getting to do it with Dad was priceless!

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"
Kris Kristofferson

Cringe and wail in fear, Eloi- - - - -we Morlocks are on the hunt!

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.
Ernest Hemingway

Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 34
Wrench Fetcher
My dad was a radio operator on the B-29, after World War II and some left seat time in B-25 while in the Air Force. My brother and I took him to the air show in Houston one year. We got up on the flight deck of the CAF B-29 Fifi and it was just like he had climbed down off the flight deck of a B-29 the day before. As he was telling my brother and I about the different positions on the flight deck the CAF guy/guide sat down and started listening to him. The other people on the flight deck were listening to him. Before we climbed out of Fifi the CAF guy told my dad that he had learned more about the B-29 than he ever knew. I was awesome taking dad to the air show. It's something that my brother and I still talk about to this day.

Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 3,971
A moving story Jim. I have been around warbirds for many years and if only they could talk. I worked at a well know war bird restoration facility in Sidney BC which is famous for its T-28 Trojan, Texan and Beaver restorations. The Beaver was not a war bird per se. We also did a T-2 Buckeye and an F7F Tigercat plus a DH Mosquito.. All of these planes are flying today.

Anyway I digress. My late wife's father flew a Lancaster for the RAF and was shot down in flames in July 1944 near Dieppe France. He was 21, just a kid and too young to drive a car. All six crew members on the Lancaster perished.

We have a flying Lancaster here in Canada and as Jim stated those war planes were just a tin can with big engines. To fly in one under war time conditions dodging flak, AA bullets and enemy fighters took real men. I don't know if I could do it.

My wife was born six months after her father's death and although she obviously never knew him the emotional scar was in her heart.

I have photos of my wife, a young teenager standing at the grave of her father with her hand on the tombstone. She looked like she was smiling but its hard to say. She went on to work in the airline industry like me but never much mentioned the loss. Each November 11, our Remembrance Day she stayed away from parades and church services and didn't say anything. She always had a poppy however.

Losing my wife has been a very big blow to me. We had no family and by design few friends. When you are not always home on holidays one misses the get togethers. I have picture of her at the grave with me and fully intend to visit the site and just "talk" to her father telling him what a wonderful daughter she was. It might provide some closing for me.

Lest we forget!

1949 Chevy 1/2-Ton
1989 Caprice

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