Flight brings back past memories

(From The Pasadena Citizen- April 28, 2004)

While it is best to live in the present, sometimes things will help you slip into the past. Whether it is a familiar song or smell, a short step back in time can sometimes be a learning experience. During the past week I was allowed to step back in time to a period that was before I was born.

While it is not the same as the nostalgic smell of popped fireworks that brings back my childhood memories, those steps back allow a person to use their experiences to relate to the hardships of different eras.

My grandfather, who is now deceased, probably never had the opportunity or misfortune of flying in a B-17 Flying Fortress, but he felt the discomforts of war as a truck driver.

As a kid I had always known that my grandfather had been in the war, but it was not until I returned from my four year enlistment in the U.S. Army did he share some of his experiences while he was in Germany during World War II.

During that time I believe he saw me as an equal and he treated me like a man. I was not just his grandson, I felt like I was his companion and someone he felt he could talk to.

While warfare had changed from the time he was in war and the time I was in war, the same basic premise was there, we did not know what would happen from day to day, but we had to be strong for those loved ones at home because it was their lives that were in danger.

I never worried about getting killed, but I did worry about my family and what it would have done to them if I never made it home.

When you are living in a war situation you do not have time to worry about dying, you are just living a day at a time doing what is necessary to get back home.

On Thursday, I was allowed to see another aspect of my grandfather's war. I had the honor of riding in a B-17 Flying Fortress at the Lone Star Flight Museum. The museum is having an airshow this weekend, and they had a special media day in which members of the media were give the opportunity to take a flight over Galveston Island in the historic airplane.

The plane, which looks brand new because of a new paint job, was actually built in 1945.

Entering the plane I looked around and thought it would be a fun ride, and, yes, we did sign a release form in the event something did go wrong, but I was not worried.

Only when we started down the runway did a feel a brief period of being nervous, but just think of all those young soldiers who had to fly mission after mission who really had a valid concern that they might not return.

The flight we went on was about 20 minutes long, so the accommodations or lack of them was not terrible, but I can only imagine what is would be like in high altitudes without heat. Just the height would make the crew members cold, but they also had to contend with large gapping holes where the guns are mounted so that the crew members could fire at enemy aircraft while they were in the air.

The United States does not believe in suicide missions. But seeing the planes and thinking about the fact they were having to fly bombing missions as the enemy was shooting at them with anti-aircraft guns, it is remarkable that any planes made it back.

I have always had a respect for those servicemen that fought to protect the world from the Axis powers, and both seeing and riding on one of the bombers makes me realize what dedication they must have had to fight for our freedom.

The fact that the museum has more than 40 flying World War II planes is not only astounding, but awe inspiring.

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