I’ve long been fascinated with airplanes, going back to some of my earliest memories when I was four, and living in Albuquerque. In World War II, my dad had been in the Air Force, (or to be technical, the Army Air Force as it wasn’t a separate service back then), and there must have been times when he showed me photos of various aircraft, usually military, in books and told me their designations. That must have stuck, as I remember him taking me to an air show at the Kirtland air base in Abluquerque and me being able to identify several types on sight. My favorite was the B-36 bomber, one of the largest and most distinctive looking planes ever built. It was huge by any standards, and when you’re only four it’s even more impressive.
Other times we would go to the civilian airport, (which was adjacent to the air base), and sit on an adobe wall to watch the planes come and go. Those incidents sparked a life long interest in aviation and aviation history. Although my mom had her reservations the first time I actually flew.
Her father in Indiana was very ill, so mom flew back to be with him at the end. Since I had never met him, she took me along. I’m sure if they knew the circumstances, people in the airport would have thought that was a sweet gesture, taking a little boy to meet his grandfather for the first and sadly, last time.
Well, that was until we were getting ready to board. This was back in 1958, and the first jet airliners were coming into service. I spotted a gleaming Boeing 707 outside a terminal window, and asked mom if we could fly on it. She said no, and pointed to our plane, a propeller driven Lockheed Constellation. But I was persistent. So was mom. So I pitched a temper tantrum. Back then the pilots often greeted passengers as they were getting ready to board. Mom still reminds me of the glares she was getting from ours as I screamed, ‘I don’t want to fly on the old rattletrap, I want to fly on that new jet."
At this time I was a much more mature five year old, but still concepts like flight schedules, etc., didn’t come to mind. So mom reluctantly dragged me on board anyway. My mom doesn’t drink but she may have been sorely tempted that day.
Later in life I would take myself to air shows and was delighted that a job assignment to Washington, DC in 1990 meant easy access to the Air and Space Museum. But the ultimate aeronautic experiences were the pair of trips dad and I took to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. If it had flown in the Air Force, it was represented, including the first B-36 I had seen since Albuquerque. And yes, it is still a very impressive plane.
But the highlight was a display of the B-29 bomber of the type dad flew in during the war. In addition to a complete famous one hanging from the ceiling, there was an open fuselage you could walk into. Dad became like a kid in a candy store. He dashed from station to station, pointing out what was what, and then sat in his radio operator’s seat. He got this far away look as though his old crewmembers had reappeared. He would mention them by name, “That would be Roy from New York in the navigator’s chair, and Tom from Ohio was our pilot.” Then his voice would tail off, and he added, “This sure brings back some memories.”
These were memories I could scarcely comprehend, never having even being in the military let alone combat. But the emotions in dad's face and eyes at those times were overwhelming, and you know they went to the depth of his soul.