One fine day last spring in 2009, when the day was way too hot to be cabin fevered at home, I decided to set out on my own, as The Collingsworth Foundation from our British allies, a society worthy of quite a bit of praise and attention, as they had sent three planes to the Austin (used to be Bergstrom AFB) Airport that year, while I was very ill from stress related trauma.
I went to forget my own problems, and still managed to see a WWII B-17, and a B-24 (the only operational airplane of its kind today) and a P-51 Mustang fighter. I was able to tour the interior of that last B-24 unaided by constraints, as I had my father’s autobiography with me. I showed them my info and was allowed (just as the plane was preparing to take off), to stand in what would have been my father’s place, between the pilot and the co-pilot, as the navigator would have done–when he did just that on a June day back when many young American servicemen lost their lives in WWII.
I am a 62 year-old woman. As I crawled in severe pain ( to what used to be the opening that my Dad grabbed and hopped up with his strong upper body strength, and agile young body ) up a stairway provided for us ‘civilians’ to enter and be given a tour by a kind but befuddled crew member. I was allowed free access there in his stead, and quite strangely enough began to envision what he might have experienced. As tears filled my eyes and I was unable to suppress the sob that shocked even me (and believe me I’ve had my own trails and tribulations) — I stood in silence and great pain for some 10 minutes while the possibilities of the stories that I had heard and read about filled my mind and memory. That very amiable, and puzzled crew member was seemingly amazed that I, who had been limping into the exhibit, my metal hip and knee starting off the usual ear shattering alarm upon my entrance ,was able to make it through the side tunnels of that old beautiful airplane, that had been carefully restored and was kindly offered in view to the public.
I was filled with pride at what my father and his crew members had done back in WWII, as I will always be so. I hold that day in my heart of hearts, as one of my finest memories.
I only hope that all service brats have a similar experience that evokes that kind of emotional epiphany, that brings appreciation of what their father’s or mother’s participation in a War Torn World can do to a person, and to his or her family. As I sat in my old Volvo with tears pouring down my checks and on my shaking legs for quitesome time. I finally gathering up what was left of my dignity and drove out of the parking lot, into the highway headed for home.
When I was a youngster, I remember playing with my brother, and his friends as my father looked on with a bemused smile, as we ever so innocently cavorted and giggled, completely unaware of the history and significance of such a plane to him. But still as we played beside and inside of an old B-17, I remember how patiently and calmly he handled us all. Even though this was one of the planes that he had so expertly guided as a navigator, with his own flock of brave servicemen through the more than perilous, impossible days when the 408 delivered supplies, reinforcements, and the very incendiary gasoline needed to fuel Patton’s army, not having the time to wait for assistance, as he and his crew members carried those 5 gallons tanks from the fuselage to the storing place. Yet some of those few soldiers somehow managed to survive and make it back home. I am forever grateful that one of them was my father (at the time Captain Charles Webb Abbitt, VMI graduate 1941).
Though I may be known for my humour and imagination, there is nothing that can take the place of that day inside the last B-24, when the tears that fed my heart and soul which began leaking out of my eyes, like salt water onto the burning face of this newly enlightened old lady, who had awkwardly made her way into her aging and still heroic father’s place so many years ago.
And today, I am remembering all of us old “military-brats” of those heroes of what was truly the war to end all wars. Compared to those sacrifices made way back then with these that I have made in my life to entertain and amuse, and try to cling to the hope you might be amused too; find in comparison, mine are down to 0.01.
I am glad that I have survived to tell you this story today. As for all the funny stuff that had me linked to ‘comedy land’; it can remain out there as everything on this Internet can do. I only hope we in the US of A continue to havethe trust and nerve to continue in the spirit of fighting the forces of evil – that, as Jakob Dylan said “Evil is alive and well.”