Three Men and Four Planes

Four fully restored WWII planes were flown into a neighboring city’s airport for a three-day display. A B-17, B-24, B-25 and a P-51 were available not just to look at but to get close to and experience inside and out. Three of us drove over to take a look for ourselves, something of an old boys’ day out.  The planes were frighteningly magnificent.  There is a certain deadly beauty to implements of war.  These bombers, the biggest of their day, are, truth be told, small, cramped, noisy, cold, slow and strictly utilitarian.  The three of us who went are all over 65, and it was our fathers who flew in these things.  Here and there among the crowd were other men in their 80s and 90s.  A few wore caps attesting to their old units.  Limping on a cane, an old man gained the strength to stand erect, his eyes became clear and bright, and the life he led over 60 years ago came flooding back as if it was almost here again.  It wasn’t that he was proud of those days or that there was something heroic to tell, he just wanted to talk to anyone nearby and tell them the stories of England and weather, flak and machine guns, of his coming home and others not.  There is nothing romantic about war, and no one could have delighted in flying in these things.  But to have done it and lived is a story that needs to be told and honored. 

Perhaps we pass too easily over some of the psalms of David, or try too hard to make them over into paeans to Christ.  More often they are the remembrance of the horrific experience of battle, the cost and waste in human lives, and surprise at having survived to tell the tale.  I suspect that it is human nature first to give thanks to God, then to ponder the question of why others did not survive to give the same thanks, and then to find a way to attribute the whole thing and our part in it to the will of God for the good of the whole.  To do anything else would be too awful to contemplate.  But maybe later, much later, in the remembrance of old age, there are those don’t thank God, don’t blame God and don’t claim to have done God’s will.  They just need to tell the story, and that is enough because it is everything.

6 thoughts on “Three Men and Four Planes”

  1. I think there are pivot points in almost everyone\’s life story. A pivot point is that place and time when a new direction and new meaning from which a new self identity is formed. I doubt that we know them when they happen but only recognize them upon reflection and after enough time has passed. The old man\’s story was about a pivot point in his life, perhaps it was the single most important pivot point. We see a reflection on this in scripture with Paul\’s recollections of his conversion that compelled him to \”forget\” what was before and press on to what lies ahead. (Phil. 3.13)For many men, and now for many women also, war is the most important pivot point in their lives. A friend who died recently spent the majority of his life as a respected lawyer and judge, but in his later years it was only his war time service and hours in the cockpit of his bomber that held any meaning for him. The events of those days and his memory of them had fashioned the whole of his self identity.I am sorry that war time experiences have that kind of power because the pivot points they generate often bring with them great emotional damage that reaches out to damage others as well. They can make life without war as difficult to endure as life with war. How much better the power of God to transform lives from death to life, from hatred to love, from despair to hope. It is the greater and ultimately victorious power, but it is also harder to apprehend than the immediacy of bombs and bullets.

  2. B17, B24, B25 – sound like high powered vitamins to me:)Kidding aside – very nice post. For a person who claims \”story-telling\” is not one of his assets, you could have fooled me with this one.

  3. My Grandfather was a pilot in two of those types of planes. First, as a young brash officer in the Army Air Core and then in the Air Force. He was shot down twice, once in occupied France and then again over Germany. Both times he evaded capture and made his way back. Both times he lost good friends. Grandpa has been gone some twenty one years, but his stories, live in me and now in my own son\’s, as well. I think that you are right Steve; some stories have to be told, so that we can recognize how they fit into our lives. I tell the stories, so that I know how Grandpa fits in my life. I know that the medals are shiny, that the valor was great, but I also know the warmth of Grandpa\’s lap, the prickliness of his beard, and the love that flowed and continues to flow through our family. I also know that my Grandpa was unfortunately a rarity. I pray for the men and women of this war that they too, may find themselves not defined by war, but by their true being and selves.

  4. My father served in the submarine service while those planes inhabited the skies. I went inside one submarine of the class on which he served. Cramped and utilitarian they were indeed.Dad was not involved directly in combat operations, according to the sparse stories I remember. It was a part of his life where he was a responsible participant in society of his heritage.I am a veteran of the more recent conflict in Vietnam. I too acted as a responsible participant responding to the demands of the society in which I live. I chose not to flee the country to avoid being drafted into a conflict which had purposes much less clear than WW II. I returned unscathed, physically and mentally. I shed tears when I visited a replica of the memorial to my contemporaries who did not survive the conflict. Most of them reluctantly answered the same call that I did. They, and their families, paid a dear price.My experience in a war zone was a significant experience, but not a turning point in my life. That is my brief \”war\” story. The lessons I would like to share from my war story, and my life story, are: that war is not to be entered lightly; bravery can be a consequence, but not a reason for war; \”preemptive\” war is not defense, it is aggression.I share a bit of my story with a damp eye and many other emotions.Everyone has stories. Being able to tell those stories can help heal wounds that might be associated with them. Be willing to bestow the gift of listening.

Leave a Reply