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.