Thought for the Day – ‘A Vessel of Human Courage’.

Builders,

The following story is an observation; How we as Americans, often fail to appreciate what it cost our Fathers and Grandfathers to provide the world we live in today.  Below is a simple example of how a media image, by inappropriately grouping two things together, ‘dumbs down’ a part of our history, and unconsciously dilutes our respect for a sacrifice we should still remember with profound reverence.

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Above, a photo taken at Oshkosh 2018. The image was very popular in the EAA.

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The bomber is a B-17, the very symbol of American courage, the willingness to invade in worlds most defended airspace in broad daylight to attack the most evil regime in history.  The US 8th Air Force  flew those missions, and they cost the lives of 26,000 Americans. Next time you are attending an airshow, walk up and place your bare hand on the skin of a B-17; it is just .040″ thick aluminum. This offers no resistance at all to a 20mm cannon round, none to a 13mm machine gun bullet, and effectively nothing to the fragments of an exploding 88mm flak shell. Our country once commonly produced young men who had the courage for 10 hour missions of this. Today, all that is left is a tiny fraction of them, old and withered, who you may have seen walk up to touch the skin of a B-17 once more. In 5 more years we will still have the planes, but the men will be all gone, and an element of our national courage will have left with them. We still generate good people, but its fair to say we will not have men like the 8th Air Force crews again, and this is what people at airshows should consider when they see a B-17.  It isn’t just a plane, it is a vessel of human courage, We made 12,000 B-17s, and we once had more than enough men of exceptional courage to fill them.

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The other aircraft in the picture is a Van’s RV-12, this years ‘one week wonder’. I am a person with different perspectives, and I find it being pictured with a B-17 a mistake. It may not matter to almost everyone else, but if your thinking doesn’t neatly fit in the ‘almost everyone’ box, maybe the reason will resonate with you. If you see it differently, thats fine, I present these ideas as “thought provoking, not thought providing.”

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Putting a fun plane in the picture with a B-17, draws the common idea they are both planes, and the EAA is all about planes. Good?…..I don’t think so. As I said above, a B-17 isn’t just a plane, it is a symbol of national courage, and it should alway be presented as this, if the sacrifice of the men who flew them is to be understood.  I find this particularly critical while any person who flew them in combat is still alive.  You would not present a picture of a Starbucks mug with the Holy Grail.  A proper “Salute to Veterans” isn’t the overbearing airshow announcer and the pyrotechnical ground show, it is quietly understanding, and respectfully addressing the courage these men had, and the RV-12 has no place in that presentation. To picture them together is shallow at best, and arguably disrespectful.

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I have attended 30 years of airshows since I started my work in aviation, and have seen hundreds of hours of warbird ‘airshows’.  The four hours I spent watching two films “Twelve o’clock high” and ‘The Best Years of Our Lives” provided more appreciation for the price the aircrews paid. If more Americans understood that in the fall of 1943 the loss rate on B-17 missions was so high there was less than a 10% chance of surviving 25 missions, perhaps we would have the taste not to include toys in pictures of aircraft which a best understood as vessels of human courage.

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