Sunday, May 3, 2015

The First Decade: To Fly and Fight

During the Air Force's first decade, from 1947 to 1957, I was a child and teenager growing up in Washington, D. C.

No one remembers why, but since I was old enough to talk, I was interested in only two things---airplanes and the Air Force.

A congenital hearing defect kept me from applying to become an Air Force pilot or a cadet at the new school they were building in Colorado. I was the right age to be in the Air Force Academy's third class.

A 1957 recruiting song, "Air Force Blue," sung by Ed Herlihy, struck a chord then. Today, in its original form and as revised, it sounds corny---just like the simple beliefs we held about defending freedom during the Cold War.

The song began with a reference to "the men" who wear "the blue from the skies, and a pretty girl's eyes, and a touch of Old Glory's hue." You can find the original version on the Internet at:

In today's world where gender is taboo, the song, rarely performed any longer, has revisionist lyrics that no longer mention "the men" of the Air Force. That change needed to be made. But the revisionists got rid of something else, too. In my America, no one found anything wrong with admiring "a pretty girl's eyes."

I'd like to live in that America again.

My father believed that government, including the Air Force, had a great story to tell citizens.

In December 1945, he took me to Bolling Field in Washington to see the XB-42 Mixmaster, a most peculiar experimental bomber with a pusher propeller situated behind a cruciform tail.

Leaving aside the fact that the XB-42 crashed the next day with all three aboard parachuting to safety, I remember running my hands over the distinctive glass nose of the bomber and being impressed that people in uniform talked openly about it. There were guards, but their only job was to keep order. Anyone could visit Bolling, any time.

I'd like to live in that America again.

In 1947, Dad took me to the other base in our area, Andrews Field, Md., to see a visit by three Lincoln bombers of Britain's Royal Air Force. It was a festive event. We merely slowed down at the main gate. Dad's driver's license---like mine, a few years later---was simply a piece of paper. Military people had identity cards but among citizens the concept of a "photo ID" did not exist.

I'd like to live in that America again.

Just months before the Air Force's 10th anniversary, at age 17, I raised my right hand and became a wearer of---well, not blue, but sage-green fatigues, the most practical attire the Air Force ever had.

Many months later, I stepped off a transport plane in South Korea and was greeted by this sign: "WELCOME TO OSAN AIR BASE. YOU ARE AT FREEDOM'S FRONTIER."

Those words still give me a chill. In the 1950s we faced a clear choice between freedom and tyranny. Today, no militant group or rogue nation can realistically plot to destroy the United States. In the 1950s, men in Moscow did.

It is easy to forget, today, that in our time of greatest danger, it was the Air Force that kept us free.

It was a time when Americans had clear goals and shared purpose.

I'd like to like in that America again, too.

No comments :

Post a Comment