Today is Memorial Day in the US. I however have been having my own version of the day, my own reflections, all week long.
They were stirred up by some old airplanes.
Out of Moffet Federal Airfield, once Moffet Naval Air Station, three World War II bombers have been making regular flights around the valley. A B-17G, and B-24J, and a B-25J from the Collings Foundation have been available for tours. If you were willing to part with enough money, you could even get a ride. It must have been a popular attraction, as the three planes spent all last weekend and much of the week slowly circling our local air space.
The B-17 seems to have been the most popular of the lot. The Sunday before yesterday, while I was working in the back yard, it flew around and over our house more than a dozen times. The sound of its four big Wright radial engines became a common sound over the few days it was here to visit. I remarked to my wife as it flew over, “Just a normal Sunday afternoon… in 1944.”
The B-24 made fewer passes, and its pilot seemed unwilling to stray over our home. It floated past, low in the sky, skirting the edge of the valley where it begins to climb into the Pacific Coast range.
The B-25 I only saw twice. Once on my morning commute to work and once, low, slow, and magnificently loud right over our house.
And through the presence of these planes, I have been thinking of my grandfather’s generation, the generation that made up the bulk of those who went off to WWII.
I was born at a strange time. I am either the youngest member of the Baby Boomer generation or the oldest of the Gen-X generation. My father preceded the post war baby boom, being born at the outset of the war, while my mother, 19 years my senior, just qualifies for the very start of that generation.
To me the war has always seemed like a distant event, nearly ancient history. The black and white movies that make up most of the film record of the war always made it seem like a different age. And an overcast age. The sky is always grey in those movies, so much so that I am frequently shocked when I see color footage of the war featuring clear blue skies and bright sunshine.
But in truth WWII was not so distant. It was less than 20 years past when I was born. The young men who went off to fight in that was were around my age now at the time of my birth. The war was still a vivid, living memory to them.
But that memory is fading. The major leaders of that time mostly passed before or during my childhood. The senior core of the pre-war army, the older men who formed the cadre around which the armed forces were built during WWII, passed in my youth.
And now the young men who made up the officers and men who filled out the army, who helped mobilize the entire country, who went off to distant places to prosecute a war for their country, they are now passing. They are now in their late 70s and early 80s. Their memories, the final remaining first hand accounts of the war, are slowly fading away.
So, with appropriate poignancy, the planes which stirred up these thoughts are gone. The sky is quiet, and I miss them.