Visitor Stories Logbook – A New Addition

My original intention for the Visitor Stories Logbook was for it to serve as a kind of “guest blogger” destination where thousands of my avid fans would queue up for the opportunity to share aviation-related interests and experiences.

That hasn’t happened, of course, although three writer friends responded to my pleas for content very soon after I launched the site, and their stories exceeded my expectations. In the wake of that initial activity and without receiving any additional input from others, I soon decided to expand the purpose of the logbook by publishing aviation stories of interest to me that I found in newspapers, magazines, or online. Three of these have proven to be among the most popular posts on this site: “A Narrow Escape” by General Merrill McPeak, “Koga’s Zero” by Jim Rearden, and “Tribute to the Blackbird” by Mike Volker.

These aren’t true visitor’s stories because the authors have never been anywhere near my blog, but I’m confident they would forgive my interest in what they had to say should they ever learn that their words appear here.

One of my writer friends knows a WWII fighter pilot whose experiences in Europe deserve the utmost admiration and respect of anyone who enjoys the freedoms preserved by the sacrifices of what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” I’ve paid anonymous tribute to this combat veteran with “A Fighter Pilot’s Office,” a short post that includes a beautiful painting of his P-51 Mustang inflight over the Cliff’s of Dover on the southern coast of England. And I am honored to announce that I will soon be publishing a true visitor story of his that will take you longer to read than it took him to experience it. It is an astonishing account of the intense time compression that occurs in aerial combat. You won’t want to miss it.

But for now, this post introduces a new aspect of the Visitor Stories Logbook in which I’ll be using it to expand the subject matter from aviation to virtually anything others have to say that is of interest to me. And hopefully to someone else . . .

The impetus for this change arrived in a most unlikely fashion. During a recent period of frequent posting on the Adobe InDesign Forum, I “met” a senior forum contributor, one of many who lead novices like myself out of the dark and closer to the light of understanding in how to use the application.

He and I began corresponding in the private message portion of the forum, and we soon discovered interests in common other than a graphic design program: aviation (as you might have guessed), writing (another surprise), and best of all, sharing life experiences gained through decades of surviving it. I’ve not met him in person and likely never will, but through the long arm of the Internet and the written word, we can establish and nurture a common bond.

Our discussions have touched on a variety of subjects, which is one of the things that fuels our mutual interest. This first installment from him is a case in point. With minor editing here and there (that he hopefully will not notice or even care if he does), here is the first contribution to the “new” Visitor Stories Logbook:

I skimmed through your blog page. Wow! I’ll read more thoroughly later. Meanwhile, above all else, thanks for your service! I was born in the late ’30s, and while growing up through much of grade school, my parents would refer to terrible things that were done to Jews in Europe, but something in their telling always made it seem to me that those were years, even generations, earlier, not at the time. Perhaps they did it to protect me, or they didn’t understand how it was coming across.

When I was at a Jewish day camp, one summer day while our girl counselors were showering us 4-year-olds, they all suddenly started screaming and went berserk, ran outside, and began dancing in circles. I never had seen a Hora before that. Finally we could make out that they were screaming “the war is over!” It may have been the Hiroshima bombing and the anticipation of all that might follow. I’m not sure of the date; it could have been the second bomb, or V-J day. I can’t remember what age I was when I learned that June 6 was D-Day, and what it meant.

Around age five or so, I have my first strong memory of meeting one of my uncles at my grandfather’s house. He was back from the War, with an injury. Can’t remember if it was on furlough to recover, or final discharge after the War. He showed me a pistol. I tried to pull the trigger, but couldn’t, so I thought I was too little. Later, I learned about the safety. He died a couple of years ago, age 102. Whenever I think of him, it’s at the kitchen table with the pistol. I just learned from his son-in-law that the gun is still in the family, a Luger.

As kids, we’d see dogfights and war film in newsreels, but at least for me, it always seemed more like history than current events. We all liked the P-51 Mustangs and Flying Tigers, I mean, who wouldn’t, at least in Allied countries?

Later, I had a Reynolds ball-point pen, an aluminum tube with blue-ink tip with retractable hooded cover, very male, and a red-ink cartridge that stored in the opposite end of the tube. Pointing in, it was stored; reversed and reinserted, it was for writing in red. Maybe the first editor’s ball-point. The pen’s significance other than maybe the first ball-point, was that it honored the new jet engine and planes, because of the value of aluminum in airplanes, engines, and combat.

In my 50’s, a hobby-photographer whose career was optics and lens making told me he’d been a WWII bomber navigator. This was one of the first real connections I made to what had been the reality of war when I was a kid. No, we didn’t discuss it. I got it from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Just a lot of hours in loud cold fear, interspersed with a few minutes of even more fear and prayer for more loud cold hours on the way back to base. I could see how useless my ground-identification skills would have been on a team like that. Glad there were folks who knew what they were doing.

A kid friend in the ’40s had a Norden Bomb Sight game. It was a dartboard with targets printed on it, and a box with a movable mirror inside that you’d peep into through an eye slot. You’d stand over the board, and adjust the mirror to line up the crosshairs and the target, then press a latch to release a bomb-shaped dart. I sucked at it, and never played after my first disappointing game.

We lived in Brooklyn until moving to Chicago in ’47. On trips to visit relatives in Far Rockaway, my dad always pointed out the folding-wing fighters lined up at Floyd Bennett field, I guess waiting for loading onto carriers. They always looked to me like they were protecting the pilots in the cockpits.

A couple of years ago at my first historical air show, I saw the real stuff from the past, like the fighter, and I boarded a B-17 and saw where my former-navigator friend would have spent his multiple missions. Although the ’17’s and other craft were giving rides, I missed the chance. And more significant, at the show were some of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen, still sharp. I took the time to shake each one’s hand and thank them for serving. I can’t imagine how additionally tough it had for black men to get any credence in any area of life then, and especially facing all the doubt that they’d have the skills and intelligence to achieve the incredibly rare position of combat pilot.

One more cheer leading thing [about using InDesign] from me to you: I’ve heard that one of the hardest parts of achieving a pilot’s license is getting through ground school. Maybe you’re so old that you can’t remember getting through this. =:-) Just remember how many complex multi-threaded-interrelated things you’ve done successfully, plus your combat missions, and compare those to pulling together strategies for operating InDesign. Piece of cake, right?

As to me writing up my stuff, I don’t have the stick-to-it-ness to do more than cite snips, as you’ve seen me do. Unless there’s money for me to make, I give you the OK to thread whatever you find useful into your blog or novels. I’ll be happy just to recognize something of myself. I won’t hire a lawyer to sue for something, like the woman who claims to be the supposedly-real-life girl whose sight inspired Antonio Carlos Jobim to compose The Girl from Ipanema. A byline is fine. “Anonymous” is OK, too.

Ditto about finding connections from the start. Great to know you.

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