Visiting the B-29

My little book club, for April, is reading “Unbroken”, by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote “Seabiscuit”.   I can’t really say enough good things about Hillenbrand.  She writes meticulously researched historical accounts, and yet she writes in such a way that, as the cliche goes, it’s like reading fiction.  And when you know her personal history (she has CFIDS), her accomplishments with these two books alone are monumental.

Unbroken is the story of a guy named Louis Zamperini, who was a huge track star in the 1930’s, who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Munich.  Then WWII happened.  Then he and his mates in the Army Air Corps were forced to fly in a plane they called the Green Hornet, a B-24 which was barely airworthy.  (To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, they went with the planes they had, rather than with the planes they wish they had.)  They crashed into the Pacific.  Only three of the crew survived, and one of them didn’t last.  After 46 (or 47) days, they are “rescued” by the Japanese.  Zamperini spends three years in a Japanese POW camp on the Japanese mainland.

Enter the B-29.  This plane was only developed in 1944, and when they started fire-bombing the Japanese mainland, the prisoners could see them flying over from camp.  It gave them the hope they needed.  They said to themselves, I think it’s almost over.  I think we are going to win. And of course, it was two B-29’s which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So by a complete coincidence, the only B-29 that can still fly (“Fifi”) was in Tallahassee last week.  I knew I had to go see it.

I read about it in the newspaper, which really gave you no details.  So I had to call the airport.  Where exactly is the plane located?  Are you allowed to take pictures?  (I would think yes, the technology is so outdated that if the Chinese don’t have it already, they are dumber than we think. On the other hand, B-29’s ended WWII, so it would not be a bad technology to have.)  The person at the airport who took my call said the plane was in the General Aviation area, but as for pictures, she didn’t know, and gave me another number to call.  (How funny is that?  It’s not my department.)

But the real reason I wanted to post about this has to do with my experience there.  First of all, it was a glorious day.  Blue skies and big puffy, fluffy, cumulous clouds that looked like gigantic marshmallows.  Everybody there was excited for their own reasons, everyone had to make a special effort to come.  The atmosphere was very festive.  Like a rock star, Fifi had a big entourage with her, and they tirelessly answered questions over and over.  They loved their plane.

So what could go wrong? Ha!  This is what can go wrong:  get a bunch of humans together who don’t know each other.

So while we were patiently waiting in line, a bunch of little kids peeked in.  You had to enter via the bomb doors, and with the bomb doors open, they came close to the ground and blocked the view into the cockpit.  I had to peek myself.  I was intimidated by seeing people in front of me have to duck under the bomb doors.  I said to the tall guy in front of me, I’m not sure I can do this.  I could get claustrophobic.  He said, in that case, I’m glad I’m in front of you instead of behind you.  But it turns out it was only a brief duck.  I could deal with that.  Entourage Guy overheard me and said, Good thing the back of the plane is not open for viewing, because to get there, you have to crawl down a tube.  I said, for all I care, it could be open, I would just not be going there in this lifetime.

But when Tall Guy, who was next line to enter the plane, “allowed” the little kids to peek, Entourage Guy scolded him for it.  As if it was Tall Guy’s job to control the line.  I said, he isn’t letting them in, he’s just letting them look.  There’s not enough room for us to even get on the plane.  But Entourage Guy would not let it go. A kerfuffle developed.  Tall Guy seemed to feel he was being disrespected.  Entourage Guy thought his authority was being challenged.

Are we having fun yet?

Ahem, said the woman behind me, mildly.  It appears that in order to get on this plane, we’ll have to fight World War II again first.

After ducking under the bomb door, the next hurdle was climbing a ladder into the cockpit.  And this ladder’s steps consisted of round iron bars.  I was like…Oh no.  I’ve come this far, but I don’t know if I can do this. My choices were to turn back or climb.  I so wanted to see the inside of this plane–my choice was Climb.  When I do stuff like this, it’s not that I’m likely to fall, it’s more that I’m afraid of falling.  Which makes me more likely to fall.

So I get to the next to last step on the ladder and try to hoist myself into the cockpit, and I can’t do it.  Now what?  But there ahead of me is Tall Guy. He says, No, no, no.  Don’t try to do it that way.  Go ahead and stand on the last step of the ladder, and put your right hand on this bar to your right, and if you don’t mind me touching you, I will help you.

The moral to this story is that when you interact with people you don’t know, you come across some astonishing examples of stupidity.   But I would say that equally often, you come across astonishing examples of good.  Good that derives not from your having deserved it, or done anything to earn it, but just from them being that kind of person.


4 responses to “Visiting the B-29

  1. I think it was cool that you went to see the B29, perhaps out of character for you, thus it was a growth opportunity. But more than that it sounded like you enjoyed it so it was fun.

    Unbroken is an extraordinary book, some writers never approach it’s level of storytelling. It was the best book I read for 2011, even better than Nov 22, 1963.

    We have talked about this book on a previous post, I believe it was yours. I am glad to see you enjoy historical novels about war. Not because I revel in books about war but as Gen Lee said, “it is good that war is so terrible, lest we grow to fond of it.”

    Of course Unbroken is about the good in humans prevailing and enduring against “outrageous fortune” which places it in the most enriching category of literature.

    Louis Zamperini is an extraordinary man living through extraordinary times chronicled by a gifted and extraordinary author. Really good stuff. As, he told Hillenbrand, he was a better subject than Seabiscuit (only) becuase he could talk.

  2. At first, I thought I missed something; but after reading the whole post I’m glad I didn’t go. I might have gone postal….

    Welcome back PT!

  3. Thanks SC

  4. It is indeed good to see you pt. I agree with you about everything you said, except maybe for the part about “liking” books about war. It would probably be more accurate to say that I don’t completely shy away from them. Most recently what comes to mind that I’ve read is Shindler’s List, and a novel by Scott Simon (of NPR) called Pretty Birds. That book was a novel about the war in Bosnia, specifically about the siege of Sarajevo. It was good, but depressing. Before I read that book, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone more ignorant than I about that war, and I still only know a smidgen. Maybe one day I will find a good but more comprehensive book about it.
    sc, are you referring to the altercation?

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