Saturday, May 06, 2006

Goodbye, Hanoi. Hello, Dayton.

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The Hanoi Taxi, flying over the Air Force Museum in December, 2005.
The last C-141 in service, nicknamed the Hanoi Taxi in honor of the 500 American POW's who came home on her, was retired in Dayton, Ohio today. The take-off, touch & go, and landing will be her last. My brother was assigned as the Crew Chief for this plane, and although he did the pre-flight checks, he was not able to fly on her last flight.

Standing in the chilly field this morning, trying to manipulate a 5 year old, a video camera and the 35mm still wasn't very successful- we'll see what kind of images I captured later today. Needless to say, I was *not* the AV Geek in school for a reason. *sigh*

The fly-overs and landing were emotional, knowing that it truly was the last time a C-141 will EVER fly, and the pilot brought her down with perfection. The landing was so smooth, it didn't hardly make a screech or puff of smoke. This simple landing, however, will be forever etched in my memory. Not because of its dramatic presence in the air, but because of the history.
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Final approach
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...almost down
(And unfortunately, that's the last picture I have that isn't blurry as hell. My Dad got some shots, so hopefully once he gets his film developed I'll have more to show you. For some reason, the cd I got with my pictures turned out really crappy- the real pictures look MUCH better.)

While in the museum today, we saw TONS (and I do mean TONS) of military aircraft. Some were USAF; many were not. We saw Bockscar, the bomber that dropped "Little Boy", but weren't able to get out to Restoration to see the "Memphis Belle", which won't be on public display for 9 more years. This museum may be on an Air Force base, but it is not limited to Air Force planes. I wish I could have had more time to explore, but I only had a couple of hours. I REALLY wish I could have spent more time in the new POW exhibit. Unfortunately, my next trip there won't give me the same experience, because the museum was host to a Viet Nam POW reunion today. Those who had "been there-done that" were really there. Now THAT was an experience.

When the Hanoi Taxi is on display at air shows, they play a video about the Freedom Flights. The POW display includes this video, 3 cells, and a display board. I was lifting Kevin up so that he could see inside the tiny 3 by 5 cell, when I overheard an older man peering into the next cell say "Yep. That's pretty much how I remember it. Cold, cramped, and tapping morse code between the walls."

Holy Shit.

This man, and the one he was talking to, really were There. I was suddenly quiet in their presence. I wanted to say "thank you" and "welcome home". Instead, I said "It was really like that? So... you were really there?" They just looked at me, holding my small child in my arms, and said "Yes. It really was like that, and yes, we were really there."

Holy Shit.

He looked at the display board next, pointing to the picture of a guy on one of the Freedom Flights and said "That's Conners. Yep. I think that's Conners", and the other guy agreed. They said something more about how that picture was from the second Freedom Flight, and neither of them was on it. Neither knew what tail number they flew home on, and they didn't care until much later in life. All they knew was that a USAF Freedom Bird was taking them HOME. Looking at the pictures, and seeing those men standing there gave me chills.

Over at the tv, my parents and sister-in-law had another unique experience. This guy spoke up and said, "Here I come. Yeah. That's me!". Then his name appeared on the bottom of the screen, which verified that he was in fact the young, gaunt man on the tv. He's older now, and bald, as he pointed out when he removed his Viet Nam Veteran ballcap and rubbed his shiny scalp. My Dad is a Viet Nam Veteran, yet standing there in the presence of this man, I could tell he was in awe.

I'm sorry I got tongue-tied around those men. I'm REALLY sorry I couldn't have stayed around and listened to their stories. I'm so grateful for their service and sacrifice, yet I just didn't know how to express my gratitude when I had the chance. I hate it when I get stupid like that. If I had to do it all over again, I would have stuck out my hand to shake theirs, said thank you, and welcome to Dayton. It's a little late for me to welcome them home, but I wanted to so bad. I wanted them to know that MY generation will not fall prey to the protestor mentality of THEIR generation. My generation will never forget the sacrifice of our soldiers, both past and present, and we will NOT dishonor them with jeers and general nastiness. I, for one, will NOT let that happen again.

I will post pictures and links later, but for now, I just wanted to make sure I got my thoughts about seeing this group of survivors on paper. (ok... pix are up) They outlived the war. And now, they've outlived their Freedom Bird.
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Thanks guys.
Welcome home.


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