Originally published 20 February, 2014
Laurie clowning around in the desert
Heather has said to me more than once that history means "his story". Today...she was right.
We like the places we visit, but a human connection to someplace makes it so much more than it is simply on it's own. It gives us a clarity on where we're at and what we're doing that tends to escape us without that human connection. We see objects and places, but to connect another person to the things and places makes them more intense, more real, more worth understanding. A connection like this was the high point of my day.
Bill and Col. Bushong
Where were you this day last year? Five years ago? Ten? Today, I talked to a man who was 91 years old. He said that he remembered exactly where he was SEVENTY years ago today and what he was doing. I asked him where he was and he replied: "Piloting my B-17 over Rostock Germany, bombing an aircraft assembly plant". Welcome to the 390th Memorial Museum, part of the Pima Air and Space Museum near Tucson.
Charlie don't surf.......
We talked for 20 minutes with Richard Bushong. (I bought his book from the gift shop and I'm presently reading it). He signed up with the Army Air Corps as a kid of 19. He went through pilot school, and flew bomber and fighter aircraft for our country for 32 years, spanning World War II through Vietnam. We were in the company of a genuine, true American hero.
Fun museum stuff!
(Retired) Colonel Bushong answered all our questions and truly seemed to enjoy his time talking with us. He told us about being ill, and his crew flew with another pilot. They were shot down while he was in the hospital. He flew missions all over Europe during WWII, and the places he pointed out were a hit parade of all the important targets I have read about for years.
In the bathroom....they're serious about sunblock around here.
He told us about all the different B-17's he flew and that his son researched them all to find out that every one he flew was destroyed in the war. He told us about his 90th birthday, when his children, grand children, and great grand children traveled here for his birthday. He informed them that it was his day to work at the museum as a volunteer and they would be having his birthday at the museum.
It said Tennessee on it!!!!!
The Colonel humanized history for us. He was there....and his descriptions and discussions made where he had been, and what he had done come to life. It made the history matter so much more. I bought his book, had him sign it, and shook his hand. If nothing else happened to me this day, I had already had one hell of a day.
I am an aircraft buff. I've studied military aircraft all my life...since I was a little kid. I've read so many books and spotters manuals Laurie sometimes thought me obsessive. We wandered the 80 acre site and it's buildings, and yes I had seen many of the aircraft before. There were other aircraft that I had not seen......and sometimes the human story attached to an aircraft I was already quite familiar with made it all new again.
Lt. Curdes ' plane
One of my favorites was about a P-51 pilot named Lt. Louis Curdes. He was a pilot in both Europe and the pacific, with many enemy planes shot down. During a mission near Bataan, his wingman was shot down and ditched in the ocean. He circled while waiting for a rescue plane, and noticed a C-47 (American) cargo plane trying to land on the Japanese held island. If it landed, the people on this plane would not have fared well at the hands of the Japanese, who were quite ruthless at the time.
Curdes made several attempts to keep the plane from landing, and eventually (and carefully so not to damage the cabin of the plane) shot both the engines out on the plane and it ditched in the ocean, almost on top of his wingman. All the people on the plane, which included two army nurses, were rescued the next day, as was his wingman. For his efforts, Lt. Louis Curdes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. As best they know, he is the only person ever to receive a medal for shooting down a FRIENDLY plane!
We also took a bus tour of the 309th AMARG group at Davis Monthan Air Force Base..........commonly known as "The Boneyard". It is well known and has been seen in many documentaries, movies, even music videos! There are approximately 4000 planes in storage there at any given time. Many are stored until they are needed again, while others are cannibalized for parts to keep other aircraft flying. When they can offer no more....they chop 'em up for scrap or they go to museums.
I rode one of these out to the USS JFK!
There were several "art" planes at Pima as well. They were hulk fuselages that artists had painted on. They were actually quite cool. We wandered around, Laurie being quite patient, and checked out other aircraft. I even found one of the type that I had flown on, from NAS Brunswick Maine out to the USS John F. Kennedy in the north atlantic. I loved the museum...and Laurie was quite tolerant with me....and she actually seemed to enjoy some parts of it!
Laurie loved the art planes! This is #1
Art plane #2
Art plane #3
Art plane #4
We left the museum and took a wandering ride through the desert, checking out huge cactus, fancy houses, hiking trails, and the massive freight trains this area has so many of. We got a few train pics, and the engineer actually blew the horn and waved at that silly couple way out on that bluff in the middle of the desert.
Train in the desert
We came back to the RV park and had dinner. It was supposed to be a clear night here. The RV park was originally built by a developer who also built the shopping center next door (we're next to a Safeway supermarket). The developer was an amateur astronomer and loved looking at the heavens...........so he built his very own observatory right in the RV park. I don't know if he has passed away, or what....but the RV park now has shows on the nights where the sky is clear, and you can sign up to go star gazing.
We went to the show tonight, free for people staying here. An employee of the park operated the observatory and let everyone take turns looking at things. We saw star clusters, a nebula, and the planet Jupiter and it's moons. It was a really nice way to end the day.
Quote of the day- Bill to Col. Bushong: Thank you for what you've done. I'm glad you made it back. Col. Bushong: Me too!
Song of the day: Learning to Fly- Foo Fighters
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.
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