Thursday, June 27, 2013

War and Remembrance

No, I haven't just reread Herman Wouk's classic novel, though I loved it when I did, thirty-some years ago. Rather I am writing about a more personal remembrance of World War II.

When Don and I realized that we would be going to Cambridge, England, to visit with his grandson, I floated the idea of driving out into the countryside to the old RAF airfield where my dad was stationed when he was a B-24 pilot during World War II. The name of the village is Tibenham and, even as we asked directions, it seemed clear that no one had heard of it except me.

Don bravely offered to drive - a harrowing experience but one he undertook on my behalf, As we got farther and farther out into the countryside I began to doubt myself. If I hadn't been to the website of the Norfolk Gliding Club, I would have been sure that my dad had been telling tales.

In one of the tiniest villages I've ever seen by car, on a road with scarcely room for one mini-cooper, a woman was walking her horse. She graciously directed us to the airfield and there it was - an old, grassed over airstrip where the 445th bomb group ran thousands of sorties over Germany from 1943 to 1945.
Two delightful elderly gentlemen, well, yes, perhaps our age or a bit older, were working on a glider behind a building so we walked over to chat them up. Their gracious hospitality all that I'd read to expect and more.  The younger man was a six year old when the American "flyboys" were stationed in his village. All he remembers of those time is chocolates. The older man, Dave, I suspect, had lived through a different memory.
He showed us the old hangars, still intact, and drove with us to the clubhouse where the memorabilia, library, and maps of the old airfield remain for those, like me, who make pilgrimages to honor the memory of these young men who left college mid-stream as my dad did, or who came over as gunners, mechanics, or radio operators to fight the scourge of Nazi oppression.
It's a mind boggling experience to stand on this ground and imagine my dad, who always struck me as a rather conciliatory, don't rock the boat kind of guy, as a twenty year old, already awarded a pair of wings and the control of a B-24 aptly named The Liberator. I can't fathom the kind of courage it took to step into that cockpit, fly to Germany and return, not once but twenty-five times.
I wondered if his spirit somehow lived on in that space and if he knew or sensed that I was there with Don, a fellow pilot, with Don's grandson, a young man of twenty-three who may or may not feel the pall of history that had settled on this place. It was a day of war and remembrance, not for reading but for feeling. Now we're on our way to Brussels and I may have some time to get back to my books. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for bearing with me through this sentimental journey.


TooManyBooks said...

So glad you got to do it. What a great memory for you. Can't wait to hear about Brussels!

Kathleen said...

What a cool experience!

I remember driving those remote roads on the west coast of Ireland, barely room for 2 cars on those supposed 2 lane roads!