Saturday, February 04, 2006

Real American heroes in my backyard

It's that time of year when my dad stops being a crazy busy real estate broker and goes out in his front yard to watch airplanes fly low over his house from dusk to dawn.

We live about three miles from Mesa's historical Falcon Field, which was used as a training ground for British and American airmen during WWII and was the site of the unbelievably bad war propaganda movie Thunderbirds, Soldiers of the Air.

Each January the air field puts on a WWII-era dance, and people who collect airplanes from that era fly them in from great distances. That means I usually run into these old-timers at the Wal Mart across the street or some other nearby market.

A few years ago I ended up talking to an 86-year-old WWII bomber pilot in line at the grocery store. I thanked him for kicking the wazoo out of the Nazi's for me so I didn't grow up eating stuffed sausages, drinking dark beer, or speaking strange German words like Volkswagen.

Oh. Wait.

He laughed and said he only wished he'd had that opportunity to do some personal damage. He just flew the plane and tried not to get killed.

"Hitler didn't scare me. He was a tiny little punk. I was confident, if God granted me that glorius moment to personally confront Hitler, I'd have kicked his [tookus] three ways from Sunday.

"No, the munchkin didn't scare me. It was all those people he inspired that made my knuckles white."

This man, whose name I do not remember, said he spent several years dodging bullets and flying over Hitler's backyard to drop several hundred "gifts."

I don't think those gifts were returnable.

I asked him about one of my favorite movies, Memphis Belle, and he cringed. He said the movie was too difficult to watch because the bombing scenes were a little too real for him. Bad memories. Not good for a dodgy ticker. And other than that, the movie was a bunch of malarkey. Nobody ever looked that good or that clean, he said, particularly the gunners, who were usually "uglier than sin. That's why we put them down in lower hell."

I asked him why he volunteered and he said his father pushed him into it. But it was only after he had spent a few months in service when he fully understood why he needed to be there, and he was thankful for both the opportunity to serve and that God spared him to return in compelte health.

I thanked him again, this time without the sarcasm. I admitted I had doubts my generation could have won that war, that I believed God had set aside special men and women like him for that era as a blessing to this country.

He received it with grace, but said it was not the people who won the war, but the American ideals. They preserved honor, valor, duty. He said he had faith any American generation under the current flag would respond the same way when confronted with such great threat, because patriotism always trumps politics once our comfort zones have been erased. The ideals are suited to be defended well by anyone who enjoys them, he said.

We had stood in the parking lot for seemingly hours and he had to go. We shook hands and he thanked me for taking an interest in a major part of his life.

He walked away with my gratitude and a whole new appreciation for real heroes. It was not the great deed that made him a hero, but his sacrifice, the very real act of putting his life on the line for mine.

And I am grateful.

No comments: