By lex, on January 24th, 2012
When Son Number One got his wings in Pensacola these last months past, I took the opportunity to go down with hizzoner and his sainted ma, for to see the Naval Aviation Museum there. That being one of my cultural touchstones, for ours is a proud history with many fine and honorable heroes who preceded us, to serve as examples.
Eugene Ely it was who first put an airplane down upon a carrier deck, just a little over a hundred years ago. Butch O’Hare shot down three Betty bombers – and damaged two others – who were targeting USS Lexington on the unopposed side, saving the ship and thousands of his shipmates, while earning our first ever Medal of Honor. He was trained by Jimmy Thach, who turned a performance disadvantage into a winning tactic, setting the example for generations of innovators. His soul has gone on to meet its reward, but his spirit is with us still.
Pappy Boyington taught the young kids how to fight in the Solomons, and later paid his rent as a guest of Imperial Japan. Joe Foss got his kills at Guadalcanal, and helped protect the grunts from adding to the butcher’s bill.
Jessie Brown broke the color line to serve a country that didn’t yet deserve him in the Korean War, and paid for it with his life. Thomas Hudner crashed his airplane alongside him, behind enemy lines, trying to save his life. He also earned the MoH. John Koelsch gave his life so that another might live. Clyde Lassen learned his example a decade or so later.
Jim Stockdale earned his ribbon refusing to submit to the North Vietnamese. Mike Estocin understood the concept of being on “government time” over Haiphong. He went missing because of it, his fate known to God alone.
It’s a lot to live up to.
But they all came from somewhere. Ely came from Davenport, Iowa. O’Hare from Saint Louis. Thach from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Pappy from Coeur D’Alene. Foss from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jessie Brown from the hard hate of Hattiesburg, MS. Hudner from Fall River, Mass. Jack Koelsch from London, England. Lassen from Fort Myers, FL. Admiral Stockdale from Abingdon, IL. Estocin from Turtle Creek, PA.
Flyover country, mostly. Not the kinds of places that send kids to Harvard or Yale. Apart from Koelsch. Who came from the old country for reasons of his own, and gave his life for one of his adopted brothers.
Where do we grow the next crop? How do we reach them?