Thursday, December 7, 2017

Seventy Six Years Ago...

It was a December morning in northern Ohio, much like many before and after. Chances are very high there was snow on the ground, but the clouds were high enough and wind light enough that airplanes could still fly. My bird was brand-new back then, only a few months since she came out of the factory, her wings still proudly sporting her brand new 65-hp engine held aloft on a 36-foot wingspan. She was put together by my grandmother's best friends in shifts after high school, and (here my grandmother sighs) "What men were left", as the United States of America was gearing up for the inevitable entry into the European conflict.

At 11:55 in the morning, my plane was flying - and the young men inside of the flying club were likely having a blast with a brand-new bird on a beautiful winter day... only hampered by the fact that a Taylorcraft's heater is just powerful enough to warm the pilot's right big toe!

There was no way to know that half a world away, right at that moment in the Command Center on Ford Island, Commander Logan C. Ramsey looked out a window to see a low-flying plane. His first thought was that it was a reckless pilot (For certainly young men and powerful planes are a temptation to mischief, so this wouldn't have been the first or fiftieth reckless pilot he'd seen.) Then he saw “something black fall out of that plane” and realized it was a bomb.

And the world, in a sudden, heart-wrenching instant, would never be the same.

Commander Ramsey ran to the radio room and ordered the telegraph operators to send out an uncoded message to every ship and base: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL

That message echoed across America, at the speed of light, hampered only by the reflexes of telegraph operators, and by early afternoon, even Alliance, Ohio knew. Because the war machine had lurched to life, and closed the airspace to all non-military flights.

Yes, they never teach us that 9/11 wasn't the first time the national airspace closed - but it was! If your plane wasn't involved in the war training effort, carrying passengers, or special exemption, it was grounded for the duration - that way we knew if any unfriendly airplanes appeared, they couldn't be our own.

There's an almost two-month gap in the logbook, after she was grounded on account of war. And then she took to the skies again, as a trainer, teaching young men to fly in her patient, friendly little cockpit before they moved on to fighters and bomber in theater. We'd been bled hard in The Great War, and now attacked on our own soil... and by God, we were going to make the world safe again. Pearl Harbor would never happen again!

I'm going to go spend some time with my old girl tonight, as she rests in a hangar in Texas. She's seen a lot of the world for a little bit of disposable fun that wasn't supposed to last more than twenty years.

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