Monday, June 15, 2015

Sentimental Journey

While I was in Amarillo at Air Force technical school, the sergeant called me out to say, “Ford, your flyboy brother is at the flight line and wants to see you.” The sergeant excused me from duty for an hour or so and actually drove me up to the flight line to meet Curtis. I wasn’t sure whether to expect him or my other flyboy brother, Stanley. I was glad it was Curtis since we were closer in age. We visited a few minutes and said encouraging words to each other. Then he invited me to do the pre-flight inspection with him on the T-33 he had flown there from a south Texas base. I watched him take off in the sleek little plane and then sauntered back to the mundanities of learning how to be a supply clerk.
Of course, I had no way of knowing that would be the last time I would see him. The Air Force sent me to Germany and Curtis went on to B-47 training. He was a First Lieutenant B-47 co-pilot the next time I talked with him by telephone. He and the crew had flown the airplane to England and he gave me a call at my barracks in Germany. He was only there overnight, so we did not have a chance for a face-to-face visit, but it was good to share witticisms and news of where our lives had taken us. Not long after that phone visit, I got word that the B-47 he was in crashed on takeoff in Ohio and that all five crew members perished.
The Air Force was prompt in cutting my orders for emergency leave so I could go to the states for his funeral. When I arrived at the base in New Jersey, I called my other flyboy brother who was stationed in Dayton, near where Curtis and his family (a 3-year-old son and a pregnant wife) lived. This brother told me I should fly to Dayton so I could drive Curtis’ car on down to El Dorado, Ark. where the funeral would be. I did so and have a most vivid memory of the service at the City Cemetery, complete with 21-gun salute and a missing aircraft flyby. My Army sister, other brother (an Air Force officer) and I were all in uniform at the ceremony. I also remember thinking that his wife had put a great deal of thought into the monument. It had a flight insignia engraved on it along with the inscription, “He gave his today for our tomorrows.”

Well, recently I revisited that monument as my wife and I were doing what we call a sentimental journey. That funeral was 55 years ago and yet there at the grave I felt the same emotion I had felt way back then. It was a complicated feeling of remorse balanced by pride in my brother’s sacrifice. Life went on for his widow and his son and daughter. The widow called us last night and we did some major reminiscing about growing up in our era. She said one never gets over a tragedy such as the one she suffered in 1960. And yet, life continues and we find meaning and significance despite deep loss.

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