The story of Louis Zamperini, recounted in the book Unbroken and the movie of the same name which opens this week, is one of perseverance, faith and survival against seemingly insurmountable odds in World War II. And while Zamperini’s story is an incredible one his is not the only story from that era; there were many other who suffered, who were captured and who survived. Honoring those veterans is not something which should have a specific timeframe or window but often it seems that is the case.
With the movie premiering on Christmas Day the Commemorative Air Force, a volunteer organization focused on preserving military aviation history, brought out its B-24 Liberator early in the week. This is the same type of plane Zamperini was in when it went down and he was captured as a PoW and it is one of only two of the type still flying today. The CAF’s mission is to honor both the veterans of the era and the aviation history. On Monday the B-24 was pressed into service to fly a group around, to give a glimpse into what that part of history was like.
Karnig Thomasian is a WWII veteran who joined us for the trip. His B-29 bomber went down over Burma and he bailed out, eventually landing in a rice paddy and then captured by the Japanese. Thomasian served as a PoW for six months. Unsurprisingly he has strong memories of the events, noting that the will to survive is not something which is taught; it is not tied to intelligence or smarts. Survival is something innate to a person.
That there are any operational aircraft from the World War Two era is a great testament to the work the Commemorative Air Force does and a great honor to that era in the history of the United States and the aviation world in general. And flying in Diamond Lil was a spectacular experience. You don’t just hear the engines spool up; you feel it. And then we were off.
Sticking your head out of the window while in flight, grabbing on to the machine gun and trying to keep it steady while buffeted by winds, or slipping into the sling at the rear and keeping an eye out for enemy aircraft which might be following were all great moments. Recognizing that the plane is actually more comfortably appointed today than it was 70 years ago when it flew in service, and that these men often flew missions of 15 hours at a time in the cramped, loud, sparse conditions adds another level of awe and respect to the history involved.
And it is a reminder of what we can look forward to during this holiday season other than just the commercial nature of these days. We must remember our history, honor it and be better people the next time around.
- On board the JetBlue Vets In Blue Inaugural
- JetBlue introduces Vets in Blue, commitment to US military veterans
- Memorial Day remembrance, travel style
- Remembering the “date which will live in infamy” at Pearl Harbor
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