Not so many years ago, I turned 60.
Big deal. Most people will sooner or later.
But I wanted for my birthday was a family trip to a place I’d never visited. In this case, the Wings Over the Rockies Museum in Denver (a stone’s throw away from Buckley Air Force Base – in fact, it used to be part of it).
When you drive up to the museum, you see that it’s housed in what used to be an Air Force Hanger. The runways in that section of the base and other hangers are long gone. Where they used to be are acres of shops and apartments.
Sitting in front of the the hanger is a huge RB-52 on static display. Despite the engines pods being empty, the airplane looks like it’s going to explode of it’s mounting and soar over the homes and restaurants into the air it once cruised through.
Like most air museums, there’s a plethora of aircraft inside to include a F-14 Tomcat and a B-1 bomber.
One thing I thought was cool was an F-4 Phantom with my wife’s name on the side.
The most interesting thing at the museum was an exhibit of life sized bronzes. A group of WW II pilots being briefed on the morning mission. And standing behind them were the ghosts of several fallen comrades. The artist was one of fourteen men who trained together and fought together. At the the end of WW II, there were only two of the original fourteen left. When the other survivor passed away, he’d made a promise to do something to help them be remembered.
Frederic Arnold flew 46 combat missions before he was shot down over Sicily and taken prisoner. He escaped and, after rejoining his unit, completed his 50-mission tour of duty. He then returned to the States, and became a test pilot and the author of the pilot’s manual for the P-47 Thunderbolt, the P-51 Mustang, and the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first jet fighter.
He also penned a memoir of his combat experiences: Doorknob Five Two. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m told it is a real gripper.
I’ll be reviewing it sometime in the future after I acquire and read it.
The statues are haunting. There’s several men seated on benches recieving their briefing. and behind them are the Ghosts of those how have been killed.’
Here’s a few shots:
This one above is the pair of statues that haunts me. It’s two men, one was the wingman of the other. The one with his head bowed was a new, inexperienced pilot. During combat he zigged when he should have zagged and crashed right into his buddy, costing them both their lives. According to the artist, he is being consoled by the man he killed that “Things happen and go wrong and we shouldn’t blame ourselves”
The pilot above is touching the shoulder of another represents the recent loss of a good friend. You can’t stop just because a friend has passed. But the ghost of the friend is still trying to comfort his buddy.
One thing that the artist pointed out is that there’s open spaces on the benches. While the bronzes aren’t supposed to represent any particular persons, he made it out alive and so no effort was made to include a statue to represent him.
Last but not least, a video of it all:
Fredric Arnold, the last of the group, passed away a few years ago.
He kept his promise.
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