Day 34, Saturday, August 18, 2018
The National Museum of the Air Force is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. It is the oldest and largest military in the world, and it has 360 aircraft and missiles on display. The museum was first created in 1923, with technical artifacts being collected for preservation. In 1954, the museum first opened to the public.
The museum has many rare aircraft and other memorabilia. They have the only surviving North American XB-70 Valkryie, as well as the Bockscar, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.
They have a huge collection of planes with interesting and beautiful nose art, which I have long been fascinated with.
One of the artifacts that I love are the goblets and bottle of Cognac given by the City of Tucson, Arizona to the Doolittle’s Raiders. The brave men who participated in the raid each had a goblet with their name engraved on it. When each man died, their goblet is turned over in the case; some men’s goblets were always overturned, as they were killed after they crash landed in China and were captured by the Japanese. The intent was that the last living survivor of the raid was to open the bottle of Cognac and toast the other raiders. The bottle was from 1896, the year their Commanding Officer, Doolittle, was born.
Several years ago, there were 4 remaining raiders and they decided they wanted to complete the toast before they were down to one; three of them were able to travel to the museum and participate. The museum live-streamed the ceremony and the toast and I had the opportunity to watch. It was powerful to see, and impacted me greatly. The last Doolittle Raider, Retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, died on April 9, 2018. What a brave group of men they were!
The museum also had a special exhibit on the Holocaust; artifacts and information related to the concentration camps. The exhibit had information both on civilians and the airmen who were captured and held at the camps. It was hard to walk through the exhibit and see the faces of those who died or whose lives were destroyed.
There are uplifting exhibits at the museum as well. According to the Museum’s website, John Silver was a homing pigeon “used in World War I to deliver messages when other means such as telephones, telegraph, radio or dispatch riders were unavailable. They proved their value carrying messages from front line outposts to pigeon lofts at command centers, which they returned to by instinct and training. John Silver was hatched in January 1918 in a dugout just behind the lines in France. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was one of the most active pigeons in the Army, and his barrage-dodging skill was apparent in many exciting flights from the front line trenches to divisional pigeon lofts.
On Oct. 21, 1918, at 2:35 p.m., this pigeon was released at Grandpre from a front line dugout in the Meuse-Argonne drive with an important message for headquarters at Rampont, 25 miles away. The enemy had laid down a furious bombardment prior to an attack. Through this fire, the pigeon circled, gained his bearings and flew toward Rampont. Men in the trenches saw a shell explode near the pigeon. The concussion tossed him upward and then plunged him downward. Struggling, he regained his altitude and continued on his course. Arriving at Rampont 25 minutes later, the bird was a terrible sight. A bullet had ripped his breast, bits of shrapnel ripped his tiny body, and his right leg was missing. The message tube, intact, was hanging by the ligaments of the torn leg. Weeks of nursing restored his health but could not give back the leg he lost on the battlefield. The pigeon became a war hero and earned the name “John Silver,” after the one-legged pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He was retired from active service and in 1921 was assigned as a mascot to the 11th Signal Company, U.S. Army Signal Corps, Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii. John Silver died Dec. 6, 1935, at the age of 17 years and 11 months.” He was a hero! You can read more about him here.
John Silver, the homing pigeon
Outside, they have monuments and sculptures dedicated to various units of the Air Force.
I was there for a few hours in the afternoon, but you could easily spend a couple of days here. After two visits, I’m still nowhere near seeing it all, I’m sure!