Tag Archive | Bockscar

Circus Trip 2018: National Museum of the Air Force

Day 34, Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dayton, Ohio

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!

All aboard for the Midwest!

Right before I met Jon in August 2008, I took a trip to Ohio and Kentucky. I wanted to see the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and see some of beautiful horse country in Kentucky. It was a great trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Jon got to hear a full accounting of the trip on our first phone conversation and more on our first date. I’m sure that was his first indication that I am a travel nut, but thankfully, he is too.

I flew into Columbus, Ohio, and stayed the first night in a contemporary hotel downtown. The hotel was really nice – certainly someplace I would stay again if I end up around there. I do have to admit though, there isn’t a whole lot going on during the day in downtown Columbus. I took a walk around, expecting there to be lots of businessmen wandering around, but it was relatively dead. After I found a great place to have breakfast, I left Columbus and started on my way to Dayton. On the way, I drove past a sign for a state park, advertising an interactive farm. I drove down to check it out and found a quaint 1800s farm called the Slate Run Living Farm, complete with farm animals, exhibits on farming techniques and animal husbandry techniques. It was a beautiful day, so it was enjoyable to just sit in the sun and take it all in. There were lots of good photo ops at this place, and I got some neat photos of the barn with the sunny blue skies and clouds. In all, it was a nice relaxing day, perfect for working up to a visit of the aviation museum of all aviation museums.

Slate Run Living Farm

So, what can I possibly say about the National Museum of the United States Air Force? This place is enormous. It is not possible to see everything there is to see in one day. I made it through two of the three gigantic airplane hangars, but didn’t have time for the third. Which was ok, because the third focused on modern day aviation and the space program, and I’m much more interested in the beginnings of air travel, World War I, and World War II. And don’t think that the exhibits only pertain to the Air Force, because they aren’t exclusive. There are exhibits on the Wright Brothers, the German Aces in World War I, and Navy air operations during World War II. And, like I said before, the Space Program, if that is what floats your boat (I have to admit, the landing pods were pretty cool – the ones where you can land in the ocean and then float until NASA picks you up). This is a museum that can keep you fully occupied, even if Aviation isn’t your passion; you just have to have an appreciation for history. There is information about Doolittle’s Raiders, who flew bombing missions over Japan during WWII and the Wasps (the women aviators who transported military aircraft), just to name a few. It is humbling to see what Americans sacrificed for our freedom.

The museum houses the Bockscar, which is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress which dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  It is difficult to fathom all the lives that it destroyed and all the lives that it saved.

Bockscar, B-29 Superfortress

Outside the museum is parked the “Hanoi Taxi,” a Lockheed C-141, which shuttled the Vietnam POWs home at the end of the Vietnam War.  US Senator John McCain was flown home from his imprisonment in a Vietnamese prison camp on this plane.

The Hanoi Taxi

Next, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, hometown of Mary Todd Lincoln. No visit to Lexington is complete without a visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln childhood home.  The home is in downtown Lexington now, but apparently during the mid 1800s it was on the outskirts of Lexington. It is a beautiful brick home that has been well maintained over the last 200 years.  I got the tour, and the docent was very knowledgeable about Mary Lincoln and quite willing to discuss how Mary really got the shaft when Lincoln was assassinated (I always love when the docents are willing to go off of the script). Undoubtedly, Mary had some mental illness issues, but consider the fact that three of her four children died before reaching adulthood, several of her family members were killed in the war, and her husband was murdered. People in the north thought she was a traitor and that she was urging Lincoln for special treatment for her family members (geez, who wouldn’t?). She was booted unceremoniously out of the White House with no pension, and women of that time period typically didn’t receive any financial education or schooling in business affairs. I would be having a little trouble adjusting too. There really is more to Mary Todd Lincoln than the overspending nutcase that she is portrayed as.

Mary Todd Lincoln's Childhood Home - complete with garbage and recycling toters

And the best part of the trip, is that  it was not yet finished!  But I’ll save the rest for another post.