Five Hundred Yards

One afternoon over the December holidays while my young son and daughter were visiting for a week in Kerrville, together with my Mom and sister, Ethan and I settled into the living room couch and one of the recliners to begin watching the 10-part series by HBO called Band of Brothers. My daughter Tori (Victoria) and Ethan had gone in together to buy this incredibly excellent production and historically precise production as my gift as it had already won several awards.

My kids and family had known I had always been a history buff, especially military history buff, and more so a WW2 buff since my boyhood. They had heard on numerous occasions — actually tolerated — how much I praised the astonishing historical detail that HBO’s Executive Directors with historical-military consultants, utilized Stephen Ambrose’s bestselling book of the same name which went into the making of the final cut of Band of Brothers. Ethan had been looking forward to watching it with me. He knew well how passionate I was about personal authentic history. At that time, he was a bit of a military fan too. Where he may have got his interest I couldn’t say. But I would be lying, wouldn’t I?

When Mom and sister saw what we were about to watch, they rolled their eyes, a bit put out and both essentially griped, Dwain, why are you such a huge fan of war films, documentaries, graphic violence, and showing it to Ethan!? Do you love violence and war? Later that evening when he and I were done with parts 1-3, I hoped I had answered their question and deep concerns for my son.

But I’ll share that at the end of this post.

500 Yards badge-breaker

Seventy-five years ago this morning at 5:50am Caen, France time, June 6, 1944 the Allied invasion of Normandy began. To this day, it is the largest amphibious military force ever assembled in history. The Allied invasion force consisted of around 346,700+ souls, comprising of almost 7,000 naval vessels crammed into a tiny French Bay (Seine) off the coast of northern France—about 900 sq. miles of sea and only about 50-miles of flat beach. A flat, sandy beach 3-5 football-fields long at low-tide, from waste-deep water to land, when the first wave of troops landed; meaning nothing to hide behind to protect yourself except narrow, German-landing obstacles (many booby-trapped) until the first natural or German-made obstacles… 500-yards ahead of you.

omaha-beach-normandy-d-day-beaches

Omaha beach, Normandy, today — low-tide

Of the five different landing zones that morning at Normandy, Omaha beach was a slaughtering section on the first wave of the V Corp., 29th Infantry Division, 116th Regiment with Companies A-D, each with 230 men. Dog Green Sector where Company A of the 116th landed was the most horrific scene any human being could ever witness.

Much of the Allied’s intricate, precisely planned timing of Operation Overlord went wrong on many levels. For Company A (first wave) their section of the beach was nothing like they had been told or trained for back in England. With up to 60-75 lbs of gear, weapons, and ammunition to name only three, they had not trained for disembarking into waist-high or neck-high water with 200-yards in front of them until sand. Then the additional 200-300 yards on open beach and sand bars was supposed to have hundreds of bomb-craters from air force and naval bombardments to shelter for seconds or minutes to rally and organize before rushing forward to their objectives against a severely weakened or destroyed German defensive emplacements. None of this had happened when they lowered the landing-ramp of their LCI’s (Landing Craft Infantry) into 4-6 feet of water.

Omaha_beach_dog_green

What lay ahead for these 230 young men of A-Company was a superbly designed defense by one of Hitler’s most brilliant combat Generals, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. His objective was to inflict upon the Allied landing forces as many casualties as possible by slowing down landing craft and infantry getting to the beach, and then across 200-300 yards of flat sand before arriving at his first-line of gun emplacements, trenches, bunkers, and pillboxes. Rommel had 7-months preparation to build and reinforce this Atlantic Wall. He believed the only way to have a chance of repelling the invasion was to drastically slow the Allied forces at the beach making the losses so unacceptable for Eisenhower and Bradley the invasion would be unsustainable and abandoned. It almost worked. Against the 116th’s A-Company it did work, to appalling results.

Two of Germany’s most lethal weapons of WW2 and during D-Day were their 88-millimeter artillery guns and the MG-42 machine guns. All Allied combat soldiers and their commanders feared these weapons. In any engagement Allied units had to quickly disable or destroy them or they would wipe out entire platoons or more.

The earlier air force bombardments were suppose to pummel these German weapon units days/weeks before. The early morning naval bombardments were also suppose to pummel these targets. On D-Day the 116th Regiment and A-Company did not know they were still operational and waiting for them, particularly the combat experienced German 352nd Division defending Omaha Beach. Typically, each of this division’s 200 companies had a minimum of one or two MG-42’s per company, or about 250 deployed at Omaha Beach. This is a formidable slew of this weapon pointed at the incoming LCI’s landing-ramps when it opens and attempts to unload 36 men packed inside.

To get a proper feel for what the MG-42 (nicknamed Bone-saw by the Germans) could inflict on unsuspecting infantry, listen to this 1-min video. It is not graphic, just demonstrates by audio:

The MG-42 Bone-saw fired 900 – 1,500 rounds per minute. That is about two cartridges per second for 60-seconds when the barrel wasn’t overheated, fairly cooled, or just replaced. The 2-man crews usually had 4-5 barrels at their disposal to keep switching out.

500 Yards badge-breaker

Of the 230 men assigned to A-Company first wave of the 116th Regiment, 7 survived. These seven soldier’s narratives below, collected shortly after the day ended, tell firsthand what happened to 223 men in less than eight minutes. When the German squads located A-Company’s surviving commanders that had reached the shoreline, they had all their experienced snipers take them out with one, maybe two shots in a matter of 7-10 seconds per American officer. The 88-mm gun’s fragmenting shells ripping to separate pieces human body parts along with the MG-42’s mowed down the rest of A-Company.

1D-DayTestimony.jpg.CROP.original-original

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On this historic day 75-years later we remember, salute, and thank the veterans of D-Day still alive, but more importantly those who made the ultimate sacrifice to achieve victory. A victory that was enormously costly, particularly to the one Regiment that paid the most and one town, Bedford, Virginia of about 4,000 residents at the time, who lost 19 of their boys, more than any other town in America that day per capita, June 6th, 1944. Four more lost their lives during the remainder of the Normandy campaign. Director Stephen Spielberg was inspired by a book called The Bedford Boys which chronicled these 23 men’s sacrifice and it resulted in his multi-award winning 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. As most movie-goers know, the opening scene of the D-Day landings have been confirmed by most survivors of that day as ‘precise as any screen-portrayal ever made about Omaha Beach, June 6th, 1944.’ Some could never watch the movie again.

As the Allied forces proceeded inward through western Europe and toward Germany and Hitler’s Nazi Third Reich the next 11-months, started by the victory in Normandy, we’d eventually learn the horrid truth about their concentration camps. So now I have reached the point in my story where I answered my Mom, sister, or anyone who asks or questions me: Why are you such a huge fan of war films, documentaries, graphic violence, and showing it to Ethan!? Do you love violence and war?

500 Yards badge-breaker

I tell them if that ever makes me an advocate of war, a warmonger rattling his sabers or shooting off his personal arsenal of weapons on weekends, then please… you have my permission to shoot me.

No, on the contrary it is precisely BECAUSE it is so horrific, so insane, so life-damaging, and the worst of humanity’s behaviors—witnessed by combat soldiers returning home with PTSD, Holocaust survivors scarred for life by what they lived through—that I am stubbornly anti-war! I remind myself and any others I can by watching, reading, and understanding profoundly what really goes on at the front lines. And hence, I emotionally remember the harsh reality of what slaughtering looks and sounds like in order NOT to use war rashly and foolishly like many of our politicians or aggressively hyper-patriotic citizens—with no combat experience themselves—seem too ready to fight and too frequently oblivious of its cost! Its real and long-term human costs. Therefore, do everything humanly and diplomatically possible to avoid war before sending our men and women to exact it and pay with their lives.

As one of the scenes and parts in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers impart, after they had liberated one of the many concentration camps, it’s why we fought. Let us never forget how precious life is before a violent conflict breaks out. It is never the same after… for any of the soldiers and their families.

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Religious Imperialism Alive Still

obama_syriaA few months ago I got lured into what I thought was a discussion and dialogue over American-Syrian foreign policy.  My college friend had an obvious hatred for President Obama and Democratic policies.  The discussion, turned heated debate, was regarding the treatment of Syria by President Obama and Syria’s perceived lack of respect for American threats against Assad’s regime and his use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens.  My conservative college friend’s stance on Syria, Islāmic regimes, and basic American foreign policy in the Middle East was one of ‘enforced power‘ applied through America’s alliance with Israel.

zahal_israel_defense_forces_inspection_1949

New Israeli army on parade – 1949

In my attempt to give more historical background to America’s long Israeli support in matters of Middle Eastern conflicts, including our MASSIVE costly mistake in invading Iraq for WMD’s, I stressed how prudent and utterly cautious the U.S. should be when involving itself in Middle Eastern matters so soon after invading Iraq.  I eventually let him know that the 1949 U.N. creation of the nation of Israel was a horrible blotch on the U.S. and Western nation’s historical political record in the eyes of Palestinians, Syrians, and Islāmic nations in the region.  It is the major reason the area has seen so much violence and blood-shed for the last 65-years toward Israel and Western powers.

My friend blew his top and began using Biblical passages – as if they were God-ordained entitlements – that Israel “belonged there” for several millennia.  That’s when I knew I was facing an all too common Christian-Zionist misconception of the region’s history which is TOO OFTEN naïvely understood and ignorantly proclaimed by conservative (Puritan?) American politics.  Here are at least 10 reasons why their belief is based in gross fabrication as inspired from the work of Dr. Juan Cole from the University of Michigan.

  1. The ancient geographical history of Judaism begins in Mesopotamia, loosely modern-day Iraq and Syria, not Jerusalem or the Levant.
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    The actual settlement of Jerusalem and its surrounding region was founded between 3000 to 2600 BCE by a Semitic people (possibly Canaanites), the common ancestors of modern Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Jordanians.  However, outside of Old Testament passages, Judaism as a state or kingdom did not exist in or around Jerusalem.  To date, there has been no archeological evidence found of a “Kingdom of David” or of Solomon’s Temple claimed in the Bible during this period.
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  2. The settlement of Jerusalem was named in honor of Shalim, (salem) from the Canaanite religious pantheon, found on inscriptions in Syria.  According to the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1999), the word Jerusalem means “built-up place of Shalim.”  Modern Judaism wrongly translates the word as City of Peace, and has romanticized its historical context as their own at the exclusion of Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Jordanians.
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  3. Exodus-262x300Strictly from Biblical sources, i.e. not from additional independent sources, Judaism asserts that the prophet Moses led slaves inside ancient Egypt.  Judaism asserts slave labor and a major slave revolt by Jews in ancient Egypt followed by a mass exodus into the Sinai Peninsula.  Judaism also asserts a Jewish invasion of Palestine by fleeing slaves from Egypt.  Yet no Egyptian records or evidence during the reign of Ramses II, as recorded at Luxor, exists to support any of these claims.  Furthermore, the only archeological evidence of a monotheistic worship happening inside Jerusalem doesn’t take place until around 1000 BCE.  All evidence prior to 1000 BCE clearly demonstrates common Canaanite deities were worshiped.  And even in this case, as noted in #4 below, substantial evidence of a monotheistic religion beginning in Jerusalem doesn’t begin happening until after 900 BCE as a small sect or population!
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  4. There is no definitive proof that Jerusalem was even inhabited between 1000 and 900 BCE.  No archeological evidence of glorious palaces, great states or kingdoms, or recognized kings of the region by Assyrian tablets, which record even the minutest events throughout the Middle East, has been discovered.  But once again, strictly from Biblical sources only, Judaism asserts these buildings, kings, and states existed.  The independent archeological records simply are not there.
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  5. Finally, with much exhaustion, a Jewish group known as the Hasmoneans did rule Jerusalem briefly between 168 and 37 BCE.  This is a grossly different time span (almost a 2,200 year difference) from what Zionist Judaism claims:  3000 BCE to present?  Yet even during this period (168 – 37 BCE) the reign over Jerusalem was with the significant help of Parthia.  The archeological and historical sources clearly show the Assyrians ruled Jerusalem and the region in 722 to 597 BCE when the Babylonians conquered it.  They lost it in 539 BCE to the Achaemenids of ancient Iran and ruled until Alexander the Great took the entire Levant in the 330’s BCE.  Alexander’s descendants, the Ptolemies, ruled until 198 BCE when his other descendants, the Seleucids, took it.  Enter the well-known King Herod of Parthian heritage from 37 to 6 BCE, at which time the Romans conquered all of Palestine.  The Romans and then later the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium, or later Constantinople, or modern Istanbul) reigned from 6 BCE until 614 CE when the Iranian Sassanian Empire conquered Jerusalem.  They ruled until 629 CE when the Byzantines took it back.  But wait!  The fighting and conquering isn’t over!
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    Beginning in 637 CE, the Muslim Arabs put siege to Jerusalem and conquered it a year later.  They ruled until 1099 CE when all the European Crusaders took it.  It is at this point when the Jewish and Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem fought side-by-side but were horrifically murdered in mass by Christian Crusaders.  The Gesta Francorum, the chronicle of the First Crusade, states “[our soldiers] were killing and slaying [women and babies alike] even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles”  The estimated genocide is calculated today to be between 10,000 to 25,000 lives.
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    Saladin

    Saladin

    Upon the incursions and invasions of the European Crusaders, the great Sultan Saladin led his Egyptian and Syrian Muslims against the Christian armies, conquering much of the Levant and freeing Muslim slaves, then put siege to Jerusalem in 1187 CE and conquered it less than a month later.  Saladin, in unprecedented military fashion of the time recognizing the historical significance of Jerusalem to so many, allowed non-combatant Christians to leave and allowed Jews the choice to return.  Muslims ruled Jerusalem until the end of World War I, or in sum for about 1,192 years!
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    To conclude #5, advocates of Zionist Judaism did not found Jerusalem.  Judaism as a firm stable known religion or as a kingdom did not begin until around 200 BCE.  And the Hasmonean dynasty only ruled Jerusalem (in part) for about maybe 170 years.
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  6. Perhaps the most notable part of Jerusalem’s history is in 136 CE after the Bar Kochba revolt against Roman authority failed.  Some of the Jews in Jerusalem remained, but firmly under the rule of Rome and then Byzantium.  Many converted to Christianity to escape the harsh oppression.  After 638 CE and the Arab Muslim invasion, 90% of Jerusalem converted to Islam!  Thereafter, the entire region was almost exclusively Muslim for the next 1,300 plus years.  Palestinians are the legitimate descendants of Jerusalem, Eastern Israel, and the region!
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  7. In 1947 the virtual city and region of peace was completely turned upside down.  Despite the above historical and archeological chronicle of Judaism, the United Nations enacted the Partition Plan for Palestine following World War II and Jewish Holocaust.  This plan for the State of Israel developed from the post-war British political and military withdrawal from Palestine as well as wide Western sympathy for Jews and the Holocaust.  Suddenly, it seemed, the U.N. and West completely forgot what European Crusaders did to Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem in 1099 CE in the aftermath of the First Crusade.  Naturally, Palestine breaks out into civil war shortly after Resolution 181 (II) of the United Nations General Assembly implementing the partitioning of Palestine.  All out war followed between Arab militias and Jewish militias eventually leading to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.  Because of Western powers and alliances with Zionist Israel, and dare I say ignorance, the region has seen very little peace ever since.  Today tensions, violence, and terrorism trickle over into other contemporary conflicts from Western nations over-meddling in the Middle East, i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan, based indirectly on religious imperialist differences.
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    1967 Six Days War

    1967 Six Days War

    The 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 along with the Hague Regulations of 1907 explicitly forbids occupying powers (i.e. Britain or Jewish Europeans) to alter the lifestyles of non-combatant civilians who are occupied.  It furthermore explicitly forbids the immigration of people from the occupiers’ country into the occupied territory (i.e. Palestine).  Western nations of the U.N., including the United States, sat idle as the newly formed State of Israel removed Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, usurped Palestinian property and settled on their property, annexed districts of Jerusalem, all in gross violation of International Law.  Ironically, to state mildly, the Nazis began the same violations in 1938 and 1939 Europe.
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  8. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

    Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

    Past and present Israeli governments have not been united, much less consistent, about how East Jerusalem and the West Bank should be settled and managed once they were taken over.  Comically, this is reminiscent of Judaism’s long history of sectarian division and fragmentation going all the way back to 37 CE.  The Judaization of Galilee, a region in northern Israel, was implemented throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s but with limited success.  Prime Minister and Nobel Prize winner Yitzhak Rabin was primarily responsible for bringing Israelis to peaceful coexistence with Palestine through the Oslo Peace Accord in 1993 and granting Palestinians their right to become a recognized state and withdrawing Jews from Gaza and Jericho.  For these proceedings Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Jewish-Zionist elements in 1995, specifically Yigal Amir, and elements that are now associated with current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.  As late as 2000, rhetoric and hints of Palestinian assurances by post-Rabin Israeli officials have been given but fourteen years and counting none have materialized.
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  9. The archeological record and linguistic history of Jerusalem and Levant show who has the most legitimate claim to sovereignty from best to least, in chronological order, by the  number of years settled:
      1. Muslims – they ruled it and built it for at least 1,191 years.
      2. Egyptians – ruled it as a vassal state for several centuries in the 2nd millennium BCE.
      3. Italians – ruled it for about 445 years until the fall of the Roman Empire in 450 CE.
      4. Iranians – ruled for 205 years under the Achaemenid Empire, for three years as a Parthian-Hasmonean vassal state, and for 15 years under the Sassanids.
      5. Greeks – ruled it for over 160 years, counting the Ptolemys and Seleucids as Greek empires.  If this period is counted as Egyptian and Syrian, that adds significantly to an Egyptian claim while introducing a Syrian one!
      6. Byzantines (Greeks/Turks) – ruled it for 188 years, however if one considers the heir to be Greece and add the time Hellenistic dynasties ruled, that gives Greece almost 350 years of ruling Jerusalem.
      7. Iraq– the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires ruled Jerusalem for 183 years, though adding the Ayyubid Empire (Saladin’s dynasty) who were Kurds from Iraq, ruled for 730 years bringing the total reigning years up to that point to a whopping 913 years!
      8. Jews – finally we arrive to the people who have the LEAST claim for Jerusalem.  The Hasmoneans ruled as a vassal state under Parthia for 131 years.
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  10. In the end, the only real claim Judaism has for Jerusalem and a state of Israel is based subservient to Persians, Greeks, and Romans when they ruled Palestine.  To make assertions to inhabit Jerusalem and the Palestinian region based on Biblical history, is like Americans claiming the European continent as legitimately theirs because of their ancestors, or Mexico claiming the southwest United States as their own because prior to the 18th century CE it belonged to them.  Spain could then lay claim of southwest America prior to them!  Yet, in a post-WWII world, by pandering to the West’s sympathies and political imperialism, Zionist-Jews robbed western Palestine and expelled Palestinians from their legitimate homeland while the “civilized” Western nations turned their heads.
Christian Biblical Fundamentalism

My conservative college friend no longer acknowledges me.  Because I questioned and disagreed with his political, religious, and social positions, he no longer speaks to me.  In fact, many of my former college and seminary friends – yes, I attended three years of seminary in Jackson, MS – no longer speak to me much less listen to me.  My more moderate college friends and my current liberal friends enjoy having these types of discussions and examinations.  Why they do, compared to the far-right fundamentalists, I cannot specifically answer.  I can speculate, but without any level of communication it is impossible to figure his or the far-right’s obstinacy.

teaparty2For the last twenty-three years, my once biblical fundamentalism has been increasingly deprogrammed and deconstructed until finally there was no intellectual basis for it whatsoever.  It eventually became all together Pagan or non-religious until I finally determined my current “title” or label:  Freethinking Humanist.

I recently read a post from one of my favorite bloggers, 500 Questions, where he examines whether the canonical Bible is divinely inspired (click here for that post).  He delves into the power and persuasion of memetics or the transfer of information or stories socially over the span of many generations.  If popular and useful enough, the meme can take on a life of its own becoming seemingly factual.  It is an excellent post if you have a chance to read it!

My now former conservative friend is a microcosm of a larger global problem:  religious extremism or literalism.  When I study all the world’s various faiths and social systems, I am appalled by how much of humanity’s history is filled with religious conflict and imperialism.  More striking is how much of it has been born from the Abrahamic religions.  If historians compiled the top ten worst moments in human history so far, half of them would be religiously based with the Crusades of Jerusalem topping all of them.  Two to three more would be politically-religiously based.

In light of what I’ve written here, in an age where geneticists and modern genetics have determined time and again that all of humanity has less than a 1% difference with each other, it is appalling that religious extremism and imperialism still exists.  Ninety-nine percent of us have the same tools genetically to live in peace and prosper together!  Everything outside of that 1% is taught to us (truthfully or falsely) by our parents, family, and community.  What does that say about potential change and world peace?

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**Nov. 22nd, 2014 — More Information:

AOBJ-Alison Weir“Few Americans today are aware that US support enabled the creation of modern Israel. Even fewer know that US politicians pushed this policy over the forceful objections of top diplomatic and military experts. As this work demonstrates, these politicians were bombarded by a massive pro-Israel lobbying effort that ranged from well-funded and very public Zionist organizations to an “elitist secret society” whose members included Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.”

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Alison Weir’s organization:  IfAmericansKnew.org

John Crewdson’s October 2007 Chicago Tribune article

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Live Well * Love Much * Laugh Often * Learn Always

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Since I Was A Boy

Several years ago I lived in an apartment no more than a mile from a suburbia airport north of Dallas.  It is the home of a vintage flight museum I have visited countless times and volunteered two or three times just to touch and be near the famous warbirds.  Like a boy loves his dog or a little girl loves her favorite doll, I marveled at the history, pilots, and flying machines of World War II.  Some days I would utterly frighten my son and daughter by suddenly dropping whatever I was doing and run out the door as fast as I could.  Seconds later they would hear what I already heard.  Sometimes the windows and knickknacks on the mantel or shelves would vibrate.  Turn your volume up as loud as is appropriate to get the full effect and play this 20-second clip:

My kids would chase after me, sometimes out of breath because I would keep moving around in order to see as much sky as I could watching the spectacle arrive and depart.  “How can you always tell the difference between modern planes and the old ones!?” my daughter would ask.  That is amazing!” as she shook her head bewildered.  As I have gotten older, been to many airshows, and gotten more informed and educated on EVERYTHING World War II Aviation, a few of those traumatic surprises would start with pumped adrenaline, then goose-bumps, and then tears.  My son, always emotionally connected to me since his first breath, upon seeing my tears would ask “Why are you crying Dad?”  And this is how I would describe to him the honored, revered tears.

* * * * * * * * * *

I love almost all of the WWII planes whether they were combat or cargo, they all had a vital importance to the war effort.  Their pilots were some of the bravest heroes under the most extraordinary circumstances.  All of our veterans from any war or combat service are and will be heroes.  However, if I had to choose just one WWII plane to love most, I know exactly which one she would be.

p-51-mustang-credit-caf

The P-51 D Mustang

If you are not aware or cannot remember, at the onset of the Second World War the Allies were grossly unprepared to fight Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.  Both Axis nations had a big head start in fine machinery and experienced well-trained pilots.  In the first 24 to 30 months of combat, most air battles were won by Germany and Japan with much better maneuverable faster planes and better pilots.  Losses due to combat or dogfights were often staggering for the Americans and British.  Plain and simple, the German Messerschmitts and Folke-Wulfs, and the Japanese Mitsubishi Zeroes were flat-out better machines.  Any high-ranking general will tell you every time, if you don’t control the skies, you either will not win or you might win but at astronomical losses in men and materials.  In 1942 and ’43 the war in both theaters was very uncertain for America and Britain.  The Germans controlled the skies over Europe and the Japanese controlled them in the Pacific.

The Allies desperately needed an edge in the skies!

The primary reason Great Britain thwarted Hitler’s Luftwaffe (air force) in the Battle of Britain was because of their Spitfire and Hurricane pilots.  Spitfires could handle the Messerschmitts while the Hurricanes could take out the bombers.  The problem was that Britain could not quickly replace losses; both in planes or pilots.  The Spitfire housed one of the most superb engines ever built:  the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12.  The Americans had a few good fighter-designs but most of them at the time were under-powered and couldn’t match the high-altitude performance of the German engines.  Finally, with British ingenuity and American manufacturing, emerged a single fighter-plane that would change the course of the air war in Europe and the Pacific…

The North American P-51 Mustang.

You might ask how can just one fighter plane change the course of a war?  Simple, the P-51 D Mustang saved thousands of American bomber crews from their deaths.  From 1942 to early 1944, American bomber losses were intolerable because the bombing raids required deeper penetration into Nazi Germany.  In the Pacific air war, vast oceans with few islands also required long-range aircraft.  The Allies had no such fighter plane capable of escorting bombers all the way to their target and back until the P-51 Mustang.

Not only did the Mustang, with its high-performance high-altitude Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, match and exceed those of its enemy fighters, but it was also highly maneuverable and lethal in the hands of a good pilot.  To put it in perspective just how much the P-51 Mustang changed the air war, the survival rate of American bomber crews in Europe prior to its introduction was 1-out-of-3 crewmen killed from 1942 to late 1943.  After the winter of 1943-44 when Mustangs flew escort, the survival rate rose to 67% after 25 missions flown, then 81% by 1945 and the end of the war.  The P-51 Mustangs were quite literally their knights-in-shining-armor for bomber crews, or “Angels on our wings” as many bomber pilots and crewmen would describe.  The Mustang helped turn the tide of war and bring it to a quicker end.

That is the historical impact of the Mustang.  Now I want to describe from a boy’s perspective the emotional impact of this gorgeous mighty bird.

Leave it to Steven Spielberg to capture the moment perfectly how it feels for a boy.  His 1987 film Empire of the Sun starring a young Christian Bale, tells the story of a small British boy fascinated with flight and “the brave daring pilots” of the Japanese Zero fighter.  He gets separated from his parents in Shanghai, China at the outbreak of war with Japan.  Though his captors are brutal to him and his “new” British prison-family, Jim (Christian Bale) worships the Zero pilots and their magnificent planes throughout the first half of the war.

After they are moved late in the war to an airbase to build a runway for the Zero fighters, Jim hears rumors about a new fighter plane called the Mustang, the Cadillac of the Skies.  He eats breaths and reads everything he can get his hands and ears on.  I relate completely to Jim’s obsessions of flying and the machines these brave pilots fought in.

And then one morning while paying his respect and admiration to the Kamikaze pilots and planes, Jim’s whole world and those of the planes and pilots he worshiped so long are turned upside down.  Apologies that this heart-wrenching scene is broken up into two clips – blame YouTube!

It is hard to put into words how the flight, the speed, the beautiful lines of a P-51 looks and feels to a young heart.  There is no other sight or sound in this world like the air being sucked into the intake whistling at a high pitch as it dives toward you, and a second later the reverberation of that V-12 roaring by as it climbs away at over 4,160 feet per minute!  “Go P-51…Cadillac of the Skies!”  As Jim screams, “HORSEPOWER!

Since I was a boy I have always dreamt of flying in this mighty magnificent warbird.  To feel the immense rumble of that Rolls-Royce Merlin engine supercharged and forcing me back into my seat.  That would absolutely be one of the best days of my life!

For a few very lucky months the software company I use to work for had their offices at the end of the runway.  Every two or three weeks the owner of the flight museum and the P-51 D Mustang would take it out for some fly byes.  On one particular occasion he throttled it out on take off.  Just over halfway down the runway he had enough airspeed to lift-off and put this beautiful bird into a 35-40 degree climb with ease, banked it, and then leveled off about 600-700 feet at cruising speed.  It seemed effortless.  I thought to myself, so that’s how it must have looked and sounded back in 1940’s Europe and China.  Imagine if you were Japanese or German what it meant watching the Mustangs fly by and listening to that whistling horsepower.  Imagine how it felt if you were British or American back then:  finally, the beginning of the end.  Wow!  I still get chills up and down my spine every time I hear that distinct engine and watch it zip from one horizon to the other.

Some of man’s creations are works of beauty and timeless.  Today my son no longer has to ask why I have goose-bumps and tears watching famous warbirds; he gets it…just like I did when I was his age.

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