View­port Once-ina-life­time fly­over

De­part­ments

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page -

IN WASH­ING­TON, D.C., this May, peo­ple will have the chance to see some­thing they’ll al­most cer­tainly never see again: a large for­ma­tion of World War II air­craft fly­ing over the Na­tional Mall. The fly­over is be­ing or­ga­nized to honor those who fought in World War II and those who built air­craft, tanks, and ships for the Al­lied na­tions. All of the air­planes that will be in the air on May 8, the 70th an­niver­sary of vic­tory in Eu­rope, are fea­tured in this spe­cial edi­tion.

Many of those who fought in the war didn’t talk about it when they got home, so I’m glad to see this is­sue of­fers a col­lec­tion of first-per­son ac­counts drawn from lec­tures and gath­ered by in­ter­view­ers for the Li­brary of Congress and other archives (“Voices of the Veter­ans,” p. 48). I think many in my gen­er­a­tion had an ex­pe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to mine: My dad, who was a Ma­rine avi­a­tor and flew Cor­sairs in the Pa­cific, told me very lit­tle. I had to pull sto­ries out of him. Some­times I’d get lucky and hear sto­ries about my dad from one of his squadron mates.

The most ex­cit­ing sto­ries I’ve heard are about the pi­lots whose bravery earned them the Medal of Honor. Ken Walsh, the first Cor­sair pi­lot to be­come an ace, re­ceived the medal for two ac­tions near the Solomon Is­lands: first, for re­peat­edly div­ing into an en­emy for­ma­tion, de­spite be­ing out­num­bered six to one, thwart­ing its at­tempt to bomb ships and ground forces. The sec­ond came two weeks later, when he at­tacked an­other for­ma­tion sin­gle­hand­edly. On that day, Walsh had got­ten sep­a­rated from his squadron on a mis­sion to es­cort B-24 Lib­er­a­tors. Fly­ing to catch up, he spot­ted 50 Ja­panese fight­ers and bombers. He im­me­di­ately flew into them and started shoot­ing. That’s an I’m gonna die ma­neu­ver, but he sur­vived, dis­rupt­ing the for­ma­tion un­til his squadron mates could join the at­tack. He shot down four Ze­ros that day.

This is­sue fo­cuses on the U.S. air­craft that flew in the war, and we dis­play many of them at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum: the P-51 Mus­tang, P-47 Thun­der­bolt, P-38 Light­ning, and the B-29 Enola Gay, among others. Visit the Steven F. Ud­var-hazy Cen­ter in Vir­ginia and you can see spe­cial­ists restor­ing the Martin B-26 Flak-bait, which flew more mis­sions than any other U.S. air­craft of the war (see p. 15). We also dis­play World War II air­craft flown by other coun­tries. There’s a Bri­tish Hawker Hur­ri­cane, a hero of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, and the world’s first op­er­a­tional jet bomber, the Ger­man Arado Ar 234 B Blitz (Light­ning).

World War II air­craft are still emo­tion­ally pow­er­ful. We re­store and pre­serve them be­cause they re­mind us of a pe­riod in our his­tory when a pro­found global threat re­quired sac­ri­fice and bold ac­tions, like those of Ken Walsh and thou­sands of others.

J.R. DAI­LEY IS THE DI­REC­TOR OF THE

NA­TIONAL AIR AND SPACE MU­SEUM.

Wash­ing­ton, DC Chan­tilly, VA

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