Viewport Once-ina-lifetime flyover
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