My first recollection of World War I aviation must have been Snoopy on top of his dog house, chasing the Red Baron. I remember my brother and I covering the bulletin board with sketches of the Peanuts characters, sure that we would be first in line when Charles Shultz retired. We always got balsa wood glider airplanes in our stockings at Christmas and I was thrilled one year when they were biplanes with German and English military symbols on the wings. My father had a leather flying cap when he was a young boy and somehow it found its way into my bottom dresser drawer. The cap was the key part of my costume when I dressed up for Halloween as a WWI Flying Ace, complete with an itchy glued-on mustache and a vinyl faux-leather flying jacket. These memories are a bit faded now, and somewhat second hand regarding aviation history…. but for others that connection was much more direct.
Earlier this month I made a vacation trip to Canada and visited a friend whose grandfather flew as a rear gunner in a Bristol Fighter. His grandfather thrilled him as a young man with his stories about the dogfights and near misses he experienced during the Great War. Those conversations sparked an interest in aviation that stayed with him for the rest of his life and impacted his whole family.
Jack Hunter describes how his interest in aviation started when his mother took him to the movie theater to see “Wings”. He was captivated by Hollywood’s version of the aces of the Great War. Movies were the spark for Mr. Hunter that led to model making, learning the German language, service during World War II and eventually writing of the book, “The Blue Max”.
On the same trip I visited the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Seattle is the home of Boeing Aircraft and it is clearly an aviation town. The parking lot was already bustling when the Museum opened at 10:00 am. I saw some guests acting as informal tour guides, unloading all their knowledge to their friends (and strangers) as they passed through the museum.
On the floor dedicated to World War I aviation they show films in a small “building inside a building” that was designed to look like an old French barn, complete with exposed rafters, floor rugs and wooden bench seats. A documentary was running about the aces of World War I. My wife and I went in to find a seat in the darkened theater and I noticed a young boy who had left his family to get a front row seat for the film. His face was lit up by the light reflecting off the screen and he was completely still as he watched. With his mother’s permission I took a few pictures.
These days we are deluged with so much information that in some ways the information itself has become devalued. It goes by fast and is replaced quickly by the next bright shiny thing. History starts with the first generation, the people who were actually there sharing what they experienced at the time. After that it takes people like you and I that have become passionate about a topic or an era and use that incredible access to information we are blessed with to dive deeper into the research. We can share that passion many different ways. Schultz drew cartoons, Jack Hunter wrote a book, others build models or paint pictures or sing songs.
The important thing is having the passion and sharing it with others. The young boy’s quiet moment in the theater didn’t last too long. I saw him later running around the museum with his arms raised like wings, flying from exhibit to exhibit, while his mother struggled to catch up with him.
He was on his way…who knows where he will end up.