USAF Museum: Thanks For Your Service

By Scott Spangler on August 6th, 2018

Day 3-68Standing at the bent and battered nose of a Vietnam-era C-123 Provider at the National Museum of the US Air Force and wondering why there was a World War II P-47 Thunderbolt snuggled under its left wing, a middle-aged blonde walked up, looked at the airplane, and said, to no one in particular, something about “their achievements.” Then she turned to me, because I was the only one there, and asked, “Did you serve?” My affirmative reply was followed by today’s autonomic honorific, “Thanks for your service.” And then she was gone.

This brief interaction—it lasted less than a minute—shaped what remained of my day-long dedicated exploration of the museum. It should be clear that I really don’t like people thanking me for my service. It implies that I’m someone special. As those who know me will attest, I’m far from it. In early 1972 I joined the Navy because I had a low draft number and was racing the postal service. Before and after the draft, military service is a choice. I could have decided to resist or run north, but I decided to enlist because my future then pointed to no specific goal.

Really, applying for a job in the military doesn’t make anyone special. But circumstances related to the performance of that job, going above and beyond the call of duty, qualify, to a degree. All of those I’ve talked to who have made this effort agree that they are not special. They were just doing their best to accomplish the mission they signed up to do—and not die, or let anyone they are responsible for die, in the process. That was the goal, not the glory that followed.

Day 3-24But elsewhere in the museum is a tribute to a group of men who are special. Each of their names is engraved on a silver goblet. Logic suggests that every man who volunteered for Doolittle’s mission to bomb Tokyo had to know in their hearts that launching a B-25 from the USS Hornet was pretty much a one-way adventure. Someone who volunteers for that job, knowing that more than likely it would be the last thing they ever do…that person is special and deserves our thanks for his courage and his service.

Taking time to read the signs explaining the goblets, I learned that they are organized by crew, identified by the pilot, with the others in the column below. Richard Cole, Doolittle’s copilot, made the case in 1973. Now 102, he is the sole survivor of the Doolittle Mission. His goblet stands next to the cognac. On the other side is the inverted goblet of the penultimate survivor, David Thatcher, the gunner on Ted Lawson’s crew. Cole drank a final toast to him and the other 78 members whose goblets stand mouth down in the velvet-lined case in 2016, on the 75 anniversary of the mission.

Yeah, the rest of us who served anonymously, we’re not special. You want special? Bring back the draft so everyone, male and female, has skin in the game, and let’s see who gets thanked for their service. One wonders, if every mother’s son and daughter faced the possibility of serving their nation—with a chance of dying for it in the process—would everyone be so thankful, especially to those responsible for our decades of armed conflict?

Day 3-46Coming across the new Memphis Belle display diverted my gloomy train of thought, and it explained why there was a P-47 under the wing of the C-123. The museum staff cleared out a lot of airplanes to make room for the Belle, and they haven’t yet finished rearranging the space yet. And you can’t just park such historic artifacts outside, can you? My hat’s off to the curators who created the display and putting the airplane on up on its jack points was genius! Being able to look into the open bomb bay makes a subtle point of the airplane’s purpose, and looking up at the crew positions puts their service in the proper perspective. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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3 Responses to “USAF Museum: Thanks For Your Service”

  1. William Pinney Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your description of the individual choice to serve. Although I never needed anybody to tell me, “thank you for your service”, I would prefer, simply, quiet appreciation. The “fervor” to laud servicemen and women (to me) is just too much…for me. I served because I wanted to fly, and as I matured, I came to see it in more broader terms of service to the nation.
    So if you really want to thank vets, get out there, raise your right hand and serve yourself!
    …..then, I’ll quietly thank you (and but you lunch) !

  2. M G Huckabay Says:

    The C-123 photo took me back to Vietnam, July 1969 when I hitched a ride from Cam Ranh Bay to Phu Cat. When they ran the two churners and two burners up to full power before brake release, I thought my head would explode. Loudest aircraft I ever rode on!

  3. GSE Solutions Says:

    Nice article Scott, thanks for sharing.

    I’m absolutely fascinated by the rich and intriguing history associated with the aviation industry.

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