Arsenal of Democracy

Dear Grandpa,

Today a couple dozen World War II aircraft buzzed the National Mall. They flew in honor of the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

You can picture the scene: you worked in DC for three decades after leaving the Pacific behind. They flew from the west over the Lincoln Memorial, past your old worksite at the White House, looking solid as they flew on towards the capitol dome.


It started just past noon. A lone airplane, crucifix-shaped, circled in advance, a herald of the formations to come. At ground level tourists and federal workers filled the humidity with their chattery lunchtime bustle. They turned their heads to the sky.

The aircraft growled low and healthy across the sky, still-powerful reminders of what your generation built, a legacy of strength, endurance, sacrifice. Ordinarily, nowadays, this airspace is restricted. Just a few weeks ago, a Florida postal worker was taken away in cuffs for landing his gyrocopter on the lawn of the capitol to deliver a letter protesting campaign finance. It’s a real shame, the restriction and the finance both.

Formation after formation flew past: Boeing Stearman PT-17s; Piper L-4 Grasshoppers; Beech AT-11 Kansans; Curtiss P-40 Warhawks; North American B-25 Mitchells; Bell 63-A Kingcobras and the Airacobras; Grumman F4F Wildcats; Douglass SBD Dauntless divebombers; Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, with those distinct twin fuselages; B-25 Liberators; Mustangs; the Flying Fortress; the Skytrain; Hellcats, Bearcats, Avengers. So many others.

The Superfortress.

I thought of you most of all during the flight of the Corsairs, hallmarks of Iwo Jima.


From the organizers:

Understanding that conquering the vastness of the Pacific could take a very long time, and cost a huge number of lives the U.S. Armed Forces adopted a strategy of island hopping, whereby they would skip past heavily fortified Japanese Islands, isolating them from supplies and reinforcements. This would allow the U.S. to access strategic islands across the Pacific without having to beat the Japanese back on every single island they occupied. One of the Islands identified to be captured was Iwo Jima – its black volcanic sand beaches would soon become the scene of horrific fighting, as the Japanese – against all reason, fought to retain every last inch of the island.

Then, the Missing Man formation.


Three weeks from now that low growl will return to the Nation’s capital. We’ll hear the growl again in Rolling Thunder, Harley riders come to honor the sacrifices made in Vietnam. Because sacrifice never ends.


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