Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 356/365 - The Air Force Memorial

This shot is for my father and his father before him. This is the U.S. Air Force Memorial. It is across from the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The three metal spires are meant to represent the contrails of three jet aircraft performing the aerobatic "bomb burst" maneuver. The statues are an honor guard of airmen standing watch over the memorial.

My grandfather served with the Eighth Air Force in England during World War II. He was part of the crew onboard a B-17G bomber that flew missions over Nazi-occupied territory. Although he was responsible for dropping the plane's payload of bombs, he was not technically a bombardier. He told me that each flight of B-17s only had one actual bombardier, who was an officer. This was because only one plane in each flight had the top secret Norden bombsight installed. This approach reduced the risk that enemies would be able to recover one of the Norden bombsights from a wrecked B-17.

The bombardier for each flight would use the bombsight to determine when to drop his payload of bombs. Technical sergeants like my grandpa who were on the other planes in the flight would then follow the bombardier's cue and drop their bombs when he did. My grandpa told me that he and his fellow crewmembers flew 12 bombing missions over Germany. He said they got shot up pretty good on their very first mission, but after that they didn't take much damage. He couldn't remember which squadron he was in, but he remembered his B-17 was silver with a yellow tail and wingtips and it didn't have a name.

My Pops also served in the Air Force. He was a darkroom technician at the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska in the mid-1960s. It was his job to develop spy plane photos. The darkroom in which he worked was inside a big vault with a heavy steel door. There were guards constantly on duty outside and a loaded handgun was kept inside the darkroom and the technicians had orders to shoot any unauthorized personnel who entered.

My Pops had one of the highest security clearances a person can have and he still won't really talk about what the photos he developed were. I do know that he was called into duty in the middle of the night during the Cuban Missile Crisis and spent three straight days in the darkroom developing U-2 reconnaissance photos. He has grumbled about the fact that he and his fellow technicians were sworn to absolute secrecy and then a few days later there was the President on tv with a blow-up of one of the photos they'd developed showing it to the whole world. I remember seeing one of the spyplane photos of the Cuban missile sites in my junior high school history class textbook and feeling proud and curious if that was one the shots my Pops had developed.

Although my father and grandfather served in the Air Force, I had to be different and go my own way so I went into the Navy instead. It always gives me an added thrill when Navy beats Air Force in football, as I'm hoping they will do for the seventh consecutive time this Saturday. Some friends and I are trekking over to Annapolis to see the game in person and I've got my fingers crossed hoping the Midshipmen can pull out another win.

(Taken with my Nikon D90)

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