Just like the times I visited Dayton’s National Air Force Museum with my son, I knew I wanted to tour Cincinnati’s Tri-State Warbird Museum with him, too. I wanted to see it through his eyes; through a military perspective that I’ll never have myself.
When I look at these old planes, I see beautiful pieces of machinery from a bygone time. He sees how the whole world must have played out for the men that sat in those cockpits; the newness and unknown territory it was to fight in the air and all the things that had to happen on the ground to make it so. The air raids. The battles. It’s a world I cannot even imagine, so I appreciate his understanding of all the intricacies that these planes represent.
In part, they represent reverse engineering, and trying to figure out all the tricky pieces that had to occur to pull off an air strike. Things I didn’t think about, like the fighter jets that flew alongside the bombers to protect them. The lack of nighttime flying equipment and the fake targets on the ground: plywood tanks and dummies they believed were soldiers. The strategical thinking that went into these missions.
And the bravado. These planes became an outer skin for the pilots who flew them, never knowing whether the latest mission might be their last. And with each victory, these flying heroes tattooed their skins with pin-up models riding bombs, painted stencils of bombing bragging rights, and the roundel of each defeated country. All painted proudly for the other pilots and soldiers to see, just below their own names painted in block letters by the windshield.
“Our 41st President flew one of those,” my son said and pointed to a TBF-1 Avenger. “He was a real badass.” A history I didn’t know.
Apparently, George H.W. Bush flew nearly five dozen missions. He was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, over the island of Chichi Jima. When it was hit, he continued his strafe on the Japanese radio station below before circling back over water and ordering his two crew to bail out. He parachuted into the Pacific and floated on a raft for a couple of hours before being picked up by a submarine. Bush was the only one who survived. He spent a month on that lifeguard submarine, helping rescue more downed pilots.
Unbeknownst to me (because I was busy having my son during H.W.’s presidency), Bush was the youngest naval aviator at the tender age of 19. I could immediately picture him as a young man like the ones who’d spoken on the film we watched as we entered the museum.
After Pearl Harbor, I joined the Army and there wasn’t time for a lot of training. I think I had about 60 hours of flight experience and they sent me out to fly over the Pacific. I was 19 years old.
Can you imagine that? Sending such young men out into truly unknown territory. Out over an ocean that many of those farm boys had never seen, in a plane they’d probably never ridden in before, to fight in the air without any real precedence to follow. When you think of it, it truly is remarkable to imagine what these WWII fighter pilots and gunmen and bombers experienced.
As an interesting aside, my son’s wife called as we were looking at and touching the planes. I heard him tell her that her dad and brother would probably love this museum when they come to visit. “Oh, yeah?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. We play this online game called War Thunder together. It has all these WWII planes.”
Then he proceeded to walk around the museum displays and point out the different aircraft he has in his arsenal in the game and why he wanted each one. He’s always looked at the world like that. He’s been military-minded since birth, I think, and has served ten years in the U.S. Air Force so far.
I love that he brings these planes to life for me. All the mechanics and functionality of them. The things that had to be considered and carried out during each attack. The markings on each plane and the military tactics that were used to help the troops survive and win the fights in the air. The way planes that usually flew over water were painted versus the ones that fought over land. The bright posturing of the fighter jets that guarded the slower bombers. Since they couldn’t fly undetected at the bomber’s slower speed and size, they used intimidation and bravado instead — like animals, appear as big and threatening as you can.
This is all to say that these warbirds tell stories. Veterans know that. History buffs know that. But I was thrilled to have my son interpret these stories for me. He knew how to tell their stories, too, so that I could admire the heroes I was really visiting at the museum.
Do you know someone who would love these planes as well?
Obviously, the stories of these planes and the men who flew them is what resonated with me. But you may also like to know more about the planes themselves. Here is a link to the specs of each one, but if you can, come visit the museum, or watch them at one of the events where they fly.
*A special thanks to the Tri-State Warbird Museum for providing us with tickets so that we could share their story, too.