It's done - the airplane with a Sherman tank cannon in the nose. The Beast. At least that's what I call it. And it looks beastly too, with that gritty, oil-stained paint job and utilitarian markings.
Update: the accuracy of those markings are no longer in question. It was as it is.
Anyway, this is the airplane that took Wendell to the end of his tour. On April 4, 1944, he was on his way home, having flown 50 combat missions against the Japanese in Burma, China and Thailand. He left behind friends and colleagues, the smoking ruins of success and also the possibility of dying in combat.
Now, I have to be frank. These guys have seen a lot of the terminal nature of life be it "back then" or now, as the last-men-standing of their wartime units. So, I ask the question, "Do you believe in some sort of fate that's kept you around so long?"
Wendell's answer was typical. "Sure! How can you explain it otherwise?"
He went on to describe how he knew the utter uselessness of worry. The only thing he could effect was his own piloting of his airplane. Flak, fighters, bomb-blast debris - he could no more control them than the weather. With that understanding, the fear and anxiety of "Will I make it?!" evaporated. He learned how to live in the moment of Now, in the cockpit, trusting his soul to God and his mind to the "Just fantastic!" training by the Air Corps.
Of course, there were those that didn't have Wendell's ironic sense of peace. He recalls men who froze at the controls, stunned by what could happen. Of these guys, Wendell holds no judgement. Just a gratitude for an abiding faith in God that he developed as a kid. But he prefers to dwell on the positive. "I think, looking back, two thirds of (us) had a faith stronger than their fear."
My head gets balled up some times, thinking about the strange, positive inspiration that comes from such ugly things like B-25s that can disintegrate a truckload of people like *that!*...
War is inevitable. To pull something positive out of it is an act of faith.
So is getting behind the stick of a B-25 at age 90. Yes, the photo below is Wendell. And yes, that's his original flight jacket. Who would have known?