23 April, 2011

Profile 44 - "28" as flown by Harold Thune

And there it is.  "28" - a workaday F6F-5 as flown by Lt. Harold Thune of the USS Intrepid, circa Fall, 1944.

Yesterday morning, Harold signed prints of my hack, passing them down the table to his son, a US Senator, where he too penciled his name.  

But the star of this moment was not Senator John Thune.  Nor was it me.  Nor was it Harold.  It was the camera man from the local TV station who had shown up to document the event.  For whatever it's worth, I dedicate this print of Harold's Hellcat to...him.

If you were there, you would have seen what you'd have expected from the office of a US Senator - polished people of profession and poise - laughing at the right places, shaking hands with appropriate grip and confidence.  It was all authentic, but still tinged with the superficialities that come from position and power.

Then the TV guy showed up.  One man, carrying two heavy tripods, a camera and a day full of other stops to make.  He set up, turned on the camera and documented every moment of my self-importance and Harold's self-effacing recollection of his part in history.

Though it was a short interview, Harold articulated the values of his time & tide with the wisdom that can only come from 91 years.  He signed his prints, "thanks" were sprayed liberally around the room...

...and the camera guy said "Thank you.  For winning."

Sweet jimminy, his words stopped me cold.

Thank. You. For. Winning.

If I'd been a little less star-struck by having a US Senator and his WW2 Fighter Pilot father signing my paltry art, I would have turned the camera on him.

See...about twenty minutes before, Harold began describing an aerial victory.  His hands pantomiming the dogfight - the Japanese fighter speeding under Harold's stall-climb and the split-second push of the control stick that dropped the Hellcat's nose, bringing 6 .50 cal machine guns to bear with predictable result.  Machine aflame, the enemy pilot climbed out onto the wing and prepared to leap clear of certain doom.

Harold had a choice to make and you know what that choice was.

If anything comes from my time with these old guys it will be this - that the study of human History is a mystery. I have a more satisfying time wondering what color dinosaurs were than reconciling human behavior.

Harold said the oft-quoted line, "War is hell."  But he said it with the choke and gulp of someone who's earned the right to say it.  Hollywood can script it, but Harold knows.  As a History teacher himself, Harold knows full well the in-congruencies of things like American Freedom and the expansion that ruined Native America.  Of Western empire building versus Japanese empire building.  Of two guys who happened to be fighter pilots, one flying a plane with a white star on its wing, the other a red circle.

Kill him?  Kill the - as the line goes - "yellow bastard"?*

Nope.  Harold did not fire.  The Japanese pilot tumbled away, snatched from momentary death by the snap of a parachute while his defeated machine arced to its doom, trailing smoke and fire.

Every day, I become more of a Patriot. I'm in awe of the American Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.  And every day, I become more convinced that the soul is far sharper than the sword.

I too am thankful that Harold "won."

Are you?

*Harold never used the term.   In fact, I've never heard an American WW2 pilot call the Japanese "yellow bastards." I think the line was used more in propaganda films than anywhere else, save for hand-to-hand combat and anyone who survives that can say anything he/she wants.

If you find this stuff half as fun as I do, we're all having a ball.