11 September, 2008

Profile 27 - LADY BELLE as flown by Dana Wetherbee

I didn't interview Lady Belle's pilot, Dana Weatherbee.  Instead, I had the interesting diversion of getting to know the airplane's navigator, Kenneth Brown.  As artwork goes, this airplane taught me the subtleties of how "olive drab" (the color of the paint slathered on most Army Air Force airplanes) reacts to the elements.  This rendering is probably too green, but the texture of what happened under heat, cold, grit and wrenches is about right.

But, how on earth does art capture the "weathering" of fear?  

Every pilot/air crewman interviewed gets asked the question about "fear" - basically, "What role did fear play in your combat experiences?"   Fear was a systemic and elemental part of life that was trumped, not by machismo or disregard, but by a sense of "duty."   

Today, at least to my generation, the word "duty" seems to conjure thoughts of jar-headed ignorance or narrow mindedness.  But to those I've asked the question, "duty" is more about selflessness, and a decidedly positive selflessness at that.  This morning, I had coffee with a pilot who flew P-38s (his story is later this year) and he reiterated, "You wanted to do something, to contribute, rather than take.  The guys that didn't just...didn't make it."

And Kenneth did his duty, navigating his bomber to and from targets in Europe.  Thoughtfully, philosophically and thankfully, safely. 

“On one mission, I was the lead navigator for a flight of seven planes that went through a long ordeal of intense and accurate flak. Partway through this ordeal, I didn’t expect any of us to survive. No other result seemed logical or possible. Though the stress was enormous, rather than fearing death, I clearly remember the feeling as a fatalistic resignation to our fates, in which this was simply the final act of our lives. Instead, by some miracle that I can never understand, no one in our flight was even wounded. This result was so incredible that even now I find it almost impossible to believe it happened.”

More on "fear" later...