What a great way to start a new year!
The December 2016 edition of Commemorative Air Force’s monthly publication, The Dispatch, included a feature entitled “What’s Your CAF Story”.
CAF volunteers from all the wings responded with their personal reasons for choosing to serve with the CAF and some anecdotes of their experiences during their tenure at the various locations.
The following excerpt from the feature is what our own Len Canter, a docent at CAFSoCal since September 2009 had to say about a very moving experience at the museum:
I am a docent at the commemorative Air Force museum in Camarillo, California. I enjoy working with the aircraft and even more, the interaction with the folks that come in every day to see these historic planes. Some aviators who flew these aircraft come in with their grandchildren to show them their history. Some whose relatives flew these aircraft and lived to tell their stories, and some who died, their decedents coming in to discover that history on their own. Talking about the aircraft to our visitors and explaining the history is only part of it. Listening, hearing their personal history very often is my reward.
I want to share with you a story. It’s just about a woman. A woman whose story touched my heart.
SHE WALKED INTO THE MUSEUM
She walked into the Aviation Museum. She was about my age, maybe a few years younger, with her son and a granddaughter. She was here to see a Hellcat, the type of aircraft her father had flown in the Pacific during World War II.
“Can I see it?” “Yes, you can. It’s just over here.” We moved toward the plane, her son and granddaughter busy looking over the items in the gift shop. “Can I touch it?” Kind of a strange request – but I moved the yellow barrier aside and said “yes.” She touched the folded wing of the bird and began to weep. I stood by and watched as she began to speak. ‘‘I was never able to meet and know my father. He was a pilot in WWII and was sent to the Pacific where he flew a Hellcat.
Very near the end of the War, he was involved in the battle at Okinawa, where he was shot down and killed.”
“Can I walk around it and touch it some more?” “Of course,” I said, not saying what was crystal clear to me. Your father paid so much more than the price to allow you the time to spend with this aircraft.
I shared with her how ironic that her father had been shot down and killed in the plane with the best war record in U.S. military history. He was shot down during one of the last battles of the War, possibly the only time since mid-1943 where the Japanese were able to put up an aircraft that could beat this aircraft.
“Can I sit in it?” “No,” I said, thinking of the insurance consequences, how high the wing was off the ground, her age and my lack of familiarity with the cockpit of this aircraft. I did not know how to open the canopy. “No,” I said again, “but let me think about it.”
We finished the tour and parted company. She thanked me for the tour and her experience with the Hellcat. She, her son and granddaughter, disappeared into the display area of the museum where our dedicated members had put together their tributes to our servicemen.
I found another tour to guide and as we passed by the maintenance hangar, I spotted a short ladder, thought about it for a second, and picked it up. I finished my four carrying the ladder with me. I spotted the woman with her son and granddaughter.
I approached her and asked her to come with me. I placed the ladder next to the wing of the Hellcat and invited her to use the ladder to climb up on the wing.
With some effort on both our parts, she was up on the wing. “Can I touch the canopy?” “Of course,” I said.
She cradled the closed Plexiglas canopy, looked down into the cockpit and again wept, as she reached out to connect with the father she had never known.
Thanks for sharing the story with us Len, and thanks for taking the time to send it in to CAF HQ – we are all very proud (and a little envious of your interaction with this visitor!)