The Gift of Flight
A video of the September 2015 flight, with thanks to Dave Presta and the staff and volunteers of the California International Airshow Salinas.
The willing hands of new friends have settled me into this wondrous place. This rather small but hallowed airplane cockpit graces the North American T-6, an old love. She has never faded from my memories although my war was bitterly fought and won over seventy years ago. In that far time, this airplane and I were very young and knew, first-hand, the passion of unfettered joy at being free and together in a limitless sky.
Through the graciousness of others, on this special day, I will return, for some little time, to the days I so revered and to this lovely airplane that has always been so special to me.
Like small birds, a flood of yesteryear’s memories fills the cockpit. Here, there is the smell of “airplane”…lube oil, leather, sweat, a hint of high octane, and the incredible anticipation of climbing away from the earth. All these things were once a part of me, and the years have not washed them away.
Dave Presta taxis to the active runway making “S” turns to see what’s “up front.” How often I did that zigzag in times and places far beyond yesterday. Dave is a big, neat guy. I have liked him from the moment we met. In those years so long past, we would have flown well together; I don’t say that about everyone. He runs through the “CIGFTPR” check, and we are cleared for take-off.
In the Salinas sun, Dave shoves the throttle forward, and we roar down the runway. Then, we are airborne, and he stays a bit low before pulling up the gear…just like we used to do. As the earth falls away, I swear I am nineteen again; and with a couple of buddies in line astern, we head for the Cuyama Valley where we could fly too low for common sense and not get caught. I am filled with the emotion of this day’s wondrous experience. It seems nearly impossible for me to voice or paint its unforgettable totality. It was a videotape rerun, a returning to youth, a returning to adventure, and an unshakeable conviction that, for the years I have left before me, the memories of this day will be mine to hold. In truth, this flight will never end.
And so to you, Dave, Bruce, Julie Ann, and to your staffs, my most heartfelt thanks. Together, on a warm September afternoon, you reached out and fashioned a pair of wings that let an old man fly again…the culmination of a dream that won’t end. Your gift was the gift of flight, and the redemption of memories.
It was a gift of staggering importance.
Who could ever ask for more?
~ Ed Larson
~ an excerpt from Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War
by Edward C. Larson
US Army video of Japanese envoy arriving
for the signing of the treaty with the Chinese
“I was pretty excited about the historical significance of the day and what it would bring and a little surprised at the absence of fuss and feathers about the moment. As we watched, a group of GIs was setting up some rather plain-looking tables in a building close to the flight line. The tables were then covered with cloths that had all the appearance of somebody’s bed sheets. Metal folding chairs were placed around the tables, and that was it. Now all that was left was the waiting.
“As airmen, we were of course intrigued by what kind of Japanese aircraft might appear. There probably wouldn’t be any fighters since their presence could be provocative, so we guessed a bomber or two might serve the losers’ transportation needs. It was all a guess, but it sure was exciting. We probably waited about forty-five minutes before we heard engine sounds approaching. After a minute or so, a Mitsubishi G4 “Betty” powered over the hills from the east. She was blue-gray and looked a bit lethal, but she bore a huge cross on her fuselage indicating her fighting days were over. Her crew made an obvious check of the pattern and then turned onto a short final. They greased the landing without a jolt.“
~ an excerpt from Spear-Carrier in a Backwater War by Edward C. Larson
~ Ernie Pyle
“You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions.”
“The Death of Captain Waskow”
“I have lived a long life under this personal siege. The enemy is homemade guilt, a noxious weed one creates in some corner of one’s imagination, like a lie told often enough that becomes an insidious and destructive reality. It is triggered by the grief-filled remembrance of Patch and Pray and imaginations about of the remote mountain where it all ended. First, the sweat and shaking begin like a fired shot with no reason or warning. Then fear arrives like an uninvited guest, elbowing its way into my thoughts on a sunny Honolulu beach or the bridge of an Alaskan salmon seiner in a raging rain. When finally the panic subsides, there is dire need for a bottle of whiskey or anything else that can numb the pain.
“Those of us afflicted must run away in an attempt to escape the specter of our own shadows. It is frightening to know this enemy will strike again, so long as we have even one more tomorrow.
“When I was young, I thought this happened only to me and that it would vanish with the passing years. I am old, now; and I understand—there is no retreat from this anguish for those of us who have lost a favored soul from our beloved Band of Brothers.”
In the narration of my story, I have written of the fatal crash of the C-46 Curtiss Commando we called Patch and Pray.
My granddaughter Suzy created this beautiful Memorial Day tribute to my friends, the crew of Patch and Pray, C-46 #7134:
- First Lieutenant Martin B. Hurd
- First Officer Herbert R. Briggs
- Radio Operator Sergeant Anthony Baldasare
- Crew Chief Corporal George F. Giancaterino
- Student Crew Chief PFC Edward Jasinsky
Thank you, Suzy.
(Note: this MP3 file is about 28 minutes in length and may take a little time to download)