Florida, Pensacola, National Naval Aviation Museum

Entering the Museum of Naval Aviation at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola is a jaw-dropping experience unlike anything I can recall since the first time I came upon the Grand Canyon.  A few steps inside the door, I was mesmerized by the tableau of flying machines.

Four hundred volunteers staff the museum, which I estimate to cover six or seven acres in three buildings, including two Imax theaters.

The museum is busy with people.  I notice many single men whose decade matched my own.  Men with neat, close-cropped hair and beards.  Many wear baseball caps with insignias identifying a ship or a fleet, a squadron or air command.

They walk slowly among the displays and stop, statuelike in their reverence.  I wander the museum for hours, stopping to study the brightly painted aircraft as if I were in an art gallery. I study details and features as I try to understand how the artist/engineer accomplished his effects.

For hours I strolled the acreage of display.  I paused at the Alameda connection—the aircraft carrier, Hornet, is moored in Alameda Harbor, where I visited her as soon as she was open to the public. 

I stopped here and there to learn some anecdote of history.

The Sopwith Camel, made even more famous by Charles Schultz’s Snoopy, is credited with giving us the aviator’s rakish silk scarf.

It seems the engine was lubricated by castor oil and, during flight, a fine mist of this traditional purgative blew back into the face of the pilot.  Upon landing, the pilots dashed for the nearest bathroom.  Finally, an inventive pilot visited the parachute shop and negotiated for a scarf-length piece of silk to be worn over his nose and mouth—a dashing solution to a dashing problem, eh?

In the sculpture below, depicting from left to right, military aviators from the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Viet Nam, and Desert Storm.

Notice the small dog at the feet of the First World War pilot.  In that period of open cockpits, pilots wore long leather coats when flying into the cold of high altitudes.  For extra comfort they’d take a small dog up with them to tuck under their coat.

I was, quite simply, transported to a universe I can never know.

Where else could the Blue Angels be frozen so that I could walk into their formation in silent awe? 

The Blue Angels acquired their name around the time of one of the first flights over New York City.  The commander noticed the name of the Blue Angel Night Club and thought it a good name for the unnamed troupe of flyboys.

In the midst of these elegant machines—these tools of war—designed to inflict unspeakable violence and mayhem, and the young men who lost their innocence flying them, there are also stories of extraordinary courage and bravery. 

And moments of humor

And soldier/poets.

The graphic aft on the fuselage reads:  “Though my life may end over the South Pacific Ocean, thoughts turn to the many springs gone by and those yet to come.”

War is bad for our planet’s health.  My friend, Madelen, came up with the best solution for avoiding war:  put grandmothers in charge of the military. 

I can’t tell you how many times I felt my heart trying to crawl from my throat—during my wanderabout through the museum and even as I write this.

22 Responses to Florida, Pensacola, National Naval Aviation Museum

  1. Bobbie Friedman says:

    My Dad was a “Hellcat of the Navy” and flew off the Hornet. He has 3 DFC’s and 4 Air Medals. The Hornet received the “Presidential Unit Citation,” which is a huge honor. I saw the Hellcat at the Aviation Museum in Hempstead, NY and they want a photo I have of my Dad in his Hellcat. I visited the Hornet that is permanently docked in Alameda, CA, just north of San Francisco. In the navigation room, the questions was asked how the pilots found the Hornet in the middle of the Pacific. The answer: “they had almanac’s and dead reckoning. The runway is so small. My Dad had his own plane when I was in high school and always landed on the outer marker. I told him he had the entire runway, but his answer was, ” I do not need it.”
    He was a great guy, a wonderful Dad and a Hellcat of the Navy! He is missed. Even my Mother was a Wave.

    • allevenson says:

      Thanks for the personal story of your father’s heroism. Alameda was my home for 15 years before going on the road. I visited the Hornet shortly after it opened to the public and learned its proud history. May your father’ legend live long in your family history.

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    Probably because I’m a woman I’ve always thought war was an ego-driven male occupation, even though women serve nowadays. But even I can marvel at the superb flying machines in that museum. However I concur with Madelen that if grandmothers ran the military they may indeed put a stop to war. War is certianly a terrible waste of energy and life. What good has it ever done? I don’t want to get started on the stupidity of war. I could write a book on the stupidity and waste of declaring and participating in a war.
    I am surprised that you equated your awe at this museum to what you experienced at seeing the Grand Canyon, Al..
    The history of the cockpit scarf was fascinating as well as the reason for the pilots taking small dogs up with them. Thanks for that.

    • allevenson says:

      It is difficult to hold the all the concepts in your head. The terrible human price of war, the disgust I feel of the old men who send our fruit into harm’s way juxtaposed to the extraordinary heroism, the brilliant engineering strides.

      When the black hole created by the idiocy meets the inflated pride in the legends created, I am overwhelmed–and that is the experience I can only compare to my first vista of nature’s grandest work of art.

  3. Dave L says:

    A touching post, AL.

    What strikes me always is the vets, who even into their death years, pay respect and homage to the war they fought in – year after year revisiting and celebrating the carnage,

    In war, some people are slaughtered by other people attempting a similar fate, all guided by politicians in governent or church pursuing power with their hands in their pockets. Overstuffed egos that wouldn’t risk even a bruise on their own, yet send hundreds of thousands of others to their end. And not only do they go, but those few escaping, celebrate – take pride in the mangling. Some, who survive, grow into those politicians, sending others off to fight.

    Absolutley mystifying to me … and we build monuments

  4. karen wittgraf says:

    I understand. It all becomes so real when you have the time to study the sculptures. I remember completely losing it when I first saw the Viet Nam Memorial…and when the guns were fired at my brother’s burial, my knees were weak. It’s a world we can’t know, but can somehow, through art, understand.
    I am one of those grandmothers that would drive her grandson to Canada, should there ever be a draft., yet, I so respect and ache for our vets.

  5. David Bauer says:

    Being a member of the generation that served in Vietnam, though I did not serve in the armed forces, I am unable to forget the bad treatment that those returning warriors received from an ungrateful public on their homecoming to the US after their valiant service in Vietnam. They were then, and still are, my brothers as part of what has been called “The Forgotten Generation.” Many Vietnam Warriors returned to civilian life badly wounded, mentally or physically or both, and studies have shown that a sizeable proportion of homeless males in the United States today are Vietnam Vets.

    To help us all not forget the Wounded Warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, I wish to call our attention to the following web site maintained by the Wounded Warriors Project. If interested in more information, please see the mission statement below and the following URL: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/

    To honor and empower Wounded Warriors.

    To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.

    Internet Home of Wounded Warriors Project http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/

  6. Your wounded warriors are victims of an increasingly imperial juggernaut called U.S.A.
    controlled by powerful corporations and their lackeys in Congress and the Pentagon. The villains
    are well-known war mongers LBJ, Kissinger, McNamara, Dulles, Bushes 41&43, the Clintons, Cheney, and many others. Obama did a 180 degree about-face to join this rogue’s gallery,
    abandoning nearly every promise he made. The enlisted men in the military are largely
    working-class guys who were lured in by big bonuses and promises of education, useful skills,
    and such. What some of them got (remember fewer than 10% ever get near a combat zone) was
    mind-numbing, spirit-killing, gruesome, cruel confrontations with an angry populace who hate
    the occupiers. They’ve seen too many dead babies and grandmothers thanks to indiscriminate bombing and shelling. Getting blown up by an EID isn’t heroic either. It’s tragic. The creeps who run this fiasco have brain-washed the American public into believing this is a sane, just, necessary military operation. That’s a bunch of hooey bullshit. It’s criminal. The dead and wounded soldiers are victims of this inhumane crime. BB

  7. Colleen Rae says:

    Lest I sound unpatriotic, I was an army brat, my father retired as a Colonel. The more reason I see the total obsession that our country has had with ‘wars’ in the 20th century. But of course, it’s not just the U.S.; from the beginning of civilization we have waged wars. Will the humans ever learn?????

  8. David Bauer says:

    You offer us words of wisdom, Colleen.

    Along these lines, in his book titled Peace of Mind : Insights on Human Nature that can Change your Life (New York: Citadel Press, 1946), Rabbi Joshua Liebman argued that, “There is a fearful struggle going forward in the world today — the struggle between love and hatred. The conflict colors the lives of nations and individuals; it is deep, critical and may well be fatal. Sigmund Freud, the shrewdest analyst of our civilization and its disorders, has commented upon the grim battle between the forces of love (Eros) and the forces of aggressive self-destruction (hatred). He says: ‘The fateful question of the human species seems to be whether … it will succeed in mastering derangement of life caused by the human instincts of aggression and self-destruction.’

    Liebman goes on to say: “How consuming the hatred of war, and the inhumanity of men to their brothers! Under the hypnotic spell of mass violence and extermination bombing, it is understandable that we should grow discouraged about man’s capacity to love his brothers. We do not only see obvious hatred striding across the world, but we also confront countless instances of concealed hatred in relations between men — hatred which is more difficult to detect because it hides itself under the mantle of love. ”

    In his book Liebman argues that the path to world peace is through each individual’s quest for expressing love over hatred. To sum it up, Liebman quotes Emerson’s poem Give all to love:

    Give all to love;
    Obey thy heart;
    Friends, kindred, days.
    Estate, good-fame,
    Plans, credit and the Muse —
    Nothing refuse.

    Give all to love! Nothing refuse!

  9. 65 years of endless human strife, agony, genocide, atrocities and other afflictions since the rebbe’s plaintive plea for peace of mind and love where are we? Oy!

    • David Bauer says:

      Perhaps Freud was right when in his theory he proposed that the goal of life is death. Unlike Liebeman, Freud was a pessimist who would likely argue that 65 years of agony, genocide, atrocities, etc., etc. since Liebeman’s plea offer evidence in support of his pessimistic world view.

      As I see it, on the other hand, John Steinbeck had an insight when he argued in his book East of Eden that each human beings is faced with a choice between following paths either of good or of evil, either of pessimism or of optimism. In Steinbeck’s words:
      “…the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

  10. David Bauer says:

    Thanks for your reference back to your earlier posting on the occasion of your visit to the Steinbeck Museum. Your observation regarding the number of page views on the blog suggests that readers of the blog are studying your postings in some detail and that Steinbeck continues to have a following. Along with his Travels with Charley, East of Eden is one of my favorite Steinbeck novels.


  11. David Bauer says:

    I promise that this is my last posting on this topic. I could not resist posting the following passage by Steinbeck. It sums up what i have been trying to say in my earlier comments.

    “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”
    ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

  12. karen wittgraf says:

    Thank you, Dave Bauer. We can all learn from Steinbeck. My favorite is “Of Mice and Men”- I cried over it in High school and I cry over it today. Steinbeck was a philosopher, poet and teacher. My Hero!

  13. “They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality and were not
    sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”
    George Orwell…1984

    • David Bauer says:

      You and Orwell are right, Bruce. In the words of the great huckster P.T Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” On the other hand, as somebody, perhaps Barnum again, said it at some point in time, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

  14. Colleen Rae says:

    Thanks David and Steinbeck for your (his) views on human nature. I think Steinbeck is right. In our last breathe we can ask – Have I done well, or ill?

  15. Pat Bean says:

    I’ve nominated you for a Versatile Blogger award. You can read all about it on my blog for today. Looking forward to your photos and thoughts in 2012.

    • David Bauer says:

      Hi Pat,

      The photos that you have posted to your blog are wonderful. What type (brand, etc.) of camera are you using? I am seeking to replace my inexpensive Nikon Coolpics with a better camera. Thanks in advance for your recommendation.


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