... for our little wanderabout we entered an area of maine for which special reverence is felt by both those who call it home and others who visit ... john posed in front of the restored sign he leaned against as a small child ...
... john parked the car and we hiked up to visit the site where in january of 1963 a huge usaf b-52c crashed into the side of elephant mountain ... we lived in bellevue, nebraska, at the time, home to the headquarters of the strategic air command ... i remember pa coming home very late one evening from where he worked deep underground in an atomic bomb proof command bunker ... "we lost one of the bombers" ... i was too young to understand that it wasn't the wrecking of the aircraft that had so upset him ...
... i worked on these airplanes, or, at least, the similar "high-tail" d/g-models and the final greatly improved "fat belly" h-models, so it was easy for me to discern that the air force (and, perhaps, salvagers and scavengers), had hauled off 85-95% of the airframe, avionics, and engines ... this was the only immediately recognizable portion of the plane, the tail gunner's compartment ... sergeant michael o'keefe would have been the first to know the plane was doomed since he clearly would have felt and heard as the massive vertical stabilizer just above his head ripped away from the airplane ... his escape protocol would have been to detach the weapons system from the aircraft, then slide his seat forward and fall away to the rear ... however, he, along with six others, died in the accident ... examining this tangled wreckage, i wondered if he had time to at least try save himself ... i like to think that at the very end his final thought was that he had some chance to survive ...
... there are tiny pieces of the b-52 scattered all over the forest floor ...
... as i said, i worked with these aircraft, and, growing up in the strategic air command, it's distinctly likely that this particular plane at one time or another thundered over my head as my buddies and myself enjoyed a summer afternoon reclining in the long grass next to the overrun of the miles-long military airstrip ... that gives me a special understanding of these pieces of torturously twisted and torn metal ... sad as they are, in them i can see the fullness of the mighty aircraft of which they were but individual components ... john, perhaps, was a bit overwhelmed ... "how—how can something great and powerful and mighty be so reduced to these pathetic bits and pieces" ...
... in one of his nautical narratives nicolas monsarrat wrote, "man can never win against the sea, the best he can do is hope to break even" ... on that winter day in 1963 these men climbed into their aircraft knowing that doing so moved fate's counter another tick ... words so overused today, i cannot say if they were either brave or heroic ... however, having grown up with their like, lived with them, and served with them, i do know that they put themselves in harm's way out of principle, and that, i believe, should be remembered ...
Lt. Col. Dante E. Bulli
Capt. Gerald J. Adler
Maj. Robert J. Morrison
Lt. Col. Joe R. Simpson, Jr.
Maj. William W. Gabriel
Maj. Robert J, Hill
Capt. Herbert L. Hansen
Capt. Charles G. Leuchter
T-Sgt. Michael F. O'Keffe
... thank you for your service ...
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
LT. COL. JOHN McCRAE