Where history meets the present

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

In early September, I got an email from the media guy over at Greenville Downtown Airport. It was a press release about their annual airshow, and I responded to him with eager fingers, asking him for the opportunity of a lifetime after I saw what aircraft would be there. 

He had responded rather quickly, giving me a big, sparkly “yes” to my media request.

Dear diary: When I was a kid, I watched a movie that entranced me. It was called “Memphis Belle,” the true story of how a dozen men in the US Army had flown a near-perfect 24 missions to Europe and back during WWII. 

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There were zero deaths, and the B-17 Flying Fortress landed safely back in America after the end of every intense mission. 

From the young age of 11 and through my mid-teen years, I put together strenuous model planes, set them in my room, and read countless books on airplanes, spanning from the Wright brothers’ aircraft to the newest military fighters. 

Somewhere in the middle of my fascination, I got stuck on the WWII-era B-17 Flying Fortress. 

Still today, the Memphis Belle model sits underneath my record player in my loft. 

Now, flash forward to the email response I got from the Greenville Downtown Airport. Basically, it said, “Yes, the flight crew can offer you a media tour of the B-17.”

Mind you, this was not the Memphis Belle, but the Yankee Lady––one of the last B-17s ever made. The beautiful, historical plane never saw combat, but it starred in movies, worked with the Coast Guard, and has flown around the country, showing people like me the magic of the WWII bomber.

My dad’s birthday was a few weeks ago, so as a little gift to him, I took him aboard the plane that previous Saturday as my “photographer.” We entered the fuselage, a tight cocoon of olive-green metal, and tiptoed through the plane, up to the cockpit. 

I took the pilot’s seat. Dad took the co-pilot’s. 

We sank slowly into the worn cushion, high above the taxiway, high above the unbelievable wingspan, high above everything. Our eyes wide, our mouths gaping in awe, we looked at each other. Totally speechless. 

A moment where history met the present, where the collision of both left me not only speechless but breathless as I saw the view of the plane’s nose before me––a sight I’d only ever seen in the movies. 

My dad and I later rested in the seats of the fuselage, hot and sweaty inside the plane, knowing our time with the charming Yankee Lady would shortly end. 

As I walked under the right wing, I lifted my hand and stroked the metal, my fingertips coming off with grease. One of the crew members said it was “the grease of a B-17,” so he wore it unapologetically on his palms. 

I didn’t wipe it away. 

I kept it on my fingertips, a piece of history on hands fit to write the bomber’s story.