The Giant Black Time Machine

It was like a giant black time machine. As the Grumman TBM Avenger rolled to a stop outside of the hanger, a warrior from the past carefully was extracted from its cockpit. That warrior, Dean Boyers, wasn’t as spry physically as he was during World War 2 — but mentally, he was as sharp as a tack. He walked away from the plane with a confidence that even Top Gun’s Maverick lacked.

He had once flown a plane like this once. And he had flown it well.

At 95, Lt. Boyers is not only sharp, he’s a masterful storyteller. He began his speech by looking into the eyes of his radioman’s daughter. His voice choked as he spoke of her late father. Eyes moistened as the hanger got suddenly dusty. He then began telling us about his service, his friendship and respect for his crew and began talking about his late friend, Lt. Guy Brown (we were there to remember his life and death) The Avenger, owned and restored by John Mosley, is painted like Vicksburg’s Brown’s plane. That plane was hit by antiaircraft fire over Japan and broke in half. He and his crew lost their lives a week before the end of the war. Three more faces in a list of thousands of fallen Americans.

Their plane was number 96. Lt. Boyer’s was 95.

Lt. Boyers spoke of their missions. How they had figured out that if they came in low, the Japanese anti-aircraft gunners had less time to shoot at them — and that the shells would explode thousands of feet above them. He spoke how they’d party, tell jokes and do everything they could to relieve the stress of the war. He said to pay for those parties, a pilot would be charged a quarter every time their plane’s giant radial engines would backfire. It could be a pretty hefty sum. He then told us how he told his crew if they’d take care of the back part of the plane, he’d get them home safely.

He did.

It’s easy to view him as a warrior and hero. But he’s also just a man. A man asked to do an impossible job. And like the millions of Americans who served back then, he did it well.

Time has smiled on Lt. Boyer. He has lived a long, fruitful life. I’m grateful I was able to shake his hand today.

As we left the hanger, I looked over at the giant black time machine one last time. Recently revived from being a museum piece, it had done its job well.

About Marshall Ramsey