The flight of the Avenger

The deck of the aircraft carrier pitches due to the rough South Pacific swells. You are a 19-year-old but have experienced enough hell to be 70. The hum of the starter gives way to the giant radial engine in front of you firing to life. Above you is a gunner who is crammed into a ball turrent like a sardine. You are too big to take his place. In the front seat is a 23-year-old “old man” who will fly you to your destination. It’s a place with a foreign name that you never heard as a child. The smell of exhaust wafts into where you are sitting. You look ahead at the gauge for the hydraulic pressure — it’s at 1400. Good, it’s working. Flaps and landing gear are important. Landing is important. If you survive the day, of course.

The engine roars.

Then, before you can say “Pearl Harbor,” you’re roaring off the deck. The pilot has timed takeoff to the rise of bow of the aircraft carrier so you have as much clearance over the water as you can have. You’ve lost three friends whose plane lost its engine at takeoff. You’ll lose many more that way.

You pray you stay out of the water. You’d like to make 20.

Speaking of that water, you’ll spend hours over it. You have two small windows on the side. One behind you. You have a job to do. You are to drop the bombs on the enemy. But the enemy will throw every fighter plane and antiaircraft shell at you. God, fate, luck, a couple of machine guns and your aircraft commander are your defenses. You pray as the shells begin to pepper the plane. Your gunner begins to fire his guns. Only thing that protects you from death is a thin layer of metal. You grab a small cross you carry in your pocket.

It’s time to drop the bombs. Your country has put so much responsibility in your hands.

I thought of the brave men who flew the Navy’s TBM Avenger during World War 2 yesterday as I bounced down the runway. I was strapped into the same seat I just wrote about. I looked at the switch to drop the bombs. I was thankful we were flying over land. I was thankful we weren’t taking off a carrier. I was glad I didn’t have to bomb Flora and that Flora wouldn’t shoot back.

And I respected the men who sat in that seat during the war.

They had a job to do. A hard job. A damn near impossible job. They flew in a plane designed by Grumman and built by GM. It was a truck. But it was a reliable truck. It brought many of them home.

I’m honored to have at least a small sense of what their service was like. Thank you John E Mosley. And thank you to every veteran who has served our country.


About Marshall Ramsey