March 2, 2018

Hangar flying and the student: A challenge

Bob Alvis
special to Aerotech News

Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II gather at the Lancaster Cemetery.

I must admit I’ve been pretty blessed in my life, growing up with a generation that had matinee heroes that were the real deal not only on the big screen, but also walking among us on the streets of America.

From the days we played Army and read comic books featuring the Greatest Generation in the roles of super heroes, we were never short of the desire to want to learn more. Today’s Captain America, to our generation, was not a make-believe character — he or she was a real living, breathing person that could show up in our lives at any moment. Sometimes it was years later when a special teacher or neighbor’s story would be shared and we had that moment of awe when the quiet man or women we knew was found to be a hero or a part of some incredible event that shaped our nation’s history.

Today’s students do not have the inventory of greats we were so blessed to have around us, guiding us and inspiring us to be better.

Our heroes lived history and made sure we understood what that history meant to our nation. Imagine how my mindset changed when I found out my physical education teacher Mr. Shoemaker landed on D-Day at Normandy. No further motivation was needed for me to learn from this man and from that point on, I hung on every word he spoke. Wilber Richardson, another school teacher I knew, stood at the front of his classes giving lessons day after day to students that never knew he had flown 35 missions over Germany as a ball turret gunner and had received a Purple Heart. We lived among history-makers in a way that today’s generation will never know.  I’m not saying that in the ranks of teachers today we don’t have stories that can motivate, it’s just that we are losing the ability to take those stories and make them as compelling as the new iPad functions to younger generations today.

World War II veterans at Hillview Middle School

For decades I have traveled to air shows, history panels, classrooms and conventions, acting as a sponge to absorb as much history as I could from those that lived it. With the passing of time and the silencing of the history-makers, it falls to the next generation to carry on that history in their absence. That is a blessing but can also be considered a curse, for many times if you were not there and living it, your message is no better than the dusty book on the shelf that has no living soul. Your telling of history at a certain point crosses from fact to opinion and that is where, in today’s world, we can lose our connection with an audience.

As many events nowadays want to promote the “wow factor” and focus on the gloss of current events, I feel that in the rush to sell an event with modern technology and the voices from today, many are losing the opportunity to create a bridge from yesterday to today and bring generations together. The same goes for schools and learning institutions. History doesn’t get the love it once did like in my younger days and I feel that’s a tragedy that someday will come back to haunt our nation and its young people.

I did a poll the other week on a local aerospace page, to see how many young adults and aerospace fans would react to the offer of a ride in a current front-line fighter vs. a chance to fly in a vintage World War WII fighter. Two to one, the chance to ride in the P-51 Mustang or equivalent won the poll. When I’m at air shows and people are willing to spend a couple thousand dollars on a warbird ride and they show up with family, friends and an American flag in tow, I realize that the passion is still there. These events are great opportunities to bring the past and the future together.

Bud Anderson, World War II triple ace, with our writer Bob Alvis. 

All around our country we do have the events that bring together the past and the current with voices and machines. Yes, it’s presented as entertainment, but it also serves another purpose. Americans from all generations want to take pride in our family’s contributions to the fabric that makes up America. We also want to pass that pride onto future generations, by remembering our past and telling stories the way they wer really lived. Today we look to the skies and see heritage flights and experience living history in the form of veteran history panels which bring the past and present together. However, these educational events are becoming fewer and farther between. That makes me sad, because in my day part of my education was the teacher standing in the front of the class and a room full of kids seeing the magic of history brought to life by those who lived it.

Our museums, our schools and our events must do a better job with our history. It will take a lot more than just adding a letter to the term STEM and calling it a motivation to inspire our future generations to learn history and share it. It will take those who are committed to history today and the ability to spark that light that will make the difference we all want to see in the telling of our American history and passing it forward. As the story teller, I want to see young men and women find the passion I have, combined with rich resources of learned knowledge to draw from. Let’s create a culture that encourages people to invest time and find joy in learning about moments in American history that helped define our American journey.

Until next time Bob out …

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