Write Team: Reflecting on the ‘metal ghosts of the past’

I had the occasion to take my lovely bride out on a Friday night and given my love for World War II aircraft and her high tolerance for my quirks and desires, we went to the Illinois Valley Regional Airport to see the TBM Avenger event.

I wouldn’t call myself a “buff” but I do have an interest for aircraft of that era. Always have. Why is that? Why do we get interested in certain things and not others? That is a discussion for another day.

On this I have an idea though. My dad served in the Army Air Corps during World War II in Africa and Italy. He was drafted in June of ’42, “for the duration.” That, is an all-encompassing statement. Do you know it means that you are in until we win, or not. When I first heard that phrase at age 13 or 14 , it gave me a newfound and undying respect for the American soldier, which has not diminished to this day. Most of my uncles served as did my future father-in-law. He was a 19-year-old grunt Marine in the 6th Marine “Raider” Division in the South Pacific. My uncle’s friend was a B-25 pilot who was written up in The Daily American as a hero.

My dad was in the 18th Air Depot Group and they repaired planes of all sorts in Bizerte, Libya and Foggia, Italy. He repaired shot-up planes that were fortunate enough to return to base from their missions. Private Howie Peterson trained in wing and fuselage repairs and primarily worked on the B-25 Mitchell, the P-51 Mustang, the P-47 Thunderbolt and his favorite, the P-61 Black Widow, a night-time reconnaissance fighter.

So, walking onto this airfield on this soft May evening looking at the metal ghosts of the past that stood mute before me, I reflected back to my dad and uncles and father-in-law and what they did so this event could take place some 75 years later. I could see my dad in the full flower of his life as he would have to crawl under and over the cousins of these planes. I can hear his laugh and his loud interrogatories sent heavenward when a wrench slipped.

My family and certain close friends will tell you that I am a lachrymose son of a gun, beyond sentimental. So, as I stood there standing next to and touching these monuments to American bravery and dedication, I welled up with a generation of emotion. This crowd in Central Illinois were free to enjoy this show because of the sacrifice of our servicemen and women. People of all shapes and sizes; little kids, moms and dads and geezers like me.

And after this long national nightmare, it was good to get out in a crowd, a patriotic crowd and a crowd with no face masks, as the CDC released us from our fealty just the day before.

My thanks to the event’s organizers, the pilots who brought these flying monuments to courage, the Aeroshell Acrobatic Team (they were terrific), all the behind-the-scenes volunteers and those driving the golf carts helping some of us around the fields and as we move forward, may we remember the generation who came before us, largely gone now but fundamental in continuing the progress of this greatest country ever created on God’s green earth.

William Peterson recently retired to Ottawa after working in the hotel industry for 40-plus years. He can be reached at dbarichello@shawmedia.com.