You Lived And Died Alone

You lived and died alone, especially in fighters. Fighters. Somehow, despite everything, that word had not become sterile. You slipped into the hollow cockpit and strapped and plugged yourself into the machine. The canopy ground shut and sealed you off. Your oxygen, your very breath, you carried into the chilled vacuum, in a steel bottle.

— James Salter, The Hunters

Bell P-39 Airacobra, Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas

Like most guys, I was an airplane geek when I was a kid. I especially loved WWII planes.

To visit a vintage air show brings back odd memories – I remember building models of every plane there – from decades and decades ago, the smell of styrene, glue, and Testor’s paint. I had even built a Bell P-39 Airacobra and remember it after all that time. I remember it had its engine in the back and powered the prop by a shaft that ran between the pilot’s legs.

It was never very successful for the US Air Force because of poor high altitude performance, but the Russians used it to great effect. Their fighting was all along the ground.

I never thought I’d actually get to see one fly, but I did. Pretty cool.

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2 responses to “You Lived And Died Alone

  1. My uncle was a tail gunner in War II-era bomber and afterward suffered huge emotional stress, waking from nightmares screaming “I can’t get the gun round” no doubt reliving an enemy aircraft attacking from behind. We now call it PTSD but nobody helped him overcome it, with tragic results.

    • That is so sad. I saw a bit on the television, interviews with WWII bomber crews, and they all said the tail gunner was by far the most vulnerable position and their life expectancy was only a handful of missions.

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