WWII Airmen Get Their Memorial

On Saturday August 6, I was privileged to attend the unveiling of the memorial to American airmen who fought in World War II at the Wings Over the Rockies aviation museum in Denver, Colorado. Created by Major Frederic Arnold (ret.), an artist who flew P-38 Lightnings in the Mediterranean theater of the war, the monumental sculpture depicts a pre-flight briefing, with the squadron leader at the mapboard explaining the mission plan, while the men of the squadron and the pale ghosts of their fallen comrades listen on.

American airmen suffered a horrific casualty rate during World War II, with over 88,000 being killed in action. Of the 14 men in Arnold’s squadron, 12 were killed in six months of combat. Arnold and the other survivors vowed to memorialize their fallen comrades. Now 94, Arnold has finally fulfilled that vow.

Here are some views of the sculpture.

At the front, we see the squadron leader explaining the mission.

Here we see the pilots listening, both the living pilots in bronze khaki, and the pale ghosts of their fallen friends. Halfway through the tour, nearly half of the original squadron has already joined the spirits.

Each of the sculptures represents not a particular individual, but a particular character type, and has a nickname to go with it. For example, in the photo above we see a pilot named Montana, a young rookie fresh from the states who is raising his hand to ask a question. Next to him, with his arms folded, we see a veteran pilot, named Lucky Strike. He’s heard it all before -- promises of good weather, light opposition, etc. -- and he’s not buying it. To his left we see Eager Beaver, writing the mission instructions on his wrist -- WWII fighter pilots were not allowed to carry maps which could fall into enemy hands, while in the rear, Speed synchronizes his wind-up watch, the key instrument used to coordinate mission operations.

Here are a few more views from various angles.

 

Note Handsome sitting relaxed with a cup of coffee at the edge of the bench in the photo above. A veteran flier, he chooses to wear stylish saddle shoes instead of regulation combat boots. A ghost sits close behind him, mournful in the knowledge that his pal will be next to die.

Frederic Arnold flew 46 combat missions, then was shot down over Sicily and taken prisoner. He escaped, and after rejoining his unit, completed his tour of duty of 50 missions. He then returned to the States, and became a test pilot and the author of the pilot’s manual for the P-47 Thunderbolt, the P-51 Mustang, and the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first jet fighter. He has also written a memoir of his combat experiences. Titled Doorknob Five Two, it is a real gripper. 

Frederic Arnold in his P-38 Lightning in 1943.

In recent decades, a number of rather sterile memorials have been erected to U.S. war veterans, mostly by professional artistes, who, in my view, have been more interested in displaying their personal virtuosity as practicioners of the avante garde than in honoring their subjects. In Lest We Forget, U.S. airmen are fortunate in having a deeply meaningful memorial that is actually to them, done by a real artist who was, and is, truly one their own.

I was born in 1952. In my youth, they were everywhere. My father was a World War II veteran, so were all of my uncles, and the fathers of all my friends. Now they are nearly all gone. It is fortunate that this monument was completed in time to give at least the few that remain what may be their last salute.
 
But the memorial was not meant for them alone. It was also meant to speak to us, and those that will follow us, so that, as a great man once said regarding the fallen of an earlier conflict, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
 
The monument will remain at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum in Denver for the next six months, after which it will be transferred to the World War II Museum in New Orleans.
 
Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy of Lakewood, Colorado, and the author of eight books, including The Case for Mars and Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism. 

On Saturday August 6, I was privileged to attend the unveiling of the memorial to American airmen who fought in World War II at the Wings Over the Rockies aviation museum in Denver, Colorado. Created by Major Frederic Arnold (ret.), an artist who flew P-38 Lightnings in the Mediterranean theater of the war, the monumental sculpture depicts a pre-flight briefing, with the squadron leader at the mapboard explaining the mission plan, while the men of the squadron and the pale ghosts of their fallen comrades listen on.

American airmen suffered a horrific casualty rate during World War II, with over 88,000 being killed in action. Of the 14 men in Arnold’s squadron, 12 were killed in six months of combat. Arnold and the other survivors vowed to memorialize their fallen comrades. Now 94, Arnold has finally fulfilled that vow.

Here are some views of the sculpture.

At the front, we see the squadron leader explaining the mission.

Here we see the pilots listening, both the living pilots in bronze khaki, and the pale ghosts of their fallen friends. Halfway through the tour, nearly half of the original squadron has already joined the spirits.

Each of the sculptures represents not a particular individual, but a particular character type, and has a nickname to go with it. For example, in the photo above we see a pilot named Montana, a young rookie fresh from the states who is raising his hand to ask a question. Next to him, with his arms folded, we see a veteran pilot, named Lucky Strike. He’s heard it all before -- promises of good weather, light opposition, etc. -- and he’s not buying it. To his left we see Eager Beaver, writing the mission instructions on his wrist -- WWII fighter pilots were not allowed to carry maps which could fall into enemy hands, while in the rear, Speed synchronizes his wind-up watch, the key instrument used to coordinate mission operations.

Here are a few more views from various angles.

 

Note Handsome sitting relaxed with a cup of coffee at the edge of the bench in the photo above. A veteran flier, he chooses to wear stylish saddle shoes instead of regulation combat boots. A ghost sits close behind him, mournful in the knowledge that his pal will be next to die.

Frederic Arnold flew 46 combat missions, then was shot down over Sicily and taken prisoner. He escaped, and after rejoining his unit, completed his tour of duty of 50 missions. He then returned to the States, and became a test pilot and the author of the pilot’s manual for the P-47 Thunderbolt, the P-51 Mustang, and the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first jet fighter. He has also written a memoir of his combat experiences. Titled Doorknob Five Two, it is a real gripper. 

Frederic Arnold in his P-38 Lightning in 1943.

In recent decades, a number of rather sterile memorials have been erected to U.S. war veterans, mostly by professional artistes, who, in my view, have been more interested in displaying their personal virtuosity as practicioners of the avante garde than in honoring their subjects. In Lest We Forget, U.S. airmen are fortunate in having a deeply meaningful memorial that is actually to them, done by a real artist who was, and is, truly one their own.

I was born in 1952. In my youth, they were everywhere. My father was a World War II veteran, so were all of my uncles, and the fathers of all my friends. Now they are nearly all gone. It is fortunate that this monument was completed in time to give at least the few that remain what may be their last salute.
 
But the memorial was not meant for them alone. It was also meant to speak to us, and those that will follow us, so that, as a great man once said regarding the fallen of an earlier conflict, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
 
The monument will remain at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum in Denver for the next six months, after which it will be transferred to the World War II Museum in New Orleans.
 
Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy of Lakewood, Colorado, and the author of eight books, including The Case for Mars and Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism.