Robert De Gavre, San Juan Island
In the last days of July a renowned American veteran — christened Virginia Ann — returned from celebrations in France to visit our Island. For several days she sat at the Friday Harbor Airport on a concrete pad near Ernie’s Cafe unheralded and unacknowledged by our community. I don’t know when she arrived or when she left or why she was here. But she stood proudly in full Overlord battle dress for all to see.
Seventy-five years ago, Virginia Ann dutifully carried twenty-nine young American boys in the first airborne wave to Normandy to parachute into the pre-dawn hours that were lit only by the glare of tracer bullets and burning carcasses of Virginia Ann’s sisters as they fell to earth. Tracers bullets or no, procedures required her to slow to an agonizing 105 miles per hour when approaching the drop zone. In the days that followed she returned many times to the skies over Normandy to resupply her boys and carry the wounded home. Fifteen weeks later she steadfastly carried another stick of 29 young boys to take bridges near Arnhem, leaving behind in her prop wash 29 white silk circles floating to earth to join the bloody maelstrom. And 27 weeks later she again unflinchingly carried another 29 young boys across the Rhine into another hell for the final airborne operation of the War in Europe.
We are left today to wonder how many or how few of those young boys survived the hours and days after each bade farewell to Virginia Ann by bellowing “Geronimo” before tumbling into the abyss. If she were a GI, this C-47 would proudly wear a chestful of medals including the European service medal for Operations Overlord, Market Garden and Varsity, three bronze stars for combat jumps on her parachutist badge, almost certainly multiple purple hearts, and possibly silver stars for bravery.
More than twice as many years ago when facing disunion, Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address spoke of “the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land …” These mystic chords are essential glues that bind us together. Virginia Ann is not just a flying museum, not just a beautifully preserved aluminum relic. She, like Old Ironsides or the cannons at Gettysburg, recall tangibly, after bones have long since turned to dust, the ineffable sacrifices of our predecessors.
As the heroine Virginia Ann sat glistening in the sun near your offices, the editors of The Journal did not acknowledge her presence. Your silence seems at variance with the apology published in your July 31 edition, namely your words that you “respect our …veterans immensely”. But far more importantly and despairingly, your myopic vision mirrors a wider crumbling over this broad land of the foundational myths that inspire us – or any nation – to move forward into the future with optimism and in unison.