Two or three years ago, the veterans of World War II were dying at an alarming rate of more than 1000 per day. Of the 16 million who saved the world while wearing the uniform of one of the United States’ military branches, only 1.7 million veterans remain alive today. Assuming the oldest of these veterans were “old men” at the age of 25 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the youngest had just turned 18 years old when the war ended in 1945, these veterans now range in age from 84 to 95. There even may be a few of the older vets who have passed 95 and are pushing the century mark.
As their ranks have thinned over the last couple of years, the rate at which they are passing has dropped to 740 every day.
For many Americans today, unless they are directly related, the passing of one of the old soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines–more than likely–will not touch their souls.
It should. They are, after all, some our best, national treasures.
Tom Brokaw referred to this generation as “The Greatest Generation” because as children, they grew up with little through the middle of the worst financial depression of the century. Then they went on to win a war that had enveloped the entire world. And for the most part, they did so without complaining. They viewed it as something they had to do. Then they did it.
During the time they fought their war, they made some great technological advances in many areas, particularly in aviation. Many young men and women worked hard and diligently to make airplanes fly farther, faster, and higher. They tweaked the field of aerodynamics to perfect airplanes that could carry more people or greater payloads. They were an amazing group of people.
And as they aged, they remained just as amazing.
Every now and then, I would get to know one of these wonderful people. I would sit and listen to what they had to say about their life and times. Their stories typically held me spellbound as I listened; they spoke of times when their bodies were strong and resilient, a time when their minds were as sharp as a freshly honed bayonet, and they truly were out working at saving the world.
One such man I came to know was Allan Wise. The first time I met Allan, he was at the controls of his award winning Pietenpol Air Camper. The first time I saw his airplane, I fell in love the Pietenpol Air Camper—particularly Allan’s.
The forward portion of the fuselage sported a rich wood exterior with the aft portion and empennage covered in silver fabric. The control wires were external to the fuselage making preflight inspection of the entire system very easy.
On the right wing strut, Allan had constructed an “elaborate airspeed indicator.” There was a base plate with numbers marked along an arc. Just in front of the plate, there was a spring constructed of a metal rod wound about three times which then extended straight down for about four inches. To the end was attached a small piece of metal with enough flat plate area to allow the dynamic pressure to move the metal back and hold it at the appropriate place next to the number that indicated the correct airspeed. It was so simple, it was elaborate. It was genius!
On the “hood” of his Pietenpol, Allan had placed an elaborate piece of golden artwork. It was some kind of a golden bird with wide spread wings.
What attracted most attention about the Pietenpol, however, was the horn. On the left side of the fuselage within easy reach over the cockpit coaming, there was a spiral horn with a rubber bulb to squeeze for sound. It was hilarious! Allan would fly the Pietenpol on downwind close abeam the landing area honking away.
You could just tell from looking at the airplane, that it had to be a great plane to fly. Allan took great joy in flying the airplane all over the state of Florida. He would go from one fly-in to another. At each fly-in he enjoyed being with his fellow aviators. And, we of course, enjoyed the pleasure of his company.
Allan flew the Pietenpol for the last time at the age of 85. On his last flight, he delivered the airplane to Lakeland, FL where it went on display at the Sun ’N’ Fun Museum. These were the happy years of his flying.
During the war, Allan flew B-24s primarily through the Pacific. After the war, he was involved in the Berlin Airlift and went on to fly during the Korean War.
Allan was, absolutely, one of the best of The Greatest Generation.
When I read the message from my friend, Bear, about Allan’s passing, I sat in front of the computer screen with one of those looks on my face. Ardis came by and asked what was wrong.
“One of my flying friends has passed,” I said. “One of the FSAACA guys.”
When I told her who, her immediate response was, “The one who always had a smile on his face?”
“Yep.” She knew exactly which pilot of whom I spoke.
Allan was that way, always smiling. Always friendly.
That is how we, all of his friends, will all remember him.
So long, our friend.
©2011 J. Clark
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I know I said my next blog would deal with an explanation about max range, but this event pre-empted the educational discussion. I promise, it is coming…