D-Day Memories

By: pbcmedia

Jun 06 2009

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Category: Family, Father, Fear of Flying, Life, Personal, Photography, WW II


Focal Length:35mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS 5D

It was 1952. I had never flown before but at the age of seven I knew a C-47 when I saw one. It had carried thousands of Allied paratroopers on D-Day 1944 and through this doorway I was now crossing, soldiers had jumped silently into a moonless night sky.

A beautiful woman in a gray form-fitting suit met us at the entrance to the plane. We sat across the aisle from the door. My father let go of my hand and took out his large linen handkerchief from his pants pocket. He wiped my damp, trembling hand and fingers dry.

He chatted with the stewardess; I looked for the track of ceiling straps that latched to each soldier, as he stood by the door, ready to jump.

In the 1940’s, my father made his living selling vacuum tubes, the technology inside the first television sets. I sat in front of our TV any chance I could, mostly watching an endless loop of black and white newsreels of WW II and sensational crime stories.

My father held my hand during take-off and talked about how he had gotten his pilot license after Charles Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic non-stop in 1927. That flight had taken 20 hours and 21 minutes, he said. This one was twenty minutes, tops.  As we leveled off, he pointed to the beetle cat sailboats and their sherbet colored sails in Cape Cod Bay.

“Lindbergh?” I said in a rising thin voice. “His baby was kidnapped and murdered in 1932.”

Suddenly, there was a sharp, metal groaning sound off to our left side. The plane door had disappeared or been forced open and was now flat against the outside of the plane, as it was when we boarded. I am not making this up.

The stewardess came rushing down the aisle apologizing, telling us to stay calm, as her face drained of color. She said that it was her fault for not securing the door properly.

“We don’t need the door, honey,” my father said to the stewardess, loud enough for other passengers to hear. She turned toward him, grateful, eyes brimming.

He took out his package of Lucky Strikes and his silver Zippo lighter from his pocket and promptly lit a cigarette, took a long drag, blowing out smoke rings, one after another. Those rings drifted like incense, a final benediction, through the doorway of jumpers, disappearing into a summer’s sky.

We landed safely and on time in Nantucket ten minutes later with my father kissing the red-faced beautiful stewardess and my lifetime fear of flying properly seeded, along with the memory of the tall, confident man with a calm center who had an understanding of aviation, technology, and women of all ages.

©Pat Coakley 2009


10 comments on “D-Day Memories”

  1. Pat, this writing is A1 top notch, the best. phenomenal grace has blessed your workings, as if i was there it felt a perfect scene recreated, the nuance, the details, the wrap, amazing. and the photograph, zooming but still, and the sky looks like marble. thank you again and over again. what a gift (and work)

  2. Pat, that photo really bursts out of my monitor. Nice story too… I am partial to flying stories.

    • Dave, I was hoping you’d read this one! My fear of flying is gone now. I used to have to take a little blue pill but for some reason now, although I rarely go anywhere!), I just get on the plane without soggy hands and racing heart. Do you simply outlive phobias?

  3. What more could I say. Gripping story, gripping photo. Thanks from me, too.

  4. I’m silent. Can you hear me?

    With your words, you’ve given every daughter a reason to reach for her daddy’s hand and long for a time when trust in that hand could not be matched by anything or anyone else.

    The way you’ve retold this story brings to mind a favorite song by Barbara Streisand that always makes me get teary eyed too……….

    My Pa can light my room at night
    By just his being near
    And make a fearful dream all right
    By grinning ear to ear
    My Pa can do most anything He sets his mind to do
    He’d even move a mountain
    If he really wanted to
    My Pa can sweeten up a day
    That clouds and rain make gray
    And tell me funny stories
    That will chase the clouds away
    My Pa’s the only one on Earth
    I can tell my troubles to
    His arms are house and home to me
    His face’s a pretty poem to me
    My Pa’s the finest friend I ever knew
    I only wish that you
    Could know him too…

  5. I really like what you’ve done with the image.

    Your story made me think about how under valued fathers are. It bugs the heck out of me when I see ads on TV, aimed at teenagers, that show fathers as clueless dolts.

    • Razz, this was my alternate Memorial Day image so I’m happy I got to use it! PS…prepare for even worse on the TV front. HBO has a new series they are promoting called “Hung”. About a guy with well…special attributes. I’d call this rock bottom in an industry that has been bottom fishing for years.

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