Maybe she was waiting for me, I don’t know — but she was the reason I went.
It was five summers ago, and the Commemorative Air Force was at the Nashua Airport (Boire Field) with a collection of vintage aircraft from WWII and the Korean War as part of the national AirPower History Tour. For this veteran’s daughter, “FIFI” the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the star of the show. My father had flown as copilot on B-29 bombers like FIFI in WWII.
I first saw her with some of my family members. My older brother, sister, and I boarded and looked into the cockpit at the copilot’s seat, imagining our father as a 22-year-old preparing to launch this untested beast off of manmade rocky runways in faraway jungles. But something drew me back to the airshow again and this time, I wanted to go alone.
Grieving the loss of a parent has not been a linear process for me. It has arched, twisted, and even circled back upon itself, leaving me vulnerable and emotional at times. I needed to reconnect, and a visit to FIFI seemed right.
Despite overcast skies and occasional drizzle, young and old enthusiasts waited for their chance to get up close to the aircraft. The veterans and volunteers of the Commemorative Air Force were all incredibly knowledgeable and helpful at the well-organized event. Airshow crew walked along the long lines, answering questions about B-29s and FIFI specifically. The line grew beneath the massive wing as we all waited for a chance to climb up her underbelly for a glimpse into the cockpit. We stood inside the bomb bay, looking up. The two 10-year-old boys in front of me talked animatedly and asked surprisingly insightful questions.
While we waited outside, I overheard one of the veterans telling someone in line about the development of the B-29 during the height of the war. I jumped into the conversation, sharing that my father was among the first crews to test out the B-29, fresh off the drawing board, weight capacities still untested. I told them how Dad was one of the first to fly “The Hump” — over the Himalayas from India to China. How the planes were loaded with supplies for new bases in China and how he would be waiting to taxi up to the rough runways made of rocks, one in a line of new B-29s. How occasionally a plane ahead of his would crash and burn from the load.
I retold Dad’s stories about the long, cold flights over the Himalayas, the bombing raids, and the return flights made on gas fumes and prayers. How Dad’s plane caught fire over the ocean and they had to bail out; part of the burning plane narrowly missing his parachute. He’d been rescued in the jungles of India, and the locals took him in and helped him find the rest of his crew. The volunteer listened with interest and said, “That’s why I’m here. To hear and share these amazing experiences.”
As my turn came to climb the ladder, this same gentleman reappeared by my side and said something to the volunteer in the cockpit. They helped me up and closed the tour behind me. He unlatched the rope barring entrance to the cockpit and said, “We’ve arranged for you to sit in your father’s seat all by yourself for a minute. Here you go. We’ll take a picture for you.”
And there I sat, my hands where he would have rested his, looking out the windshield, taking in everything as his eyes would have seen them.
“Thank you so much,” I said softly, tears streaming down my face. “This means the world to me.”
“No, thank you,” he said. “You’re the reason why we are here. You are why we do this.”
Bonnie Dinsmore is a retired elementary school principal in Pepperell. Send comments to email@example.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.