SPEAKING OF AIRPLANES…

Humor me and the airplane posts. It’s my birthday.

No argument in the world about how my skin is saved because of the great men who fought for my right to have this opinion, etc. etc. will move me to build an active model warplane. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their service. Today is now, and now it’s just that I prefer not to build models of warplanes.

Before you besiege me with letters, note that I have been friends with and I have broken bread with both war-active F-4 Phantom pilots and with Pete Seeger. That about covers it. And I have no problem appreciating great models of such planes.

So we build what we like. We make replicas of history, after all, and it’s not like we’re saying we are in favor of war, the sides it forces us to choose, or that our allegiances should be questioned. Nothing like that. But let me tell you a story from a few years ago.

A whole wide realm of people can show up at my concerts. Some are dyed-in-the-wool-Kumbayah peacenik folk fans that are to the left of Stalin, some are devoutly Right of Reagan conservative folks that just love a good, dark twist of metaphor as part of their song listening diet. And all manner of person in-between. Front row, White guy, close-cut flat top. Arms crossed across his chest/belly, his mouth is in a straight line. He applauded politely, arms going back across his chest, the semi-scowl returning.

I did my Vance concert thing. I asked this fellow: “So, sir, how’d you end up here? With her, right?” She laughs yes, he nods.

“What do you do for a living?”

"I’m retired”, he dryly replies.

“So, you do nothing now but follow that cute lady to house concerts?” The audience laughs.

“Nowadays, yes”, he replies.

“And here you are. Ok, ok, - what did you do before you retired?”

“I was a bomber pilot”.

My legs wobble. I recover.

“In what?”

“The B-52”

I don’t drop a beat. “Thanks for your service…By the way, did the BUFF really have induced dihedral measuring 15 feet from taxi to flight under load?”

He finally looks dead on at me. “Indeed it did, Sir”.

The poor remaining folks at the end of this concert got a few CD’s signed, a hello or two, and cursory, distracted handshake greetings from me, but I easily spent another 45 minutes in doorknob conversation with this gentleman.

Roger Coleman is his name.

Went from B-52’s in Vietnam to flight instructor to accident investigator. He was instrumental in clearing an early female T-38 flight instructor posthumously for her crash after a faulty engine fire hazard switch shut down her ship not long after takeoff. The switch malfunctioned due to previous pilots shutting it manually over and over thinking it was a “false alarm”, and subsequently burning out a fuse. He made it clear he was furious at Air Force culture at that time and its narrow-minded scrutiny of Blacks and women. He railed at his beloved Air Force, whose investigative prosecutorial members thought that this woman pilot might have gotten disoriented due to menstruating while flying. He shook his head in disdain while telling me this story. He brightened and smirked as he told me stories of B-52 last shuttle flights to museums and storage facilities being virtually “dry” at touch down from losing fluids during the flight from leaking, disrepair, and age.

Ask him about the B-52 on display at the museum in Dayton? Yeah, he knows it well. It was his ship.

A few days later I get this email, loaded with plane pics and this note:
“Vance, It was great to meet you and enjoy your great talent. You asked what I was thinking as you performed. The answer is that I was sure God has definitely used you as a vessel to spread the word of tolerance and love to your fellow man. You are a great person and spread a great message.”

It’s a curious thing what we choose to hang from our ceilings or pull out of our boxes on the field. We are historians, messengers, artists, teachers, engineers, sportsmen, all in one fell swoop animated skin-sack.

updated: 3 weeks ago