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I choked up today as I walked the flight deck of the USS Midway, moored in San Diego. It was one of the Naval Aircraft Carriers my dad was stationed on as a pilot flying the famous F4U Corsair. Outside the bridge, I leaned against the railing and surveyed the flight deck below me, and thought; My dad may have stood in this very spot 72 years ago. I closed my tearing eyes, managing to drown out the surrounding distractions. For one brief moment I was lost in yesteryear and finding myself not only in my father's shoes, but in his mind as well.



    I stood overlooking the flight-deck wearing a flight suit and leather flight jacket, which did little to curb the cold 40 knot wind whipping over the bow in unison with the lashing waves. The Captain had ordered Midway into the wind in ready to launch aircraft. One by one they'd launch every 45 seconds until our entire squadron was airborne.

    I'd just left the Ready Room where I'd spent the better part of the past hour briefed on the mission at hand. Just last week, we'd gotten word the war had ended. Though jubilant I was as anyone would be, my mind could only focus on my love at hand; touching the sky in my F4U fighter. The same fighter-bomber Japanese pilots regarded as the most formidable American fighter of World War II, and which had an 11:1 kill ratio.

    Always a comforting thought.

    I leaned over the railing holding on with both hands to steady myself from the constant pitching. I turned my head to the left to catch a glimpse of the first aircraft rising from below deck on the elevator. I could tell by the tail it was the F6F Hellcat fighter. It was a fine plane but once I'd dated the F4U Corsair, I knew I'd found a good thing-she was my gal, and I was her faithful husband.

    Forty-five minutes later and pre-flight inspection complete, I found myself sitting in the cockpit next in line for left launch. I looked right as my buddy, Lt. James R. "Mack" MacKenzie, got the launch signal from the shooter in yellow, Lt. Cmdr Jack “JJ” Johnson. Four seconds later, he was thrown back into his seat, eyeballs flattened from the four G thrill ride by the steam-powered catapult. As many times as I have experienced this, I have not gotten used to it yet in terms of no big deal. To me, it's always a big deal.

    I once, and only once, made the mistake of looking left at the precise time of launch. I spent the rest of that day flying with my peripheral vision. I got the move forward signal from JJ. My heart raced. Damn, I love the thrill of―

    “Are you ready to go?” my sister asked.

    I was instantly aroused from my daydreams of 1945 and catapulted back to the present day with more G's than I can count.

    “No. Yes, I guess.” I opened my eyes to see the more modern day F14 Tomcat sitting below me on the flight deck, which even now is outdated and replaced by the F18 Hornet.

    “Are you alright?” she asked.

  I turned to look at her and paused for a moment, “Yes, just feeling. . . old.”


DeForest Shields

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