I've been interested in aviation all my life. My dad was a pilot, and I grew up in a house with a basement full of airplane parts, since he also restored one airplane and built another. We had books and magazines about flying and took annual trips to Oshkosh to the Experimental Aircraft Association weeklong airshow, where you could see and meet legends such as Jimmy Doolittle, Pappy Boyington, Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Gordon Cooper, etc. Heady stuff for a young boy in the age of astronauts.
As an adult, I moved to Alaska, and for years I lived in a small coastal town where everybody knew everybody; at least, everybody thought they knew everybody. One evening I was at a website which had vintage World War II aviation history films, including one concerning the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter. The iconic twin-engine, twin-boom, "Fork Tailed Devil" with its art deco styling, unmistakable outline, and impressive performance it’s a plane of mythic proportions.
The film I happened to watch was the one shown to new P-38 pilots to introduce them to the aircraft and to see its capabilities, and starred Lockheed’s chief engineering test pilot, Milo Burcham, flying and narrating. He literally “wrote the book” the pilot’s manual, on how to fly the P-38. Mr. Burcham unfortunately died in 1944 while test flying the YP-80 jet fighter, the first jet fighter operational for the USA.
I was struck because I knew Milo Burcham, at least, a Milo Burcham, right here in my small rural Alaska town. “My” Milo worked for the Forest Service, and was a wildlife photographer; a friend of several of my friends. There had to be a family connection…
The next time I ran into Milo I asked about the test pilot namesake. “He was my grandfather,” Milo said, and went on to tell me that his father was only 5 when his grandfather perished in that terrible crash.
I asked Milo if he had seen the film I had watched online, and he was astonished that such a thing existed. He hadn’t seen the film, and he knew his father hadn’t, either. I gave him the website, www.zenoswarbirdvideos.com, and let him know that you could purchase DVDs of the films.
A month or so later I ran into Milo again, down at the harbor, and he let me know that he’d bought the DVD of the film and sent it to his dad. His father hadn’t heard his own dad’s voice since he was five years old, and just hearing it in the film had brought on such emotion that he cried. But, he was absolutely overjoyed to have the film, and it is a treasured family heirloom now.
That’s when I realized the power of our stories, and of our voices.