Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot

The Kid never Dies

The other day I fulfilled a promised I'd made to myself to start getting in some semblance of physical condition. I stood at one end of the pool, worked my goose-pimpled way down into the cooler-than-I'd-prefer water and started thrashing away. As I started out, I remembered the literally hundreds of miles I swam during the many years I was a lifeguard. This time, as I finished the second lap, I heard a sound in the water that was familiar yet strange at the same time. I then realized it was my heart pounding so hard that the heaving of my chest could have propelled me through the water without moving my arms. My mind clearly remembered me being a lifeguard. My body, however, didn't.

I can't be getting old. I can't be! I remember so many things so clearly from my youth it just couldn't have been that long ago. I remember the delicious feeling of drifting through the sweeping corner north of town at 100 mph without a care in the world. I remember the smell of the first airplane I ever sat in. I can still feel the hedges closing around me as I stole my first kiss. To me, my youth is only yesterday. But it wasn't and, as I sat on the edge of the pool trying to flag down a poodle to give me CPR, I suddenly realized we all eventually reach a point where our body's get out of step with our minds. We think young, but we move old.

Not all folks have the problem of their minds being much younger than their bodies, as I know many who have allowed their thoughts to get as old as their bodies. However, within the serious pilot population, that's not generally the case. Those of us who have passed the half century mark still think and act like we're 24 but periodically our bodies send out signals that the machinery isn't supporting the mission plan and we'd better let up.

I think about this young-mind-in-an-aging-body thing a lot because a good portion of my time these days is spent around WWII pilots. Almost to a man you can see a young eagle peering out from behind age-wrinkled eyes. I often wonder how they must feel about the current rage for WWII nostalgia. Most are proud. Glad they survived. Sad that others didn't. But, when you catch them alone during a quiet moment, more than one has said it seems like only yesterday that they looked across the deck at a mass of Hellcats or a ramp full of Mustangs and knew one of them was theirs. They close their eyes and the airplanes are there. They can smell the battle. Feel the intensity they felt when seeking out other young men from a foreign country whose job and mission was identical to theirs: kill or be killed.

As I sit and talk to these long-ago warriors, I'm aware of the young man trapped with in an aging shell. I'm also aware of a subtle frustration they feel in not being able to adequately explain exactly what it was like. They can't possibly tell us because we weren't there. Most of us have never experienced violent death. Or total terror. Or a situation so intense that it completely overwhelms the senses so that death is no longer something to be feared. Death is simply the logical outcome of not doing your job better than the next guy. So you do your job as well as you possibly can. They can't totally communicate this to us because we don't have that visceral understanding which subliminally connects combat veterans from any war.

I also sense they feel an even bigger frustration in being looked at as if they're old, when in their minds, they are still the young men who fought those battles so long ago. Most of them have never felt as strong or as fulfilled as they did during that period of time, a feeling later generations can only dream of achieving.

It must be strange to see an entire segment of your life unfolding on a screen or in a book and portrayed to the world as history. We all forget that what is history to us, is to them simply something they lived. Also, I can't imagine the feeling of having images of the young you continually shoved in your face as part of a history lesson. No one needs reminders that age is taking its toll.

Sitting on the edge of that pool, my heart threatening to jump out and leap around the deck, I was just then beginning to understand the passing of youth. But, I don't accept it. I know the process is there but I'll fight it. Someday I may see a television special talking about my generation and I'll refuse to believe that it was long enough ago that anything I lived warrants a special of its own. I'll also refuse to believe that I have the potential for getting old. Shoot! I can't be getting old. I'm just now getting good at being a kid. BD