On December 7th, 2016 the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation commemorated “A day which will live in infamy” at the Bush Library, College Station, TX. In 1941 on this date, “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” An event that would bring the United States into World War II brought our country together with sacrifices securing the freedoms we enjoy today. The Texas Flying Legends Museum was honored and excited being asked to participate in what turned into an incredibly memorable day.
The Texas Flying Legends Museum (TFLM) brought their TBM Avenger to the Bush Library plaza as a static display on the 7th as well as fly a five ship flyover and Missing Man flight. It all went off without a hitch but as you might imagine, making that happen took one heck of a team effort. The TFLM aircraft were all at their Ellington Field hangar, about an hours flight from College Station. The first challenge to overcome (and what would be the final one as well) was the weather. The original plan was to simply make the flight from Ellington to College Station and back on the 7th. The weather prevented this so on the 6th, the TBM and P-40e were flown up to College Station on the first flight, then the Spitfire, Wildcat, Mustang and Corsair flew up on the second flight on the 6th. Before the second flight of aircraft could be moved up, the TBM had to be tugged the two miles from the Easterwood Airport to the Bush Library.
One might think that tugging a six ton aircraft would be a challenge. With the assistance of the Astin Aviation, Texas A&M Campus Police & Fire Dept. and library staff, the move went very smoothly. The wings of the TBM were folded in but even with that, it’s a wide plane. Then there is the Pitot Tube, which sticks out a few inches further and that’s the only thing that slowed down progress a couple of times. The biggest obstacle to overcome came right at the library where negotiating around two small trees and a stop sign took a few extra moments. The entire team was able to easily overcome these obstacles so quickly, the TBM was in the plaza in short order.
The reward for all the effort to tug the TBM to the plaza was the unfolding of the wings. The plaza was empty at the time, not a soul around so while the wings can be hand pumped open, the decision was made to crank the engine over to spread the wings. While it is something the crew of TFLM do routinely, for all the other observers, this was a HUGE deal! The iPhones came out and lots of video shot of the quick engine turnover. And within minutes the TBM was parked and the TFLM pilots off to make the second flight of aircraft.
The library and buildings were full of people and students who, when they went into the buildings, there was no TBM in the plaza. The TBM is a BIG plane so when they came out, you could see and hear them ask to their friends, “Was that there when we walked in?” The TBM was there to get people’s attention and highlight Dec 7th and President Bush’ WWII service. It did its job very well. Vets who had read that the TBM would be there came the afternoon of the 6th to see it and tell their stories. This includes President Bush (41) who came out to see the plane (his signature is on the prop tip), talk with friends and speed a little time with an old friend!
On the 7th, the plaza was full of folks coming for the commemorative ceremonies. Hours before it was to start, news correspondence from TV and print were setting up. Twenty-seven WWII vets came to the ceremonies including President Bush, Senator Dole, a Pearl Harbor survivor and many others. The TBM, itself a WWII vet sinking two ships at Okinawa was the center of attention as folks asked about it and its role in WWII. By the start of the ceremonies, the plaza was packed!
At 11:49 the Texas Flying Legends Museum five ship made their first flyover of the plaza. Their engines echoed in the plaza as all looked up. Minutes later, the five aircraft made single ship flyovers and if there was a dry eye left in the audience, the Missing Man at 11:55 while Taps was played left a lasting impact on all participants. With a close of the ceremonies in the plaza, the event moved inside, which was a good thing as while it was cold at the start, the clouds had rolled back in and the temps further sunk.
There was an amazing presentation for the next ninety minutes inside. Pearl Harbor, President Bush, Senator Dole’s and the history that helped shaped our world and secure our freedoms were discussed by a great panel. In a great visual and oral presentation, events that changed and shaped our world were brought before us to remember, ponder and reflect upon. This finished with a special presentation by President Bush to Senator Dole for his service and sacrifice for our country. It was a spectacular presentation that left the audience energized and thankful.
With the ceremonies and presentations over, it was time to reverse the process and get the TBM tugged back to the airport and the TFLM aircraft back to Ellington. With all the folks in the plaza, turning over the engine wasn’t an option so the wings were closed with the hand pump. Then without a hitch, the TBM was tugged back to the airport. Once there, it was obvious the weather was turning worse with the forecast looking darker. Cold temps were coming so the call was made to move the aircraft south out of reach of the cold temps. By nightfall, the TBM and Wildcat flying together as a light were able to find a window in the weather and make it back to Ellington. The other four aircraft landed at Sugarland and flew back the next morning.
For the Texas Flying Legend Museum pilots and crew, it was an adrenalin rush, thought provoking and emotional twenty-four hour event that will never be forgotten. TFLM is very fortunate to participate in many events honoring our vets and celebrating our freedoms with this being one the top celebrations.
Honoring Our Past – Inspiring Our Future