Daring aviation legends make film real

aviationFantasy of Flight is an aviation-themed Florida exhibit showcasing vintage aircraft from the world’s largest private collection, themed immersion experiences, interactive exhibits and more. Now through February 11, Fantasy of Flight is celebrating National Black History month with its Fourth Annual Legends & Legacies Symposium Series with a visit from famed World War II heroes, the Tuskegee Airmen as well as a student essay contest honoring the aviators’ leadership, excellence, advocacy and determination.

“It is an honor and a privilege to welcome back the Tuskegee Airmen and their families to Fantasy of Flight for our Fourth Annual Legends & Legacies Symposium Series,” said Kim Long, General Manager. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honor the Tuskegee Airmen and celebrate Black History Month than by engaging students to learn more about these brave aviators and express what they’ve learned through written essays.”

During “They Dared to Fly,” the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation’s first African-American military aviators, will share their personal stories of what it was like to serve as a pilot in the military during segregated America. Three Tuskegee Airmen will be appearing including Leo Gray, 91, who served as a consultant on the recently released Lucas Red Tails film, as well as Daniel Keel, 89 and George Hardy, 88. Of the original group of nearly 1,000 trained pilots and 15,000 ground personnel that made up the Tuskegee Airmen, roughly 50 pilots and 200 ground crew are alive today.In tribute to the living legends, students in grades 4-12 were invited to participate in the “They Dared to Fly” essay contest. Using the principles of LEAD (Leadership, Excellence, Advocacy and Determination), students described how the Tuskegee Airmen achieved success and how they can use these values to achieve a personal goal of their own.

Fantasy of Flight’s permanent multi-media Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and vintage aircraft collection, including the P-51C Mustang, provides the perfect backdrop for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the brave men who fought America’s enemies abroad while enduring racism at home.

“They Dared to Fly” runs through Saturday, February 11 and will feature two open-forum/question-and-answer sessions each day at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm followed by meet/greet autograph signings with several of the original Tuskegee Airmen.



Tuskegee Airman: 'We're Being Appreciated'

The Athens War Museum

Athens War Museum
This is a Heckler & Koch MP5 9mm submachine gun with gold plated parts. It was given by the Defense Minister of Kuwait to former Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, probably as a thank you for his nation’s help in liberating Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. It’s one of a case of Papandreou’s personal weapons on display at the Athens War Museum.

Greece has a long and proud military history stretching all the way back to when hoplites met Persian invaders and chariots were the latest thing in military technology. This museum starts right at the beginning and goes up to the modern day. While the section on Classical Greece is large and well detailed, I’d seen this sort of thing in other museums. The other periods of history were much more interesting to me.

One hall is devoted to the armies of the Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately all the weapons here are reproductions, but there are some detailed dioramas of fortresses and troop formations that show just how advanced the Byzantines were. They even had “Greek Fire”, an early form of napalm that played havoc with the sailing ships of the time.

The largest amount of space is devoted to Greece’s two wars of liberation-first against the Ottoman Empire starting in 1821 and again against Nazi Germany during World War Two. This is when the Greeks really showed their fighting spirit-outnumbered, outgunned, and under occupation, they nevertheless fought against the superpowers of their day and eventually won.

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The images from World War Two are especially sobering. The Nazis systematically plundered Greece and many people starved to death. The partisans kept fighting, though, using captured weapons or those smuggled in by the Allies. They even devised homemade ones, including a gun hidden in a cane. Elderly Greeks say the current economic meltdown will never make Greece suffer as much as the Nazis did, but they do worry about the younger generation that has never had to face serious hardship.

There’s also a section on the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, complete with uniforms, equipment, and walls full of detailed paintings and photographs. Greece managed to double its size in these conflicts and reduce the threat of the Ottoman Empire ever retaking the region. It was during this time that the Greek Air Force got started. Hanging outside the museum is a reproduction of the Daedalus, one of those early planes that looks more like an oversized kite. As flimsy as it is, it flew into history when it went on a reconnaissance mission on December 5, 1912, the first day of the Balkan Wars. The Ottomans sent up a plane the same day. These two missions are tied for second place in the history of military aviation. The year before, an Italian pilot dropped bombs over the Ottoman province of Tripolitania, modern Libya.

The basement is full of curiosities such as African weapons, and outside are several tanks and artillery pieces. The ground floor has a variety of weapons from all over Europe.

My only two criticisms are that the lighting on the glass cases made it difficult to take photos without them being obscured by reflections, and that sometimes the labels were too vague, with some cases being marked with signs such as “swords, 19th century.” Still, it’s a must-see for any fan of military history or anyone who wants to know just what the Greeks had to endure to earn their independence.

As I got my jacket from the coat check, I browsed through the books they had for sale at the counter. I pointed to a title on the Balkan Wars.

“How much is this?”

“Sorry,” the man behind the counter said, shaking his head. “They’re only for sale to veterans.”

“Why’s that?”

“We’re almost out and we don’t have any money to print more.”

I must have looked disappointed because he rummaged around in his desk and brought out a pamphlet about the museum.

“Here,” he said, handing it to me. “You can have this for free.”

“Oh, thanks.”

The soldier manning the ticket counter hurried over and handed me a DVD.

“This is a documentary about Greece’s struggle against the Nazis. You can have this too, and take this map,” he said, handing me a reproduction of a 17th century map of Greece that I’m going to hang on my son’s wall.

“Glad you liked the museum,” the soldier said.

The Greek economy may be in a shambles, but Greek hospitality and patriotism are doing just fine.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Our Past in Peril, Greek tourism faces the economic crisis.

Coming up next: Sparta!

Never forget: Holocaust museums and memorials around the world


Never forget: Holocaust museums and memorials around the world


Here at Gadling, our goal is to introduce readers to travel ideas that are relevant. While we strive to find the new and the cool, we realize that some journeys must occasionally lead us to confront difficult episodes in our past, whether on a personal or global scale.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, designated by the United Nations in 2005 to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on January 27, 1945. As we get further away from the Nazi atrocities of World War II and as we lose more Holocaust survivors to old age, a day to commemorate the Holocaust becomes ever more important.

During college, as I was considering a career as a Holocaust historian, I interned as a research assistant at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC, one of the most comprehensive collections of Holocaust artifacts and documents in the entire world. My job was to transcribe video testimonies from Holocaust survivors, in particular men and women who had lived in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw, Riga, and Vilnius. Watching those films and, indeed, encountering documents, photos, and memorabilia from the Holocaust on a daily basis brought home to me the significance of the mission of the USHMM and other Holocaust museums throughout the world.

While the best way to fully understand the magnitude of the Holocaust is to visit Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, or any of the other concentration camps in Central and Eastern Europe, museums and memorials in numerous cities and countries around the world serve to educate young and old and ensure that we never forget those who perished or the ones who lived to tell their stories. Take some time to reflect on this Holocaust Remembrance Day with this gallery of some of the world’s most renowned Holocaust museums and memorials.

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Photo: USHMM

Missing plane found 71 years after it disappeared

A plane missing for more than 71 years was recently found at the bottom of a lakeA Royal Canadian Air Force plane, missing since 1940, has been found at the bottom of a lake, ending a 71-year old mystery regarding the final resting place of the aircraft and its crew. The plane was lost on Dec. 13, 1940, but was recently discovered by a group dedicated to finding missing airplanes, who used sophisticated radar to guide divers to the site.

On December 12th, 1940, another RAF plane went down near Lake Muskoka in Ontario, Canada, due to a raging blizzard. The next day, two Northrop A-17A Nomads, carrying two man crews, were scrambled to search for the missing plane. With the weather and visibility still poor, the two Nomads had a mid-air collision, sending them both crashing into the lake. One of those aircraft was recovered a few weeks later, but the other, along with her crew, were never seen again.

Last fall, Matt Fairbrass, President of Lost Airmen in Muskoka Project, made it a priority to find the missing aircraft. He and a friend discovered that a family living on the lake at the time had witnessed the two Nomads collide and were able to give them a general idea of where the plane went down. Fairbrass says he spent “hundreds of hours” searching for the airplane, and using side-scan sonar, he was able to narrow its final resting spot down to three possible locations. Divers from the local underwater search and rescue team were able to take it from there.

When the plane went down it was carrying two pilots – Canadian Ted Bates and Brit Peter Campbell. The families of the two men were left to wonder what became of them and after more than seven decades, this discovery has brought those families a measure of closure. Bates’ younger brother Tom, now age 84, says he’s “glad they found the plane,” adding “My parents thought about it often.”

The Nomad was a big, yet versatile plane, that was commonly used early in World War II. The plane had a wingspan of nearly 48 feet and was primarily used as an attack bomber until retired from service in 1944. Finding one is seen as a rare event amongst aircraft enthusiasts. For Matt Fairbrass however, he’s just happy to recover the airmen who sacrificed themselves for the good of their country.

Witness to War: important reading this Memorial Day

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Every Memorial Day weekend we remember the soldiers who fought for the United States. For those of us who have never experienced war, however, it’s hard to understand their experiences.

The Witness to War program is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the wartime memories of veterans and helping to give civilians a better idea of what they went through. As their website says, “These are the stories of scared 18 and 19 year olds thrust into circumstances of such intensity and violence, that they became the defining moments of their lives.”

Some are video interviews, like Hap Chandler’s thoughts on his involvement in the Dresden bombing, and Jim Paine’s harrowing memory of being the only survivor when his Jeep ran over a German mine. There are also written memoirs and wartime diaries. Some are short anecdotes while others are more extensive. Tucker Smallwood gives us 23 pages of his gripping Vietnam memoir.

All of the stories Witness to War collects will be donated to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and other non-profit organizations willing to spread their message.

There’s plenty of reading here and a lot of food for thought. So sometime this Memorial Day, take a break from the cookouts and TV and check this out.

[Photo of American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge courtesy Wikimedia Commons]