Celebrating the Battle of Britain

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, an epic struggle for the skies between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe.

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford is celebrating this key victory of World War Two with a host of activities. A photographic exhibition runs to the end of the year and shows what life was like at the RAF Duxford base. There’s a series of flight demonstrations and air shows this year as well. The first is a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight on May 15, followed the next day by the Spring Air Show. A large Battle of Britain Air Show will be held September 4th and 5th. September 11th sees a special activity day at the museum called Duxford, Spitfires and the Battle of Britain.

The Duxford branch of the Imperial War Museum has an immense collection of historic aircraft. Gadling blogger Kent Wien gives a very personal take on the exhibits, with lots of great photographs here.

Give the gift of travel for Veteran’s Day

Innkeepers across the country are doing something important to me: they’re offering discounts, specials and free nights to the people whose sacrifices let us enjoy our freedom to move. Inns that are members of BedandBreakfast.com are taking care of military personnel and first responders who are taking breaks from their tough lives. The deals vary by inn, but it’s worth a look for anybody who puts his or her life on the line at home or abroad.

And, I’m happy to report, there’s more.

Veteran’s Day is coming up, and BedandBreakfast.com is celebrating the service of so many by supporting Fisher House Foundation, a private-public partnership that supports members of the military when they’re in need. To participate, pick up a Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com, and use the promotional code FisherBB. This is a great gift for a holiday that most people seem to overlook. They come in values ranging from $25 to $2,000 and can be printed online or mailed to the recipient in foil-lined envelopes. Do the latter – it’s not often these sorts of thank you gestures arrive on November 11.

Even if you’re not planning to participate in this deal, e-mail, tweet or otherwise spread the word. Let’s all chip in and help a few people who put their lives on hold for years to keep us safe.

Cambridge, England honors fallen American soldiers

Arlington National Cemetery has no parallel, yet for some families, it’s not enough. If yours is not resting in Arlington, then the national treasure takes a back seat to the bit of earth that matters more to you. As many people as Arlington serves, there are large U.S. cemeteries elsewhere that are profound in the numbers they protect. This becomes clear when the enormity of the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial assaults your senses. Taking their final rest in Cambridge, England, you’ll find 3,812 U.S. service members – veterans of World War II. Etched in stone are another 5,127 names – their remains have not yet been located. Standing alone above this touching display is an American flag to honor the fallen men and women who never made it home.

This isn’t what you’d expect in Great Britain. The nation sacrificed much of its own – service members, civilians, personal property, historic landmarks. The U.S. lives lost were many and traffic, but for Britain, the war was on its doorstep. Nonetheless, the nation is proud to recognize the help it received from the United States. And, to call Britain’s show of appreciation substantial would be an understatement.

Despite lying in Cambridge, the American Cemetery and Memorial is on U.S. soil. The employees, though locals, draw their checks from the U.S. government. Their hard work – it’s evident from the beginning of your first conversation with the staff – has little to do with compensation. As curator Arthur Brookes put it, “It’s not hard work at all, really.” Sweeping his hand across the endless rows of cross-marked graves, he emphasized, “They did the hard work.” He means it, as demonstrated by the piercing intensity of his eyes.


More than 70,000 people come to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial every year, according to Brookes, including approximately 300 families of the fallen, though age is causing direct next of kin visitorship to shrink. On site, family members and other guests can learn about the U.S. service members buried and listed on the wall. Some names have near-universal recognition, such as Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., older brother to President John F. Kennedy. Leon R. Vance, Jr., whose name stands out in gold, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Of course, the most important name is the one you’re looking for – a fact driven home for me when I saw an older gentleman run his fingers through the grooves of a specific name.

High-profile or known only to family, there is only one organizing principle to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial: family. Every attempt is made to bury brothers side-by-side. The very existence of this policy proves its necessity, unfortunately.

Brookes understands that it’s easy to be consumed by the gravity of the environment, which is why he tries to make it as uplifting as possible. While the loss of life is to be lamented, the courage and broader sense of purpose should be celebrated. These are soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines committed to defending freedom – and they succeeded, even if they did not make it home. Nonetheless, the nature of the cemetery centers on sacrifice, weighing down the positive messages conveyed.

The closest thing to good news on the wall is a bronze button affixed to the left of a name. It means that a service member’s remains have been recovered and positively identified. The last update came in 2003, when the remains of nine B-24 crew members were discovered in France. They were sent to Arlington National Cemetery but continue to be honored in England, as well.

Tying the cemetery together is the chapel, which sits at the far end of a reflecting pool that begins near the flag pole. Inside, you can see how the air, sea and land wars progressed in Europe. An altar sits beneath American flags, catching your eye as soon as you walk in the door.

Obviously, there is no bad time to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, though some are designed to be more powerful. Major holidays are marked with special treatment, and nothing is allowed to get in the way. A series of Memorial Day ceremonies, this year, was met with driving rain. To Brookes, it wasn’t a problem. He’d lost track of how many pairs of pants and shoes he used. “It’s nothing compared to what they went through.”

Disclosure: Visit Britain picked up the tab for this, and British Airways paid for the flights. I’m glad they did: more Americans need to know about the Cambridge American Ceremony and Memorial.

The Amazing Race All-Stars: Episode 11 Recap

We’re down to our second to last episode with the Amazing Race All-Stars. As always, if you didn’t get a chance to watch last night’s episode yet, stop reading now! I’d hate to spoil all of the fun. But for those of you who saw it, or want the juicy details right now, continue on. Let’s go!

Last week the “beauty queens,” Dustin & Kandice drove their mini-moke to the island of Taipa, and reached the put-stop first, so they’re the first team to depart. The clue reveals that the teams will now by flying to the island of Guam in the Western Pacific Ocean. Guam’s full name is US Territory of Guam, and it is home of Andersen Air Force Base, where much of the episode’s tasks take place.

The air force base played a key role in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, and it remains today a key a strategic points for US military efforts in the Southwest Pacific and Indian oceans.

After some trouble at the airport in China, each team finally makes it on a flight; Dustin & Kandice, Charla & Mirna, and Erik & Danielle on one flight, and Danny & Oswald on another. Both flights connect in Tokyo before heading off to Guam, but Danny & Oswald — who are marked for elimination unless they arrive first on this leg — are on a flight that arrives later, leaving them only 45 minutes to make the connection. It’s a mad rush to the gate when they land, but their hustle pays off and, much to the disappointment of the others, they make the flight which puts all four teams are on the same flight to Guam.

Danny & Oswald are first off the plane in Guam, only to find that they’ll need a military escort to drive them to the location of their next task — something they can’t get until 7:00 AM. After waiting it out, each team gets their escort and heads to the next detour: Care Package or Engine Detail. In Care Package, teams fill two large boxes with 500 pounds of supplies to be loaded onto a C-17 cargo plane and then go along for the ride as they drop the supplies on a neighboring island. In Engine Detail, teams have to hand wash a portion of a B-52 so that its shine is up to military standards.

This is where I would really struggle in the race; If I were forced to pick between a really crappy task that was quick (Engine Detail), or one that would allow me to fly in a C-17 but takes twice as long, I’d have a hard time passing up the awesome opportunities in favor for the grunt work — even if it means losing the race. Saying that, however, I remember that I don’t have a million dollars dangling in front of me, so it’s hard to put things into prospective.

Danny & Oswald, Dustin & Kandice, and Erik & Danielle all chose Engine Detail, while Charla & Mirna (with her “This is what cool looks like” shirt. Seriously.) head for Care Package. The three teams on clean-up duty have their work cut out for them as they don plastic yellow suits and go to work., Meanwhile, Charla & Mirna have relatively no trouble filling the boxes and hop on the cargo plane in no time. The only downside is it takes a long time to get in the plane, take-off, drop the goods, and land, and by the time Charla & Mirna are finished, the other teams have already completed the grueling tasking of cleaning the bomber, and are on their way to the U.S. Naval Base, where they receive their next clue.

Upon arrival at the Naval Base, teams learn of the next task: a roadblock. In this roadblock, one member from each remaining team must use a hand-held Garmin GPS device to locate a pilot hiding in the jungle. When they’re discovered, the pilot will input new coordinates into the GPS which will send them looking for a drop zone, where they’ll radio for a nearby helicopter to “request extraction,” which is a fancy way of saying “get me the hell out of the jungle and back to my teammate.”

Dustin & Kandice are the first to arrive, and Dustin heads out with her GPS to find the hidden pilot. Anyone who has used a GPS device before can tell you this shouldn’t be too tough, and Dustin breezes through the task by quickly finding the pilot and then the drop zone, and before long she’s on the helicopter and heading back to Kandice.

At this point, the other teams have arrived, and are having a lot of problems. For some reason Charla keeps touching the GPS device’s screen — something frowned upon by her military escort, and no less than 5 times do I hear him say “Ma’m, please don’t touch the screen.” Why can’t you touch the screen? Why can’t Charla keep from touching the screen? Who knows!

As the teams wander aimlessly (with GPS!) through the jungle, Dustin & Kandice learn they’re now headed for the next pit-stop: Fort Soledad, where they are once again first to arrive. Phil awards them an ATV or something, they celebrate, Phil smiles, a local looks on… you know the drill.

Danielle had an especially rough time in the jungle. She cried, she wept, she cursed her GPS device. She finally pulled herself together enough to figure out how to actually use the device, and makes her way to the drop zone while Oswald and Charla lag behind. Completing the task, Erik & Danielle head to the pit-stop and are the second team to arrive, leaving just one spot open in the elite final three.

While Charla and Oswald battle it out in the jungle for the final spot, Mirna and Danny wait back at the landing strip, wondering who will complete the task first so they can head to the pit stop and secure the final spot. This is when Oswald says, in his thick gay-Cuban accent, what could be the funniest, and most cruel line in Amazing Race history to Charla — dressed in full military gear — as she waits for her helicopter extraction: “Oh my god, the Teletubbies go to war!” Finally the Amazing Race crew picks a good quote to title the episode with!

Bad comments mean bad karma, however, and Charla finishes the task first. Not even the skills of the Amazing Race editor can make the end of this one a nail-biter; It’s pretty obvious that Danny & Oswald are headed home. It’s too bad… I liked them.

Charla & Mirna arrive at the pit-stop, securing their place in the top 3. Who would have thought?

Charla & Mirna, Dustin & Kandice, and Erik & Danielle: who will it be? Find out next week for the two-hour season finale!