Yesterday I took four skeptical, dubious boys, my three and Matthew’s friend, to see a B-24 Liberator, B-17 Flying Fortress and a P-51 Mustang. The Wings of Freedom tour was in Columbus, and since my boys, like most boys, turn any stick into a sword, light saber, or gun, I thought they would enjoy seeing World War II bombers and a fighter.
When I showed them the ad from the newspaper and spoke about the role of the planes during the war, you would have thought I was telling them I was taking them to a doll museum or a Barney concert. I heard whines of “Yuck!” “Boring!” and “Why?” I hadn’t seen that much whine since my wife and I went to Napa. Nonetheless, the boys anguished cries of torment did not prevail. We loaded into the mini-van and drove across town. Once our “rental kid” picked out a movie to watch on the TV in the van, the complaining subsided. (What did our parents do without TVs?)
As we pulled into the small airport and I turned off the TV, we got a glimpse of the beautiful 60-year-old flying machines painted as they would have appeared during World War II. The boys expressed some interest and excitement, similar to the way schoolchildren are right before the bell rings for dismissal. We went to the gate and were even given a discount. (I think the gentleman saw me with four boys and felt sorry for me, or did he feel sorry for them?)
The first thing we saw was an ammo case with 50 caliber rounds. The only guns we own are NERF guns, and there is a difference between NERF darts and real bullets, especially really big bullets. As we walked toward the B-17, the boys noticed a ladder going into the front of it. “Can we go in?” they asked in unison.
“Of course,” I replied with a sly grin. I knew the boys would find this cool once they saw it. As my wife likes to say, “Boys can be so predictable.” I think she is referring to the kids and not me…
We explored every part of those bombers. The kids had no problem crawling through the plane, balancing on the catwalk over the open bomb-bay doors, and pretending to fire the enormous 50 caliber machine guns. As I hit my head and then ducked, I bumped into some older gentlemen. They told us it was easier to get through the plane 60 years ago. I was in awe. We were on a bomber with the veterans who flew them. As we climbed out of the two foot by two foot exit hatch, my oldest son and I stopped to listen to their conversation while the younger boys wanted to go through the plane again and again and again. The stories we heard all covered funny things that happened on base or in the air. As my dad, a Korean War Veteran, does, all of the stories avoid the harsh reality of war. There are movies and books for that, I guess. I was glad that my son could hear a history lesson from the ones who were there.
The stories held his attention for a few minutes, but like most children, Andy did not want to hear a lecture. He wanted to learn by doing; learn by exploring. So, off he went to explore the bombers more.
What did the Wings of Freedom Tour teach me? The teacher must try to “hook” the student and not give in to protests because kids like to complain. Hands-on-activities and exploration are more interesting than lectures. Well, it is time to use our hands to clean the basement and explore what hides under the couch down there…