My father leaned against the front fender of the family wagon, while I did an eleven-year-old’s imitation on the opposite side. We were watching small planes land and take off at our small-town airfield.
“These planes are pretty loud” I said.
“Not as loud as those B-24s you flew, I’ll bet.”
He nodded again, took out a Lucky Strike, lit it.
We watched another plane touch down and take off.
“So, what was it like, Dad, flying those bombers?”
He looked over at me. It was a curious glance. Maybe he was surprised.
He said “Sometimes good, Usually bad. Long missions. Dirty. No bathrooms. Loud noise.”
That was the most I’d ever heard him talk about his war.
“Let’s go get some ice cream” he said.
In ten days I’d be heading off for basic training. Dad and I were leaning on the front of his new ’64 Chrysler watching big planes take off and land at the Rochester airport. Four engine turbo-props and some new jets roared off and landed on the main runway. We were directly under them as they approached or headed out on their journeys.
“Those planes are noisy” I said during a quiet moment.
He nodded, took out a Lucky and lit it.
“Are they as noisy as the B-24’s you flew in the South Pacific?”
He took a long drag on his smoke, looked over at me as if he was sizing me up.
“No” he said. “Our B-24’s were loud, empty metal shells full of bombs, machine guns, men, and the stink of shit, piss and sweat. Now, you want some ice cream or not” he asked.
I picked Dad up at the hospital early on a springtime afternoon. He had just finished a five day stay for some chemo treatments. Everyone seemed optimistic and he didn’t look too much older than his sixty-five years.
I was driving his new ’86 Olds Eighty-Eight, a real nice car.
“Let’s go watch planes for a little while” he said. “Your mother won’t mind.”
We were only a few minutes away from Rochester International so I got on the west side expressway and headed out to our usual spot off Brooks Avenue. It was almost all jet traffic now and it was a busy afternoon. We were leaning on the front end of the Olds, feeling the breeze and getting blasted by the noise of the planes.
“Lots of noise here today” I said. “Loud as the airfields in the Philippines?”
He patted his shirt pocket where Lucky Strikes used to live, smiled over at me, shook his bald head.
“Close” he said quietly. “But when a big raid was on, forty or fifty bombers would take off, three abreast, at two-minute intervals. That was some big noise then.”
“Yeah” I said. “That’s like when the B-52s were heading out on a mission at our base in Guam in sixty-seven. All of us in the office would go to the flight line to watch.”
He nodded, watched a Delta jet come in too fast and hit the reverse thrust a little too soon.
“Sloppy landing” he said when the jet’s roar subsided. “I made a few of those. One time we came back from a mission all shot to hell. I flew around the field a couple times so they could get fire trucks ready. The wheels on one side of my plane were gone so I decided to belly it in, avoid the risk of cartwheeling. Got it down, skidded off the end of the runway. We had two gunners dead and my copilot was wounded. That happened before we landed of course. Karl, the copilot, got sent home. Tom and Vinnie were buried over there. I got a damn medal.”
He shook his head, seemed to be remembering other days.
“I never knew that” I said.
“Yeah, it’s in a drawer at home. I’ll give it to you later today.”
I looked over at his tired, worn face, said “You okay?”
“No” he answered. “I’ll be dead in a couple months. You know, I killed a lot of people with those bombs. And I’m still not sure if I’m sorry about doing that. I suppose I should be sorry.”
We watched the jets for a while longer.
“Can you still eat ice cream” I asked.
He stood up straight.
“Yep” he said. “Let’s go.”
Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His chapbook “Silence, Interrupted” was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press and won first place for poetry chapbook in the Delaware Press Association writing competition. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Broadkill Review and other journals and anthologies. He is also a regular contributor of book reviews for the Broadkill Review. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.