Philip Handleman, in the Wall Street Journal, vents over the disrespect for WWII heroism, and other people’s property, that’s rife in America these days.
The military used my Boeing Stearman, built in 1943, to instruct eager cadets in the basics of airmanship, a skill desperately needed in the war against ruthless totalitarian foes. Near warâ€™s end, the aircraft wound up at the Livermore, Calif., naval air station. It was assigned to the shore establishment of the USS Bunker Hill, one of the most battle-hardened aircraft carriers of the Pacific campaign. …
When I stop to think of the young men who flew this magnificent wood-and-fabric creation in its heyday, I get goosebumps. They were the swashbuckling daredevils of the Greatest Generation, tempting fate in the open air. They vanquished vicious enemies and set the country on a trajectory to longstanding aerospace pre-eminence.
With such a patriotic introduction, you would think that the people strolling across the ramp would be especially respectful. Indeed, most passersby were polite, pausing to gaze in quiet awe at the authentically restored biplane in the bright-yellow paint scheme used by the Navy in the early war years. Others, usually on crutches or confined to wheelchairs, stopped to share splendid memories of learning to fly in an aircraft like mine.
Unfortunately, a small but persistent stream of attendees approached my Stearman with a sense of entitlement. Parents let their preteens thrust their hands against the biplaneâ€™s fabric. Some raised their children, with feet dragging across the wing, to get a peek inside one of the two open cockpits, as if the 73-year-old trainer were a jungle gym. When I defended the aircraft, telling the pokers and prodders to cut it out, some parents indignantly stared. I wondered if those libertines would tolerate me groping their minivans in a supermarket parking lot.
It struck me how this indulgent attitude differed from the culture of selflessness embraced by the cadets who trained in the biplane. Personal restraint and self-discipline have been spurned in favor of the mentality that says anything goes.