For a really hair raising experience that outdoes any thrill ride at an amusement park, try visiting an air force base museum along the lines of Travis Air Museum with the realization of what the contents of that museum represent.
A few years ago, I took my daughter and a friend of hers to the museum while she was on her autumn break from school. I had wanted to see it myself and I figured it would be both fun and educational for my daughter and, her friend. What I didn’t plan on was the depth of it would make me feel, seeing what I saw there as we walked around.
As we arrived, we passed a coffin sitting outside a building across the street at what I assumed was the chapel. Two armed guards stood guard while they waited for the service to begin. I said a prayer for whoever it was who had not made it home alive, and for his or her family.
This is a quiet unassuming museum. It isn’t huge, but it is stuffed full of memorabilia and pieces of air force history. Each area represents something different. There is representation of every war in which the United States Air Force has been involved. There are uniforms and medals, full sized aircraft inside and outside the museum, pieces of space history, photographs and time lines, machinery parts and everything in between. There is even a replica of a space capsule that moves with the touch of a button and a few training simulator cockpits that we could climb into. The kids loved that. They spent quite a while pretending they were really flying some of the amazing planes. There were also pieces of various engines, planes and old weaponry.
We went through the Vietnam War area with its year by year timeline, maps and memorabilia and then we arrived in front of a huge black thing that looked like something out of a cartoon. It was no cartoon. This big black metal shell was taller than I am setting on its side on the rolling cart, and I am about 5’9”. It wasn’t sleek or painted with insignias or fancy lettering. It didn’t look as detailed and technical as some of the other things we had already seen. It just looked like a big black metallic bubble, but it gave me a very odd cold sensation of fear before I even knew what it was.
Then I read the sign at its base. Two words sent a chill right through me. It read “FAT MAN”. I was glued to the spot I stood on for a couple minutes. My heart skipped a few beats and my mouth hung open.
This casing was one of the same that held the nuclear bomb that exploded over Nagasaki on the 9th of August 1945. The plane that held and dropped it had to be able to withstand a1,000 foot kickback as it released this behemoth from its innards. Thinking in terms we can understand better, that is a little like buoying back up in water when you bounce back up from jumping in doing a cannonball. But shooting up 1,000 feet is like bouncing back partway up a mountain and still having to be able to maneuver and be in control well enough to veer off to the right side instantly 37 degrees so it wouldn’t get hit with the back draft of the bomb exploding, constantly maintaining full control of the plane. It makes you wonder how many mistakes were made figuring those details out for the pilots to have to deal with.
This bomb exploded in the air above land, not when it hit. The fat boy carried a payload equivalent to 23,000 tons of TNT which killed about 45,000 people instantly. Seeing even an empty casing sitting in front of me was more frightening than any thrill ride. In front of me was something which was powerful enough to wipe out a small city, destroying the people and everything around them in a flash. Anyone who survived it was condemned to a horrible ending.
Now put it into perspective today. That giant bomb with its deathly payload is but a baby in power, compared to what we have now. It looks big and takes your breath away when you realize what you are standing next to, and not in a good way.
The new behemoths come in a smaller package and don’t look as stereotypically ominous from what I have read, but big things come in smaller packages. I didn’t say good things. I said big things. In one current explosive head there is much more explosive power than that Fat Boy held. Not only that, it is capable of shooting off its explosive heads into many specific different directions at once and annihilating many more people than what Fat Boy did in Nagasaki.( This is progress?)
The kids wanted to go back to the simulators before we explored all the full sized planes and helicopters outside on the museum grounds. They climbed in having a grand old time, being kids, just normal kids. I sat down on a bench feeling a little overwhelmed by everything there, and yes I cried for all the lives on all sides that this museum represented.
I have always looked at things from the human perspective, the individuals. This is a must see for anyone who goes to the area for a visit. All those numbers and things represent human lives lost, dreams gone, generation upon generation since aviation began. Yet somewhere in it all there is humanity. I felt it. It ran down my cheek.
I quietly saluted whoever was in that coffin still sitting there as we left. I thought, "t hope you are flying above the storm now, on an eagle’s wings."