Remember This

When I was in my 11th grade AP U.S. History class, my teacher told us there was one date we needed to remember. May 17th, 1954 – Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas. The landmark decision that declared racially segregated schools as unconstitutional, and sparked several crucial events in the civil rights movement. It’s also an event that has become prevalent again, considering the volatile state of our country.

Over the course of the school year, he reiterated this date – and we would often have to repeat it back to him, to ensure sure we knew it verbatim. There were other dates that he impressed the importance of upon us, but that one was the big one.

In fact, one time, he was speaking to one of our principals while three of us were sitting in his room studying during a free period, and he merely turned to us, got our attention and pointed at us, like a maestro giving a cue.

One of us instantly said, “May 17th, 1954 – Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas.”

Not to be outdone, I said, “June 6th, 1944. The Normandy landings, otherwise known as D-Day.”

And the last of us said, “September 17th, 1787 – the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Our teacher then looked at our startled principal and gave her a look, as if to say, “See? What did I tell you?” He had us trained, and trained well. When that date showed up not once, but twice on the AP U.S. History exam that year, I gleefully answered those questions with confidence.

And I haven’t forgotten it, all these years later. I didn’t quite realize the gravity of that date, and that landmark decision, back when I learned it – even though he so adamantly told us to remember it. It was some distant thing that happened ages ago. It was little more than history. Since then, I have come to understand the importance. When it comes up in movies, I can better place the context. When I read it in books, I gain a better understanding. When I see what happens in the world to this day, and the injustice that people face, that date blares in my mind like a siren.

So I consider it a blessing that I listened when my teacher said, “remember this,” because now that I am older – and maybe, just maybe, a bit wiser than a 16 year old girl from rural PA – I am able to better grasp the relevance of May 17th, 1954. I have forgotten tons and tons of things I learned in both high school and in college – it’s all too easy for tidbits of info to slip between the cracks of memory.

But that date is one thing I will not forget.

History

Every year, on the weekend closest to the anniversary of D-Day, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, PA holds an event called World War II weekend. Folks can come to see real WWII planes take to the air and stroll through recreated military encampments, watch FDR and Churchill drive by in classic cars, peruse genuine artifacts, listen to veterans speak, and learn all sorts of intriguing tidbits about the WWII era.

My dad used to take my sister and me to this event for many years. He knows a lot about the planes and enjoyed teaching us about the differences between them and what they were used for. One year, we got to meet Robert K. Morgan the pilot of the Memphis Belle, and tour the plane itself. I was pretty young at the time, so I didn’t fully understand the significance of that interaction, but I’m glad I got to meet him and shake his hand, as he has since passed away. I garnered an intense appreciated for WWII air crafts, of which my favorite is the P-40 Warhawk.

Even though I’ve attended this event several times, it’s still fun to go every year. Occasionally, new planes enter the rotation as the museum acquires them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, the most rewarding part of these events is seeing the planes take to the skies. Despite these planes being over 70 years old, many of them are still in flying condition. And it is absolutely incredible to watch. Though there are so many things to walk around and see, many people set up lawn chairs on the grass just to sit and watch the planes fly all day – though, if you ever do this, I recommend bringing lots of sunscreen, water, and maybe a sunhat and sunglasses.

Veterans of the Great War still attend these events – they engage curious children and talk about their experiences with anyone who stops to chat. Of course, there are less of these brave men and women now than ever, as all of them would be into their 90’s now. It’s an era that should never be forgotten, and events like this certainly help with that.

But this event is special because of the multi-generational quality – it’s encouraging to see young children take an interest in our nation’s history, and heartwarming to see grandchildren walking around with their grandparents, eagerly listening to them talk about the planes and such. It’s also insanely comforting to see any folks taking their elderly parents/grandparents around, making sure they get to see everything, taking care that they don’t get lost in the crowd, entertaining their questions and treating them with the utmost respect.

I am thankful that my father took me to the airshow when I was young, even if I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of WWII as a child. Now that I can appreciate the history more, it’s like taking a stroll through history – and recognizing the greatness, and the sorrow that comes with it.