"Spirit of Freedom"
April 17, 2000
I shuffled out of bed early. I had to be at dad’s by nine and then on to Orlando to relive a part of his past.
The morning was cool and the coffee hot as I pulled out of the driveway on my way south. Around St. Augustine the eastern sky began to light up with the promise of a truly beautiful day.
Dad was ready when I arrived. He was ready to go and visit the C-54 that the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation had restored. I was not sure, nor did I really understand the impact or the meaning this day would have for me. As I drove, we chatted about things and dad said this would mean more to my aunt Ann. She was ready when we got to Orlando and off we went to Showalter Flying Service at Orlando Executive Airport where the C-54 was visiting, open to the public and school students.
There it was, parked. The airplane seemed smaller than I thought, but there it was! The cargo door was open and portable aircraft stairs pulled up to it. Students were inside and the tarmac was hot so we stood under the wing, a cool breeze blowing and keeping us cool. Aunt Ann acted as the guide and introduced herself and I heard the man yell to another of the crew “Harry is here!” Dad insisted we pay the entrance fee even though they said it was not necessary. Somehow dad found the strength to slowly walk up the stairs and into the hull of the aircraft. He looked aft at the mural and then forward to the cockpit. As we navigated forward the students started moving aft and Tim stopped. He said, “Hey kids, this is Harry Barnes; he flew 150 missions in the Airlift!” I was surprised by the “Hi, Mr. Barnes!” greetings he received; there was actually recognition of him and his part in the historic event.
There was a rope across the pilots’ seats and Tim removed it allowing dad to move forward into the left seat and I took the right. I turned to the right to check the number-three engine, it was further back than I expected. I began to look out of the windows and try to imagine flying in zero visibility, flying into Berlin. I have sailed in the fog when I could see nothing, but that seemed minor to flying over a city and between buildings at 120 knots. I could not imagine it; I was not there; I did not live it; but I knew it was a brave thing to do. I began to better appreciate his deed as a pilot in the Airlift.
Dad sat there for a while looking at the controls and talking to Tim about the changes that had been made, and then it was time to move on. We saw the displays in the ship and posed for pictures and finally made our way down the stairs under the watchful and photographic eye of my aunt.
A lady, who was a younger lady in Berlin during the Airlift, went up the stairs to see the aircraft that saved so many. It seemed she had married an American and had come to the U.S.A. She added a new dynamic to the event and was proof the Berliners appreciated the efforts of the Airlift.
Dad chatted with one of the crew who had been an air traffic controller in the Airlift. They talked a long time while I wandered around the aircraft taking pictures. We left after more pictures and talk. Later I told dad I could not imagine flying in the fog. Then he told me a story I had not heard before. He had taken off and turned to pick up the beacon to fly through Russian territory; there was a thunderstorm right in the flight path. They shot up twenty thousand feet and then down twenty thousand feet. At the end of the two minutes they were out of the Russian zone and drenched in sweat.
As I drove home that afternoon I realized my dad had always been my hero. As a boy I cannot remember anyone asking me who my heroes were. Back then I might have answered John Wayne. But on this clear day, made possible by my aunt and the bravery of my dad, I realized my hero had always been my dad.
The crew and the students treated my dad as a hero, not as a gray haired man that walks with a cane.