Fearless flyers teach lesson of bravery, courage, honor
By Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau , 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 11, 2018
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few,” said Winston Churchill.
These words may have been spoken in regards to the young Royal Air Force pilots who stopped Hitler’s Luftwaffe at England’s doorstep during the Battle of Britain, but I don’t think truer words could be used to describe the young, fresh-faced men and women who should have been finishing their education, finding love and enjoying life.
Instead, they were called upon to fly thousands of feet into the air, inside steel “coffins,” zooming at hundreds of miles per hour to escape near death and peril - many not being able to escape their demises.
Wars have brought millions to their knees and millions more to an early grave, but these courageous heroes have always been a part of overwhelming Allied forces who took their adversaries down.
Whether it was defeating the central powers during World War I, Hitler and his band of thugs during World War II, or any other conflict the RAF has been involved in since, it has always been on the backs of men, women and boys who had their entire lives ahead of them, but war and defending their island home suddenly came to the forefront.
The RAF Museum (London) resiliency trip was a remarkable experience for me, an Airman who has always had a fascination with flying and the history of not only the Air Force, but that of our fervent ally, the RAF. My grandfather and great uncles were part of the “greatest generation” who put their lives on pause and embarked on what was no doubt the scariest, but most exhilarating time of their lives.
This museum is a wonderful memoriam to how through history these brave flyers, maintainers, administrators and every other nut and bolt of the RAF were able to take such beautiful, but deadly, pieces of machinery up into the skies of Europe and beyond, never knowing if they would come back.
I was so very humbled first walking into each of the three main hangars, each designed to house different historical aspects of the RAF’s history. Hangar I is dedicated to the Airmen who put everything on the line for the Queen, King and Country. Hangar II displays the early rise of the force and its involvement during World War I, where rickety, wooden inventions were brought into the sky and heroes did everything they could to take out the enemy.
Above all else, Hangar III stood out to me the most because of its display of World War II and post-World War II era airplanes and the stories they tell. This time period happens to be what I think is the most critical and interesting time in human history. Six years of violence, bloodshed, fascism, racism, democracy and of course of the triumph of freedom, but with a devastating cost. The displays of RAF Spitfires, Lancaster bombers and even a few American machines of war reminded me of the ultimate price many had to pay for our world to become a little brighter.
The world we live in today is very different than the one these warriors lived in, but our world is better off because of the countless sacrifices not only the men and women of the RAF have made through time, but of all those in the armed forces. This trip reminded me of that, and has forever cemented in my mind the reality that I have been able to live the life I live only because others gave up everything.
They were my age and enjoyed the same fruits of life as I do, but many never came home to their loved ones or friends ever again. This is why I chose to go on this trip - to pay my respects - and I am forever grateful for what they accomplished.
Resiliency means having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, display toughness and overcome anything that comes your way. Our British brothers and sisters have always been by our side, laid down their lives as we have and to this day continue to fight for freedom and democracy as we do.
None of what we have at RAF Mildenhall or anywhere the Stars and Stripes or Union Jack fly could be possible without the valiant efforts of those who have come before, serve with us now and will serve in the future. I am proud to serve my country; I am proud to be American Airman.