An article by a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus appears in the current issue of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, hitting newsstands this week.
The story, written by Dave Lande MA ’87, of Burtonsville, Md., highlights a World War II bomber that continued to fly in the Vietnam War. It is the magazine’s sixth in a series called “Legends of Vietnam.”
Because of Lande’s interest in World War II and its aircraft, an Air & Space editor asked if he wanted to write the story. Lande, a senior researcher at National Geographic, previously served on the staff of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Since this was an unusual story of a WW II airplane type used in the Vietnam War, I jumped at the opportunity,” Lande said.
To research the story, he interviewed about a dozen Vietnam War veterans attending a reunion in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. During the Vietnam War, most of these vets were junior officers, young pilots and navigators who had specifically requested to fly a particular airplane — the A-26 — on a mission to attack traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail by night.
“I had never interviewed a Vietnam War vet in my life. I had interviewed lots of WW II vets, hundreds actually, for many things I’ve written,” he said. “The contrast between these vets and the WW II vets blew me away.”
Lande said the World War II vets were of the “victory generation,” who came home to a hero’s welcome, while the Vietnam vets “came home to nothing or met with negative responses.”
“So they talk in a different way about their experience,” Lande explained. “They were used to being put on the defensive about their service in an unpopular war, whereas the WW II vets could speak with pride — or at least not feel a need to defend what they did.”
In the end, the Vietnam vets came to trust Lande.
“The story was made up of unique ingredients: WW II airplanes being flown by latter-day crews in Southeast Asia,” Lande said. “Airplane technology advances rapidly, so not many airplane types from WW II were still flying combat missions in Vietnam, which made the story all the more interesting.”