I keep crossing paths with her.
She’s a hellcat; 70 years young and doesn’t look a day over 30. Elegant and sleek. Men and women are drawn to her. Her honesty is refreshing; she lets people right in. No secrets. An open book.
Her dreams: big. You could say she’s got her head in the clouds. Superman ambitions.
Her voice: booming. Volume-wise, she cranks it up to 11 when she’s off and running; think of an army of chainsaws blasting through a titan’s megaphone in a tight space. It’s not her fault. You can’t cage a personality like that.
They call her Sentimental Journey. It fits. She’s a flying museum that takes you from A to B and back again.
Here’s her picture.
We met in 2009. I was over the hill in a town called Klamath Falls, employed by another newsroom. I’d just wrapped writing a series of stories called “Letters From War,” which chronicled the stories of veterans from a variety of conflicts as told through the letters they wrote and received to and from home.
The first installment in that series told the story of Ralph Kesling, a B-17 bubble gunner who was a Nazi prisoner of war for two years, of the man who saved him.
My first interview with Mr. Kesling was not to be my last encounter with him. A year later, we boarded Sentimental Journey and took a 15-minute flight over the Klamath Basin.
It was a nice ride. Ralph looked out the window. He looked comfortable and lost in thought.
We landed. I shook Ralph’s hand and haven’t seen him since. Sentimental Journey flew back into the clouds.
Six years, a new job, a wedding and a 1-year-old later, I’d forgotten her name. She was just some airplane I met someplace that gave a brave man something to smile about.
I was on the hunt for stories. We had blank space to fill. I saw a B-17G Flying Fortress named Sentimental Journey was coming to Medford. I wrote a few words to let people know it was en route and filled some of that blank space.
I suggested taking a ride in it for another story because why wouldn’t I? My editors took pity on me and said yes.
I told my co-workers about my first flight in a B-17, left out the detail about my second imminent jaunt being the same plane.
Because I didn’t know. It didn’t occur to me that this 36,000-pound hunk of metal and I are tethered by some kind of fate-laced gravity.
As before, I made the flight with a former B-17 gunner, and as before, I wrote about it. I also took pictures and made a video.
You were looking pretty good, Rogue Valley. I have to say.
That story ran today, and it wasn’t until I saw it on the page that something clicked. I looked back at my old story. Ironically, the Google search took me to a version that had been picked up by the Associated Press and run in my hometown paper in Colorado Springs. Weird.
Sentimental Journey is here all week. I may take my wife and daughter to check it out. Either way, she’ll be gone by Sunday, back into the skies as she travels to her next destination and continues her mission of teaching history and veteran appreciation.
Guess that means our respective orbits won’t collide again until 2021. My daughter will be in second grade by then. I’ll be 38. Almost 40.
I wonder how many WWII veterans there will be by then, how many former B-17 gunners will be able to appreciate the roar of the props and the delicate tiptoe one needs to adopt when walking around such an aircraft so as not to fall on your face.
Maybe a visit every six years is the least I can do.