Yesterday's Magazette

8 – Airacobras

Airacobras a.k.a. Britchik

By Ingeborg Haese Knight

Niagara Falls, New York, 1944:

Twelve-year-old Jack listened to the drone of an approaching plane in the nearly cloudless blue sky. A few fluffy, ball-like clouds drifted slowly to the east, propelled by a soft wind. Roger, his fourteen year old brother, came running to look at the plane. Both boys were plane fanatics. They shared the same interests and curiosity about World War II planes being built at Bell Aircraft Corporation in their hometown.

Jack squinted, shielding his eyes with one hand against the bright rays of the sun. He nudged his brother, pointing to the plane, “Look, that’s an Airacobra. I bet that’s an Airacobra, the new fighter plane.”

Roger removed his baseball cap to have a better look, “Yup, it looks like the picture in the Niagara-Falls Gazette. Did you read the article?”

“You bet. This must be a test flight of the new P-39 M.”

“Aha”, Roger said. “Russia ordered lots of them, over four thousand. And they nicknamed the plane Britchik, Little Shaver. That’s slang for low-level-strafing. I read that American pilots would deliver the planes. They’re flying to Alaska, then across the Bering Sea to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. The planes will be repainted with their colors and then they’ll add the Russian red star.”

“Wow; I read it’s a single-seated fighter plane. The cannon is placed inside the nose, the firepower is through the propeller,” Jack acknowledged. “It’s one heck of a low altitude attack plane.”

“Yeah.”

March 5, 1945:

Late afternoon; World War II raged in Europe. Four thousand miles east of Niagara Falls, New York, a girl of six heard the drone of approaching planes. The snow-filled gray sky had parted, making room for a patch of blue to let the sun reflect sparkles on the dusting of fresh snow. The girl, her seven-year-old brother, mother, and three-year-old sister, were somewhere in the middle of an endless line of refugees, walking west.

They had been walking since three AM., hoping to reach and cross the Oder River, in the German Province of Eastern Pomerania, before it would be bombed. With burdensome hearts they walked, indifferent to nature’s beauty. They shuffled along like Zombies, one foot before the other.

Numb from the cold, tired and hungry, they shifted the heavy knapsacks on their backs, alleviating the weight for a moment. Warm clothing filled the knapsacks.

There was little talk among adults, no children’s chattering voices; even though the children felt no fear they sensed their mothers’ feeling of doom. The refugees were escaping the advancing Russian Army. Whole cities had emptied out.

Rumors of retribution on the German civilian population traveled faster than a bullet. Fear propelled them forward. The sound of approaching planes and screams of wounded people rolled along like a tidal wave. It brought the trek to a halt.

Then, like a swarm of angry hornets, Airacobras swooped down, spewing the people with their stingers, ra-ta-tat, deadly venom ammunition.

Like scared rabbits the refugees scattered, seeking protection under nearby trees or the ditch along the road. The seven-year old boy grabbed his sister’s hand; their mother followed with the three-year old in her arms. They ran to the ditch and lay there, belly-down, side-by-side, covering their heads with their hands.

The brother, his eighth birthday would be the following day, told his sister knowingly, “Spread your legs. If a bomb falls, you’ll lose only one leg.” She imitated his action.

The planes had come fast and furious. After their deadly stingers were spent, they swarmed into disappearance on the horizon, leaving a path of despair for the wounded. The mother motioned to her kids in a stern voice, “Do not look around, just go,” as the trek continued. Again, grabbing his sister’s hand forcefully, the boy pulled her with him; the cries of anguish filled them with terror; they stayed close to their mother.

The girl, her brother, mother, and little sister escaped without injury, but the P-39 M, the Britchiks had found targets.

1962:

The twelve-year-old boy from Niagara Falls was now a young man of thirty, vacationing in Europe. By a strange twist of fate, he and the girl from Eastern Pomerania met on the ski-slopes of Switzerland. There was an instant spark of connection between them. Two people from two different worlds came together. His land became her land when she emigrated to the United States in 1963. They married a year later in The Little Church Around the Corner in New York City.

Her roots are now firmly planted in America. She embraced her husband’s culture, mingled it with German traditions, and together they created an interesting way of life . . . half apple-pie and half apfelstrudel.

Explanations:

Eastern Pomerania, a former Prussian Province, along with East and West Prussia, became Polish territory according to the Potsdam Agreement in 1945; expelling remaining German citizens who had not fled during the upheaval of War.

The World War II bloodshed, which involved many nations, ended with Germany’s Unconditional Surrender to the Allied Forces in May, 1945; it sealed the end of the War.

The girl grew up in Stade, Lower Saxony, after arriving there in April 1945, the final stop for this particular trek of refugees.

In 1990, when remnants of the Cold War ended, she took a sentimental journey to the city of her birth; retracing her steps. She was joined by her husband and adult son on this emotional quest home.

But ‘Home’ it was not. It was no longer the city of her childhood memory. The people spoke another language–Polish. They, too, were resettled. They had to cope with the ravages of war, with destroyed buildings, and till the soil of a scorched earth.

May there be “Peace on Earth” for future generations.

Ingeborg Haese Knight is a member of The Writer’s Bloc in Summerfield, Florida. Her story, “Coming to America,” was published in The Second Annual Journal Of The Creative Writers Notebook in 2007. She also contributed a story to the anthology Dolls Remembered.

Vol. 37 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2010

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