Why Do You Collect?

My next flight has yet to be scheduled due to a leg injury. Consequently, I have more time to write.

An aviation magazine recently requested a guest column to answer the question, why do you collect? Here is my answer.

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Call it good luck. Somehow entries for the Mustang, Mig 29, Spitfire and Tigercat have found their way to my log book. Early on the design and mechanical genius of these aircraft formed the attraction. And speed. Today, the people one meets through restoration and display keep the fire burning bright.

Allow me to introduce you to one such person, Ed Saylor.

Ed was raised on a farm in rural Montana. When he joined the Army Air Corps in 1939, the population in his home county was 300. His goals; three square meals a day and perhaps, contact with a female his own age.

Ed became the flight engineer for Doolittle Raider 15. His unique claim to fame occurred while at sea as the carrier Hornet sailed toward Japan. Ed tore down, repaired, and returned to service one of the Wright Cyclone engines while his B-25 was lashed to the aft deck. The test flight was the raid itself. Had anything gone wrong during the overhaul, the plane would have been pushed overboard leaving the Raiders with only fifteen Mitchell aircraft.

When Ed learned about Historic Flight Foundation and B-25 “Grumpy,” he visited regularly to participate in discussion panels about WWII. Imagine a senior citizen with large jowls and slow, deep, deliberate delivery. His deadpan face seldom betrayed a pending punch line. You guessed it. His eyes sparkled.

During one panel, the moderator asked “what is the first thing you wanted to do on your return from WWII?” A courageous question, indeed. Expecting responses including a particular girlfriend or brand of whiskey, Ed said “swimming lessons.” On the night of April 18, 1942, after the Doolittle Raid and a nighttime crash landing into the China Sea, the crew of Raider 15 pushed a life raft through the escape hatch above the pilots. It was only then that Ed’s four crewmates learned the inconvenient truth that he could not swim. Ed held a rope as the group made its way in the dark to a coastal island, not knowing if it was occupied by the Japanese army.

Ed married Lorraine Saylor prior to the Raid. It happened rather suddenly as a solution to a sleepover problem. A friend and his wife visited Ed and Lorraine at the Pendleton, Oregon Air Corps training facility. The married friend did not like it that Ed’s unmarried status meant he would be sleeping in the same room as Ed rather than with his wife. The women would share a second room. Ed asked Lorraine if she would like to get married that day and solve the sleepover dilemma. She agreed so the foursome set out for Walla Walla, Washington (just north of Pendleton) in search of a judge reputed to be friendly to servicemen. On their way into town they stopped at the county courthouse to confirm the name of the judge (there was only one), then tracked him down at a Saturday night social. He opened the courthouse late that evening and the Saylors were wed.

Within weeks Ed was deployed to secret training with Jimmy Doolittle. His wife did not know where he was until much later when she and her mother visited their favorite theater for a Sunday double feature. Between movies the ladies saw a newsreel announcing the Doolittle Raid and showing US airmen receiving medals from a very attractive lady, Madame Chiang Kai Shek. One of the airmen looked remarkably similar to Lorraine’s Ed. The ladies sat through two more movies to confirm their hunch that Ed was part of the historic raid.

I asked Ed if his wife ever mentioned his appearance in the newsreel so close to a very attractive Madame Chiang. He replied, “John, we had sixty-nine years to work that out.”

After Lorraine passed, Ed continued to appear at Doolittle Raider functions and in between, pursued his passion for stained glass. He gave Historic Flight Foundation a lovely piece featuring Raider 15. It is my favorite aircraft in our collection.

John Sessions