When your family history sneaks up on you

My dad (and fellow history nerd) had the idea to take us all to the National Museum of the US Air Force/Wright Brothers memorial, and that's where we spent our Saturday afternoon. It's in Dayton, Ohio, where the Wright Brothers had their bike shop and built their planes. I was looking forward to it, but honestly, I had no idea just how awesome it would be. No one in my family has been in the Air Force, yet that museum is filled with so much of my family's history.

My dad grew up on a ranch in Santa Ynez valley. Truely one of the most beautiful areas of California, tucked away in the rolling green hills not too far from Santa Barbara. My grandpa was the foreman of a ranch owned by Kelly Johnson, a man who designed some of the world's most amazing airplanes. He worked for Lockheed, in Los Angeles. There was one specific plane he designed, a futuristic spy plane used in the Cold War to which my dad has a particular attachment. I had heard a bit about the man and the planes before, but as we stood in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the museum, my dad told me everything again. He had come to the museum hoping and praying the Cold War exhibit would have one particular plane. The plane he's been wanting to see up close for 48 years.

It was 1964, and my dad was five years old. Kelly Johnson called my grandpa and told him to make sure they were all standing outside at 2 pm. He couldn't tell them why, he just told them to watch the sky. They were outside, when all of a sudden, two huge spy planes soared up over the hills and flew directly over the ranch. The pilots were testing the planes and flew up from Los Angeles to show my family the new top secret spy planes. For a five year old farm boy, this was the most exciting thing he had ever seen. My dad has been dying to see that plane again. 48 years later, I could see a giddy 5 year old boy resurface as his eyes lit up when he saw the plane across the room. It filled me with so much joy to watch him discover the plane again. Standing on the hills of the ranch and watching that spy plane fly directly over his head just for him is a memory he's treasued ever since.

Cargo plane from the Cold War

WWII Plane

French Glenn Miller poster from WWII. Be still my heart!

WWI plane
An actual swastika taken from a German soldier. Horrifying.
We wandered through amazing exhibits of the Wright Brothers and every war in the past 100 years. There were uniforms from Pearl Harbor spattered with dried blood, letters from the governement to pilots instructing them on how to act if they are captured in China, bombs with painted messages to the Germans from American soldiers, and everything in between. I got choked up so many times. I am so fortunate that none of my close relatives ever fought in a war. Both of my grandpas were in the Army but never went overseas. My father-in-law was a Drill Sergeant  and 24 hours away from deploying to the middle east during Desert Storm when he got word the war was over.
I got extremely emotional over the bravery of our soldiers. They endured (and still do) so much more than we could ever imagine. They are the only reason our country is still standing.
To our soldiers and their families, past and present: I don't think our country gives you guys enough credit. At all. I can't thank you enough for what you go through for our country. You are heroes, whether you were in combat or not. Your bravery and sacrifice is beyond comprehension. If I could hug each and every one of you and thank you individually, I would.
After the war exhibits, we found a little exhibit on space and missles. I could tell it was something my mom was really looking forward to.
My mom is from a small town in central California where my grandparents moved in the early 60s. The town's not much, but it boasts constant costal fog, beautiful flower fields, and Vandenbrg Air Force Base. There's a local hole-in-the-wall burger joint where my family always has lunch when we're all together. It's flooded with Air Force men in uniform, making lunch hour look like a scene straight from a WWII movie. I love it. It's my favorite part about that little town. I always felt so proud that my grandpa worked on that base. He helped build the missles that shook the ground for miles when launched and turned every neck to the sky. He was part of something so important. He used to call my grandma and tell her to water the flowers at a certain time of day. She knew it was his way of secretly telling her they were going to launch a missle at that time. She and my mom would run outside and watch. Just like my dad and the spy plane.
We walked into a small, circular room lined with missles that towered stories and stories above us. So many of them had launched from Vandenburg while my grandpa had worked there. My mom even worked on the base as a computer programmer before I was born. There was one missle in particular that had launched while both my mom and grandpa had worked there. Something they had both contributed to was right before us, in a museum. It was incredible.

THE Apollo 15!


I'm so glad I was able to be there with my parents and hear their stories. We saw planes and Apollo 15, things they remember watching on the news. I saw a uniform donated by a Holocaust survivor, something I've read dozens of books about but have never seen in person (I have a serious fascination with WWII). It was so great so see and touch things I've read books about and heard about in so many classes. But nothing was greater than experiencing pieces of my family's history. I felt like I was given an opportunity to step into their childhoods and lives before they had me. It gave me such a deeper understanding of where and who I come from. It was an afternoon I will always cherish.


  1. That sounds like so much fun! I always love hearing my parents or grandparents talk about the "old days".

    I have an odd obsession with WWII too! It's died down a bit in recent years, but I have always longed to live during that period of history. I love the clothes, the music and the overall feel of the times. The Holocaust fascinates me (which sounds totally bizzare) as well. I really would love to travel and visit Auschwitz.

  2. So, I pretty much loved this post.
    I hope that I get the opportunity to visit the museum one day!
    Thanks for sharing. It was so interesting!!
    much love, colie.

  3. That is so awesome. I become more and more fascinated with history as I get older. I think that's why I love antique shops now. It's so cool to know that all of those things have a history, a story to tell!


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