Saturday, October 31, 2015

Air Show

Spending time in the sunshine looking up as aircraft climbed into the heavens doing detailed and seemingly dangerous maneuvers while spewing streams of colored smoke seemed like something to do on an October day, so that is what I did.

It was the 14th annual Apple Valley Air Show in the High Desert and since L had a prior engagement J decided that wandering the small airport experiencing the sights and sounds of air planes zooming here and there was something an explorer would like to view.

P- 51 Mustang
With the likes of the B-25 Mitchell, the P-40 Warhawk, dozens of other vintage, experimental aircraft and modern winged machines to look, at the day didn't seem as if it could get any better – but then it did. Sitting on the black tarmac ready to fly and show off to the hundreds of guests from all around Southern California and places beyond was a beautifully maintained P-51 Mustang. 

This single-seat, propeller-driven fighter was produced in 1940 by the North American Aviation Company and saw action in World War II. It was so popular as a mean spirited killer of the enemy, that it actually stayed in active military service until 1984 when the Dominican Air Force retired the last remaining fighter. 

Uncle Jack - 19+  Great Hunting
It was also the plane my Uncle Jack Thornell flew during WWII in Europe when he became a fighter ace with roads, schools and a whole of other stuff named after him when he returned to Massachusetts. A town hero - no, a national hero.

Since there were no available photos of Uncle Jack and the plane he flew during WWII, I did some research and soon learned more about my uncle than I had previously known. That's what we do - research and this time it really panned out. Most folks don't talk about their war experiences for solid reasons and Uncle Jack was one of those who remained relatively quiet but what was known or thought to be known was that he had shot done 5 enemy aircraft during the war which made him a flying ace. Those are called 'kills' - now, anyone losing their life during battle is a tragedy even if it is the enemy but unfortunately that is the cursed nature of war.

What the research turned up, beside the photograph in this blog of Uncle Jack standing next to his P-51 named Patti Anne, after his younger sister, was the fact that he actually was credited with 21.25 kills and not 5 as what had been believed - where that number came from I can't recall but it was in his memory since childhood. Nineteen of the kills were strictly in the air by Uncle Jack, 2 were planes on the ground trying to take off and join the air battle while the .25 is probably a bomber that Uncle Jack and other allies were teamed up on over Europe. In that case each fighter pilot was given partial credit since no one could definitely say which fighter was the one that in fact took the enemy plane down. Whatever the case with exploration and researching new facts or that should be written old facts came to light about my famous relative Lt. Col. John (Jack) Thornell.

Is that Colonel Shakirov flying? Nope, he's just a fictional character - we think
Even more enthralling was the fact that Uncle Jack shot down three Messerschmidts during one single day, and those planes were handled by experienced pilots, and were wonderfully and expertly designed fighter aircraft

Don't mess with Jack! 

Another bird which piqued interest was the Russian-built Yakovlev (Yak-3) which served the Soviet Air Force from 1941 until 1952. This single-seat fighter had very similar lines to the P-51 and according to the Russian pilots and ground crew was much superior. Yeah, well, they would say that. 

The official start of the air show
The ex-special purpose officer, Colonel Yuri Shakirov from J’s novel ‘Soft Target’ would probably agree also – so who knows. The fighter was also used in both the Yugoslav and Polish Air Forces after WWII because of the stability and easy handling of the plane.

The day started at ten with the arrival of skydivers at the opening ceremony circling to earth with colored smoke packs and waving American flags. It was a very patriotic entrance which brought the crowds to their feet cheering and yelling.  

The announcer shouted: “Ladies and Gentleman, we now have an air show!”

Hang in there, kid!
Laughter, shrieks and thrilled shouts of amazement from the crowds intermingled with the sounds of the powerful planes landing and taking off from the tarmac. Cotton candy, hot dogs, nachos, kids fun zone, a petting zoo, a climbing rock, face painting, booths that sold this and that, and a beer garden were only some of the fun things for the guests to enjoy.

And fun they had.

And it flies?
As the sun rose higher, so did the spirits of the people attending the air show in the local community of Apple Valley. For such a day all it had taken was to do a little research on when the event would be held, pack up the family and friends and drive a short distance on the outskirts of the city to partake in a wonderful experience.

 Dozens of planes, vintage and not so very gorgeous vehicles were on display for the guests to view that almost every square foot of the Apple Valley Airport was taken up by this and that. Crowds walked and ran to see planes doing what seemed like impossible tricks in the air while children screamed with joy with the rides available to them as parents took photos of their little ones on those very same rides.

There was so much to do and only one day to do it but as I milled about, I saw families taking advantage of the beautiful weather and enjoying being with each other - and isn't that what counts - good family and friends?

This guy was so tired by the end of the day - you can see it

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Silver Spurs

Best Actress or Best Actor - you decide.

An opportunity came up recently to spend the evening rubbing elbows with film and television stars. That was a full ahead go for the western theatrical ensemble – Tombstone Legends (which J and L are members).

Laureen with Buck Taylor
The invitation was delivered by the Reel Cowboys, a non-profit group which was formed in 1997 by seven close friends. Mainly made up of actors, directors and behind the scenes talent who worked in western film or television which has now grown to over 100 active members from all walks of life.

John with Angie Dickinson
Their goal – to preserve the good moral and family values that are the mainstay of the western genre in Hollywood and to ensure it would continue on and on into the future. 

What a refreshing 'old fashioned' idea - good morals and strong loving families.

Tom "Snakey" Troutman, Laureen, Carrie Joseph,
Danny "Virge" O'Connell, & Julie Ann Ream, Event Coordinator
The actual invitation came through a member of both the Reel Cowboys and Tombstone Legends, a gentleman named Daniel O'Connell,who plays Virgil Earp. And on behalf of J and L, as well the Tombstone Legends, we'd like to extend the kudos to the one who gave us this wonderful chance.

Thanks, Danny!

The Legends
Each year this group sponsors an event called ‘The Silver Spur Awards,’ which is a fundraiser to honor western themed moments in Hollywood , either in television or film. This year on September 18th the celebration was for the 60th anniversary of the long running series Gunsmoke. For two decades (1955 – 1975) this series entertained millions of aficionados of the western culture every single week.

Dave Moore with Martin Landau
Gunsmoke had the ever courageous and tall (6’7”) Marshall Matt Dillion (played by James Arness) taking care of the bad hombres who dared come into Dodge City. His long time secret girlfriend, Miss Kitty (played by Amanda Blake) who owned and ran the saloon was always by his side giving him the support any ‘friend’ could. 

Jaye and Andrew Strother

And who could forget the other colorful characters: Milburn Stone, Buck Taylor, Ken Curtis, and the rest of the hundreds of other western folk who moseyed through the various sets of Gunsmoke? Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood made early appearances here before hitting the ‘big time’ in Hollywood just to count a few.

Incomparable women:
Pilar Moore and Michael Learned
So, this year’s gala was to highlight all those who participated in one of the longest television shows and give homage especially to James Arness. At the very beginning of the series Mr. Arness was lauded by John Wayne that James would someday be a very big star. How correct the Duke was with that prediction – and the rest is history.

Barry and Karen  enjoying the photo op
Members of the Arness family were present to say kind words about the show, James and the many others who had come out this evening to celebrate 60 years of fame and those who could not be there due to various commitments or who were no longer with us. It was touching, humorous, enlightening, and an honor to be there as guests.

The evening went by way too quickly with photo sessions, interviews of the most famous of the guests, a silent auction for charity and a wonderful catered dinner at the Sportsman Lodge in Studio City. During the actual award ceremony clips from Gunsmoke were shown, guests spoke at the podium, a dais of stars answered questions about their days on the set of the famous western, and just a good time wandered the spectacularly decorated hall where the event was held.
Great Company, John "Wyatt" Gilbert
with Morgan Bittany
Great location

Taking it all in reminded J and L what life must have been like when Hollywood truly worried about good morals and great acting instead of what we often see on the screens today. Not saying there isn’t talent still out there but after attending the Gunsmoke 60th anniversary we just wished there was more.

We believe that films and television mirror the public's soul and if the time of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, is over then perhaps it's time to bring those times back. 

Baryy Clark, Martin Landau,
Marty Kove, and Tim Reynolds

Okay, maybe they weren't
 always the good guys.
The Old West of early days of television was about good wholesome values.  Knowing the nation's future rests in the next generation, the programming tended to feature a strong loving family as the foundation. This what we - all generations - need to see on our large screens on a routine basis.

There is no denying, after attending an event like the Silver Spur Awards, that the United States is an exceptional country. The entire Western genre demonstrates a uniquely American experience. Westerns demonstrate commitment to exploration and adventure, something J and L both relish, and strong family and spiritual bonds. Now, we don't wish to over-romanticize our American past, from Native American to a Civil War, the West was also shaped by strife. But we have seen cowboys hats and boots the world over. There is a message there that the world embraces. And if we're right, it's in the Cowboy Code. Saddle up, pardner!

And one more shot of the ladies -- a gentleman never tires of that!
Laureen "Josie Marcus" Beyer with
Pilar "Kate Holliday" Moore