"One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries."

A.A. Milne

 

Let's talk about discovery.

Sure, it sounds complicated, dangerous, mysterious.

The word alone makes us think of adventures into the unknown, explorations down uncharted trails, voyages below or across the waves or pushing past Pluto into the galaxy-studded unknown. We love to celebrate those sorts of discoveries. But discovery on that scale can be daunting, discouraging, frightening.

I wrote last week about discovery through reading. Since then, I tackled and finished "Alamo in the Ardennes," a book by John C. McManus about the first five days of the Battle of the Bulge. I was prompted to read it by the words of World War II Army veteran Royce Malone, of Longview. At the age of 18, three days after arriving on the front in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, he found himself in the fight of his life.

A massive German offensive before Christmas 1944 overwhelmed overstretched units along a 60-mile front. "We ran like the devil for a day and a half," he told me. "We had rifles, and they had tanks." But I discovered the reality was not so simple. McManus' book tells of those first five horrific days, how men like Royce regrouped, pushed back and fought bloody delaying actions, and how his and other units were sacrificed to buy precious time that allowed reinforcements to arrive and stop the German blitzkrieg. More than 80,000 Americans were killed, captured or wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, more than in any battle in U.S. history. I thought I knew that history. But the sacrifice of so many, the bravery that overcame terror and the steely will of men who bent but refused to break… that was a discovery.

I relish discovery, however momentous, but it doesn't always come from grand adventures. More often, it is found in small doses, on tiny trips that yield surprising, new information.

Last weekend, viewing "The Art of the Brick" exhibition at the Tyler Museum of Art, I discovered art does not have to be serious. The works filling the gallery are constructed entirely of brightly colored Lego blocks – a children's toy used to express an artist's vision.

And Sunday, at the Lake Country Playhouse in Mineola, I discovered that good theater ages well. The 1960 musical "The Fantasticks," which after 42 years on Broadway was the world's longest-running musical, continues to entertain on stages large and small. The Wood County troupe did a wonderful job, and the show was delightful. But hurry if you want to see it; the curtain comes down this weekend.

Finally, I urge you to discover for yourself the treasures inside Tyler's Historic Aviation Memorial Museum (HAMM). I've been a fan of the museum for years, and I'm working on a story for the September-October edition of IN Magazine. Visitors from all over the world come to see its amazing collection of aviation memorabilia and restored aircraft. But I've often wondered why Tyler residents often overlook the museum in the old terminal building at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport. I visit often and discover something each time. It should be a must-see.

Ask a volunteer to share a few stories. You might get Marshall to show off his Korean War flight jacket and tell of flying a Corsair off the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Jerry might describe the crash of the PBY seaplane that took the lives of six friends… and why the plane is on the HAMM logo and the word "Memorial" is in the museum's name.

Chip and John might tell you what it takes to rebuild and restore planes and helicopters filling the ramp outside. Lou can recall aviation history dating from observation balloons in the Civil War. Norm delights in the excitement of young people attending Aviation Camp. Bob will grin as he coaxes salutes from children earning their wings in the flight simulator. And, if pressed, Tim will tell how artifacts were acquired, including the colorful Braniff stewardess uniforms.

Discovery is guaranteed at HAMM. It's the story of flight in a broad but personal sense. Along with fabric from the wing of a World War I observation plane you will also find the shredded rocket fired at Leo Berman in Vietnam. In addition to a rare four-bladed propeller that was delivered on top of a station wagon, you will find the uniform of Florene Miller Watson, an original World War II WASP pilot.

In a room filled with Elmer Dixon's camera equipment and aerial photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you'll find headlines proclaiming the war's end and captured Japanese battle flags. Nearby you'll find a World War II Blue Star Mother's flag, on which she lovingly embroidered the names of her sons serving overseas – Heartsill, Melvyn and James.

Ask Marjorie to share the story of Flak Bait and the man from Greenville who donated a photo montage of the B-26 Martin Marauder that flew a record 207 missions over Europe in World War II. The man himself flew an amazing 78 missions, with 27 of those in Flak Bait. "He said he would give it to us if we would promise to tell the story about his son, who was killed in Vietnam," Marjorie said. "And I do… every time I lead a tour."

I already knew about Flak Bait, having discovered it a year ago at Washington's Air and Space Museum, where it is now being restored. I've visited twice and hope to again. But after discovering its East Texas connection, well… now it's personal.

***

Dave Berry is the retired editor of The Tyler Morning Telegraph. His Focal Point column runs every Wednesday on the front of the My Generation section.

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