by Rich Welsh
As long as I can remember (50+ years), I’ve wanted an American National Insignia Star from a military airplane—specifically, an early one with a round blue field, white star, and the red dot in the center. The appeal, of course, being that is how our planes were marked at Pearl Harbor.
Sure, I could make one, but I wanted one that had actually been on one of our planes somewhere, on December 7th.
Before I go any further, I should explain that, while I never served in the military, I grew up sharing my father’s love of military history. With that said let me describe the wonderfully weird and extremely vivid dream I had a couple years ago.
Oh, what a dream!
I dreamt that I was serving at an airbase in Alaska and with some buddies, far from the base, we spotted twisted metal sticking out of the snow and got curious. As we approached, it became obvious it was the old wreckage of an airplane. As I brushed the snow away, the edge of a dark blue circle became visible. On my knees now and clearing away the snow with both hands, I found it was a big early war star still attached to a broken wing—I was thrilled!
Since the red dots were painted out after Pearl Harbor, this plane would have crashed no later than May of 1942. What a find! I set about cutting away a square of canvas as my buddies warned me “I don’t know why you’re bothering, they’ll never let you keep it.” I rolled it up and was back in the supply depot where we worked admiring my discovery when the sergeant came in and demanded “What are you doing with that?” I explained “We found it on an old wreck, I felt it needed to be preserved.” He said , “Get rid of it.” I protested, “If nobody here appreciates it I’d sure like to have it.” His response, “I don’t want it around here, you’ll never get it off this base either, I’ll make sure of that. And it better not be here when I come back!” As he stormed out of the building I realized he was right. They’d never let me on the plane home with it.
Then I got a wonderfully clever idea. I found a wooden crate that was about three feet, square. I tacked the star to the underside of the lid. I threw some parts and packing material in the crate and addressed it to a base in California, figuring I could hunt it up when I got stateside. When the sergeant came back he said “Where’s that star?” I pointed to the incinerator, but still suspicious he said “You didn’t try to hide it in that crate did you?” “No sergeant, look for yourself.” I lifted the off the lid keeping the underside of it facing downward. He dug through the box checking every corner, stood up and said ,“OK, nail it shut.” I replaced the lid, but he didn’t leave till the last nail was hammered home.
Then I awoke. DRAT! Here I’d had one of those stars I’ve always wanted in my hands, and I wake up to find I’d imagined the whole thing! What a maddening, frustrating, dream! And that might be the end of the story except…
Dreams can come true
A year later, I went to a military show in Livonia, Mich. As soon as I walked in the door, I spotted a big American insignia star across the room. It was one of those once in a lifetime moments, you know when you can almost hear the angels sing “Ahhhhh…” I could hardly believe it, and this time, I was not dreaming!
Propped against the wall was a square section of fabric cut from the wing of an airplane—with a big red dot in the center. It was beautiful!
The dealer said, “I’ve only had it for a week and this is the first time I’ve brought it to a show. It is the only one I’ve ever had in the 45 years I’ve been in this business.” He went on to explain, “It’s got a split in the center and there are tack holes all around the edges, otherwise it is in pretty good shape.”
I was practically trembling when I asked, “So, what’s the story?” He said “Somebody found it tacked into the lid of an old wooden packing crate left in the back room of a thrift store in California.”
With my wallet empty, and the deal done I started walking away, then turned around and asked “You don’t happen to have kept the lid from that crate, did you?” He said “No, it was pulled off before I got it.”
I would have loved to have seen if the address on the lid was in my handwriting.