A Belle of history flies again

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, August 6, 2009

More than 60 years since the end of World War II, the number of Americans who remember that bitter struggle against fascism and totalitarianism dwindles at a rate of thousands per day.

No longer can most Americans find a father or mother, an uncle or an aunt, a grandfather or a grandmother to tell them what it was like when the nation fought against the tide of aggression and horror that threatened from Europe and Asia. As the last of the World War II veterans and those who supported them from home reach the end of their lives, the world is left to remember the war and assimilate its lessons primarily through history books, television and museums.

That’s why organizations such as the Liberty Foundation are so important. As part of a 50-city tour, the group allows Americans of all ages a chance to get up close and personal with a piece of living history.

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The Liberty Belle, a restored B-17 bomber now parked at the Chesapeake Regional Airport, is about as close to World War II as many people will ever get. Visitors this weekend can see the plane, hear it and touch it — and even fly in it, for a price. Those who do so will get the merest taste of what it would have been like to fly missions into Europe and over Japan.

The best museums in the nation have adapted to our changing times by incorporating hands-on exhibits that help to connect their visitors with the subject matter at hand. At its foundation, the Liberty Belle visit is a hands-on approach to teaching history.

It’s a commendable effort by a private organization dedicated to making history come alive and preserving the memory of those who sacrificed so much in the service of our nation. In an ironic twist, it’s also an effort that is at risk of being shut down by the Transportation Security Administration because of security concerns.

It will be a sad development if we lose such an important historical resource because of our fears.