VE Day +70

By Roger (10 May 2015)

One of the major benefits to living in Northern Virginia is the easy access to our country's capitol region and the surrounding history. We have a Civil War battlefield less than a mile from our house, and I drive through the big Manassas battlefield, daily, en route to the office. Washington, D.C., is only 40 miles away, if you want the museums, memorials, and bustle of a big city. It is a great place to keep active, with lots of photography opportunities.

So, I was fired up about the plans for the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. They were going to open up the restricted airspace over D.C. for a fly-over that included dozens of World War II aircraft. The aircraft would span the development that occurred during the war, including the only still-flying B-29 Superfortress. Their flight path took them down the Potomac, over the Lincoln Memorial, buzzing the Washington Monument, and then back out of the airspace.

Mark and I knew we needed a location that would afford us a view of the city – somewhere high enough that the aircraft wouldn't be obstructed by the surrounding buildings. The only location that fit that description was the top of the hill in Arlington National Cemetery, by the old Custis mansion and now more-commonly known as the Arlington mansion. How often do we harp about the advantages of planning out your shoot prior to arriving. whenever possible? This is one more opportunity to hammer that home. Except...it doesn't always guarantee success....

I got there early, to stake out a claim. There were two other photographers already there. Clearly, someone had leaked our plans. ;-) There was still plenty of room and time to kill, so I shot a panoramic while I waited. I think I need to go back and re-do this when the light is better.

What a view

What a view

The crypt was put here in 1909 for Pierre L'Enfant. He was commissioned by George Washington to plan the newly approved Federal City. I would go into all the wrangling and bureaucratic nonsense that occurred during his labors, including the very little money he was paid, years after completion of the original work, but that would take us into a non-photographic rant. (We do try to keep those to a minimum.) Let us all just agree that his crypt now has the best view of the city he planned.

Back to our story....

The flights were scheduled to begin at 1210, so it immediately became apparent that the time of day was going to be a challenge. And you can see the hazy skies weren't helping much. When the aircraft began coming in, I was disappointed to see the aircraft were flying further away, and higher, than I had hoped. If I zoomed in, I could see details on the aircraft, but I lost my background completely.

Planes in the sky; no background; le sigh.

Planes in the sky; no background; le sigh.

I had to give up my plan to get the city and aircraft into a single shot. There was one flight of fighters that came in lower and turned later. They allowed me to get this compromise shot with the Washington Monument.

Sometimes, you have to make a compromise

Sometimes, you have to make a compromise

I got to go a little wider when the B-29 came it because it is so much larger than the little fighters. I managed to get both the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, but at the cost of a tiny-looking bomber.

"Fifi", the B-29

"Fifi", the B-29

B-29 over D.C.

B-29 over D.C.

It was a pretty disappointing day for my photography, but what an experience. The crowd buzzed (excuse the pun) over every aircraft type, with stories from veterans and their descendants. “That's the plane your grandpa flew.” Facts about the aircraft, pilots, and the various battles that were shaped by them just seemed to spontaneously erupt from the onlookers as the parade progressed. It was very inspirational. There was a hearty applause as the final fighter group broke into the “Missing Man” formation. I was thrilled to be there.

One of the veteran pilots took some rest in the shade as we walked down from the mansion, and I took this final shot. Arlington Cemetery is a fitting resting place for our nation's heroes. It always feels calm and dignified, as it should.

A veteran rests, thinking of his comrades

A veteran rests, thinking of his comrades

So, I didn't get the shots I hoped for, despite my prior planning. It happens some times. When it does, go to plan B. Enjoy the time, regardless of the results. Life is too short to get upset when plans don't work out the way you hoped.