Just 48 pilots flew the P-39 Airacobra plane that played a a pivotal role in securing victory in the Pacific during World War II. The only surviving pilot from that island-hopping campaign, 96-year–old Edmonds resident Robert “Buck” Weaver, was honored during 33rd annual Edmonds’ Memorial Day Ceremony Monday.
Following long-standing tradition, the ceremony was held at the historic Edmonds Memorial Ceremony, where graves of veterans were decorated with flags and flowers. Young people, including members of the Boy and Girl Scouts and Edmonds-Woodway High School musicians and speakers, played a pivotal role by design, in an effort to educate the next generation about the contribution of veterans, noted master of ceremonies Patrick Kelly.
Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling gave brief remarks, reading the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written 100 years ago by John McCrae, a World War I Canadian military officer.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
“That is why I am here today,” Earling said, “so the soldiers in Flanders Fields know their sacrifice is not forgotten.”
When it came time to recognize Weaver, Kelly first described the plane Weaver flew, noting that the P-39 was “the first airplane in military aviation history that was built around a weapon.” Because the plane’s engine was mounted behind the pilot, there was room for a 200-pound, 90-inch-long, 37-miliimeter cannon through the center hub of the propeller, Kelly noted
The aircraft was effective in strafing the islands during the Battle of Midway, but it was limited to lower altitudes and short ranges, and was easy prey for higher-flying enemy aircraft. Due to limited fuel capacity, it wasn’t unusual for pilots not to return, Kelly said.
Only 48 pilots flew during that island hopping campaign, and Weaver is the only current survivor, having flown 137 missions “in an airplane that most men didn’t come back in for a number of reasons – they were shot down or ran out of fuel,” Kelly said.
Because of the small cockpit, pilots were required to be no taller than 5-8, but “it would take a very big man to fly a P-39,” Kelly said. “A man so big that his devotion to his country is without question. A man so big that his desire to defend the freedom of others is uncompromising. A man so big that every time he climbs into that small cockpit, he knows he might not come back but he willingly goes anyway.”
As Weaver came to the podium to acknowledge the crowd, Kelly noted that the nearly-97-year-old still plays golf. “I asked if he ever shot his age and he said lots of times, and it’s getting easier every year,” Kelly said. You can learn more about Weaver in this 2014 profile published in My Edmonds News.