The Confederate Air Force Comes To Guadalajara
By Michael Hogan
Soldiers line the tarmac. Automatic weapons with toy-like plastic stocks, but real bullets, are borne by boys with coal black eyes. They flirt with las muchachas. The girls are excited by the fiesta mood of the crowd, the boys’ eyes drawn to their short skirts, to a naked shoulder slipping from a blouse.
It is the last week of the rainy season. Already La Zapopanita, tiny Virgin of corn paste, has been carried to the Basilica. We are safe from plague for another year; protected from the rains which flood the arroyos, wash away the crops, and uproot the ancient trees.
The vintage planes rev their engines. The loud-speakers play Glenn Miller. My good friend sways to the old familiar tunes. Nostalgia and excitement merge in him like the confluence of two rugged rivers.
The loudspeaker announces el piloto of the first plane will be CAPITAN JEE-MEE O’BREE-HAN OF TAY-HAHS. O’Brian of Texas. The Irish, as mother says, are everywhere. Here, too, they are loved. For in Mexico, when los Yanquis said: War! The Irish deserted in droves, fought alongside their fellow Catholics, and those not killed in battle were hanged from the gallows in San Angel by the conquering gringos. Los San Patricios, those of Saint Patrick, are still green in the Mexican memory, connected to the roots of the ash trees, flying in the green branches.
Now O’Brian of Tejas has returned with the entire Confederate Air Force! There is his ghost plane taking off now in the east, his jaunty thumbs-up to the two thousand Mexicans thronging the runway as the soldiers yell at the crowd (rifles at point arms): “Detrás, detrás, quince metros!” But the crowd ignores the boy soldiers, pushing forward against the barrels of atomic weapons. The loud speaker is now playing “Danny Boy,” and above the lugubrious tune is the sound of the gallant engine in a flimsy metal craft which inspires the crows to wheel from the trees in formation, quiet and disciplined.
Something about the day, the air, the music, which makes the crowd forget Tejas, (O Hated Republic! O Arrogant State) and think instead of Capitan O’Breehan, el irlandés, doing a loop now over the crowd, then another, now climbing up in the morning’s perilous sun, and then descending, Flying Tiger teeth on the fuselage, machine gun blazing at an unseen enemy.
This irlandés is for us all. And we know him. Just as the zopilotes know, blackly secure in their haven of majestic ash trees beyond the furrowed fields in the darkening morning with the old corn stalks drying. Just as the hawks know, banking lazily over the sun flowers, the dandelions, then swooping down through the flame trees to where un ratóncito discovers the world is no longer safe.
A bomber takes off now, shining silver and terrible on the dark runway, “MIREN A LA IZQUIERDA!” the loud speaker blares. The Queen of Terror, “LA SUPERFORTRES,” thundering down the sky. “TAL VEZ…UNA BOMBA.” And yes! Explosions at the west end of the field: flame, black oily smoke, tremors of the earth!
Thunderheads from over the ash trees: there is rain in the air. The fields grow dark and shadowed. The buzzards crane their bald necks. They know that man is nothing more than a soul holding up a corpse.
But it is this soul, once briefly seen, remembered by old warriors in Legionnaire caps, by my friend singing along (and now dancing!) to Tommy Dorsey at the end of the rainy season on a damp Mexican airfield, which beckoned us here. There is lightning in the air, the taste of sulphur, and the loud speaker shifting to “Taps” as the fighters fly in formation over the field, the crowd, the soldiers and the young girls, all frozen in place looking upwards.
Then one plane peels off from the formation, flies south alone over the hills, in memory of el piloto perdido, the one lost, whose soul impregnates the morning sky, who holds us bound together with the furrowed fields, the ash trees, the dying field mouse, young soldiers and old warriors, and the rain coming down in great drops, like holy water sprinkling the faithful.
(Ed. Note: Michael Hogan is the author of 22 books, including the best-selling Irish Soldiers of Mexico. He lives in Guadalajara with Lucinda Mayo and their dog Molly Malone. This selection is from his book Mexican Mornings: Essays South of the Border which can be purchased from Amazon in either paperback or Kindle.)