Hindenburg Remembered: Learning From The Past
Observances marking the date that the airship Hindenburg exploded over Lakehurst Naval Air Station take place every year. But our cultural need to turn certain years into benchmarks gives this weekend's ceremonies extra poignance.
It's 75 years since the tragedy of May 6, 1937. The observance might not gather as much attention until its centennial. But by that point, the lore surrounding it will be, at best, second-hand. The few people still alive who saw the devastation with their own eyes are in their 90s.
The Navy Lakehurst Historical Society is a small band of Ocean County volunteers who preserve its history, and the Navy, Army and Air Force missions at Lakehurst, Fort Dix and McGuire, in the storied Hangar One on the Joint Base composed of all three.
"We continue to bring this event back for a yearly memorial service ," says group President Carl Jablonski, "because, in my opinion, yesterday's news is today's history...and we must preserve that history."
George Santayana provides the famous corollary: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
The commemorations are dignified, somber, and steeped in the installation's military heritage. As age has thinned the ranks of survivors, those still able to attend loom larger as icons of a completely different life.
The Great War was almost two decades gone, and it would be nearly three years before the world would be forced to start numbering its global confrontations. America was getting off the mat after the Great Depression. It was as much a time of hope as it was of fear.
Among those who remember the era, and the tragedy, who will attend are Robert Buchanan, 91, of Waretown, a teenager when he was part of the Lakehurst ground crew.
Arriving from Maryland will be Dr. Horst Schirmer, whose father was a designer of the mighty dirigible. His dad took him on test runs before the Hindenburg was placed into commercial service. But Carl explains that Schirmer, still practicing medicine at Johns Hopkins, actually has two brushes with history.
"He was working for the US government at the end of World War II, and they brought Wernher von Braun over to work on the American rocket program," says Carl.
"Dr. Von Braun suffered an emergency appendicitis attack. Dr. Schirmer is credited with performing the surgery that saved Wernher von Braun's life." Without his intervention, the history of space exploration itself, and America's role, might have been vastly different.
They'll meet for dinner Saturday night at the Clarion, formerly the Quality Inn, on Route 37 in Toms River. The Sunday observance takes place just before 7 PM - mirroring the time of the original event - at the memorial site on the Joint Base.
To attend either, or both, visit http://www.nlhs.com.