My grandfather spent the last ten years of his life in partial paralysis from a stroke. He couldn’t really walk, could barely feed himself, and had trouble using the toilet.
It’s hard for me to remember, then, that once he was a charming, dashing man. He played piano with a whole repertoire of standards from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. He always dressed well and looked great in a fedora.
During World War II he worked in the public relations department of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, an aircraft manufacturer in Buffalo, N.Y. The Buffalo plants made C-46 cargo planes as well as P-40 fighters, which were made famous by the Flying Tigers squadron in China.
I imagine Grandpa as an engaging salesman, the kind you’d actually enjoy having lunch with, the kind who knew his stuff down to the smallest detail, who could explain Curtiss-Wright’s mission to the best of them.
When he died, we discovered in my grandparents’ garage a whole box of Curtiss-Wright material. He’d saved it all these years, which tells me he was proud of the work he’d done. Among the various marketing pamphlets were a few of these medallions.
The inscription on the reverse reads:
Presented in appreciation of your participation in the earning of this Production Award. Curtiss-Wright Corp. Airplane Division, Buffalo, N.Y.
It was in recognition of the thousands of aircraft the plants produced.
Whether Grandpa handed them out or received them doesn’t matter. On this Memorial Day 70 years after the end of the war, the medallion is a small reminder of the big work done by people like him to ensure a success that must have felt at the time all but guaranteed.
To get a flavor of what my grandfather was working towards, view this video of the flyover commemorating the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. The Curtiss-Wright P-40s appear at 1:29.