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  • Writer's pictureCat T. Gardiner

A Novel Search for Drane Air Field

Hi-di-ho, Friends! Let's hit the road in my jalopy. Only 70 or so miles from Tampa, Dear Husband (DH) and I had never traveled to Lakeland in Central Florida before. It's sort of midway between Tampa and Mickey Mouse's Orlando. But when I began writing A Moment Forever in 2013, I had to go - had to find Drane Airfield, which in 1942 was called Lakeland Army Airfield - #2 Drane. This was the location my hero trained after MacDill. I read about its history as it being a satellite location for the III Bomber Command where they practiced unit cohesion, mock missions, and trained further in weaponry and bomb loading. Of course, I had another willing (prodding) victim in my husband who has a Lizzy-like poster of a pin-up sitting on a B-17 bomber in his man cave.

Pad and camera in hand, we drove to Lakeland Linder Airport, a small regional airport where not a plane was in sight. I tried to imagine that this was once the dusty, undeveloped air field of 1942 where the 322nd Bomb Group and others trained before their next location - the European Theater of Operations (ETO) for more training - then combat missions. There were, unfortunately, no remaining buildings but that was to be expected after the passage of 70 years, we've developed right over history. Two markers gave testimony to some of the Bomb Groups that passed through Drane and that made me proud. Member of the 344th Bomb Group Association remembered and commemorated, but how many people walk by them hurried in their travels or indifferent to the significance. Brave Marauder Men trained here on a bomber (B-26) that had a rocky beginning of crashing.

There's an irony here: Years earlier (when I wrote The Song is You, DH and I traveled to another local air museum called Fantasy of Flight and I stood before the only flying B-26 Marauder left. Who knew I'd later be writing about it?? - (As an aside - This year, I did go back to Fantasy of Flight and, in preparation of an exciting new venue, it has been downsized to a large - filled - hangar. The B-26 was not available for viewing.)

DH and I got lost to our next destination, the Florida Air Museum but I grinned like a kid in a candy shop when we stumbled upon Drane Road! Yes! Another detail of remembrance and a sure fire sign that tons of information lie ahead in the small museum. At the corner of the parking lot sat an 1980s F16 giving testimony to how far we've come in flight. With not a visitor in sight, I thought how could this museum survive and I wondered if others, like me, got lost finding it off the beaten path, and what a shame.

There were little gems along the grounds, small glimpses of its WWII days, but sadly no vintage warbird, just the street signs and a roadway leading directly to the airport - the former Airfield.

A pleasant elderly woman sat at the reception desk inside the museum, offering little more than a warm smile and a map to the displays. I asked a few questions about Drane, but she couldn't supply any answers. DH and I were committed to finding the stories of Tampa Bay's role in the war - stories that needed to be told! We thanked the receptionist and entered into the large hanger-sized space where all kinds of bi-planes and more modern planes hung from the metal ceiling. It was fascinating, really, to see the progression through the decades. This museum was a labor of love.

It was here, upon entering into a small gallery, that I met Howard Hughes for the first time. Dedicated to his flight and airplane design achievements, photographs, memorabilia and even flight suits filled the room. I was fascinated. The original New York World newspaper gave me the idea that our hero, a Brooklyn Boy, found inspiration from Howard Hughes and his flight around the world.

We continued through the museum, reading every display and then I hit the motherload. A bazillion things about MacDill's sub airfields, particularly Drane: photographs, articles and even squadron assignments and movements. It made me so proud to think that Will was one of these men! Is that silly? Proud of a fictitious character? I suppose, but I felt the same way when writing The Song is You (not yet released). I felt, and continue to feel, a tender attachment to the Army Rangers who took Pointe du Hoc. These men are the reason that I write WWII Historical Fiction Romance. Telling their stories and the stories of the era is tantamount to teaching the next generation. At its core, that is exactly what A Moment Forever is all about.

My hero's squadron! -322nd Bomb Group/451st Bomb Squadron!

And there it was ... a footlocker. Could any one thing have been a bigger sign than that? The one article of history that began it all for A Moment Forever. I imagined Juliana opening this very real piece of history, something that held this sergeant from Tampa's story and my heart swelled.

There were other things that spoke of what these boys did, more than their story, but the story of the war itself and those affected on the receiving end of their training. The bombs they carried, the machine guns within the turrets.

It was an incredible - moving and poignant - trip to this tucked away gem off the beaten path, but our day didn't end here. That will be the subject of my next research travelogue. The magical Mirror Lake, its swans and the place where Will makes his vow to love Lizzy forever.

See you next time! Thanks for traveling with me! Keep 'Em Flying!

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