The Red Baron

August 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm Leave a comment

One of my favorite memories of Christmas Time was the song “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”. I thought it was so cool! That was back in the late 1960’s. My older brother had the 45 and we listened to it several times.

As a child, I’d been to the Rhinebeck Aerodrome and seen some of the old airplanes used in World War I. There they have a wooden model of the plane from the Red Baron — several years ago my son posed for a picture in it while on a trip with his grandparents. I thought the old airplanes were interesting, but wasn’t really fascinated. For me, it was just one more historical thing.

Today I finished reading the biography “The Red Baron” and found myself wanting to return to the Aerodrome, and definitely wanting to see the flight show. Don’t ask me how or why I have this paperback. My brother must have bought it as a kid. For some strange reason I packed it along with my books some 24 years ago when I moved to Europe.

Baron Manfred von Richthofen died at the age of 25. He downed 80 planes in 2 years and 7 months of warfare — a record that was never topped. Although I was shocked at his determination to kill, I was also impressed by the combination of luck, drive, risk-taking, intelligence and ability to lead. Coming from an aristocratic family, he got off to a good start. But it was his own ambition and motivation — as well as a lucky chance meeting on a train with a famous (future) colleague –that brought him to his incredible career.

During his career as pilot, before his unit received the name “Richthofen’s Flying Circus”, he was transferred from a successful unit to lead one that hadn’t brought down a single enemy plane. At first he was disappointed, until a close colleague said he considered it a challenging opportunity. He was given command over a group of skilled individual pilots, and taught them to fly and fight as a successful unit. Lack of unity had been the cause of their poor performance.

Nearly 100 years ago, this young man in his early 20’s recognized the need to praise and encourage his crew, and how effective this would be for attaining success. He instinctively suppressed his (sometimes understandable) anger and frustration, and limited his criticism to constructive encouragement. It worked. Although I am a pacifist, I admire him and what he accomplished with his team, though it is unfortunate that his gifts were applied to such a destructive end.

Truly I finished the book with mixed feelings — unable to fathom his intense desire to kill the enemy, yet felt the tears well up when I got to the end — sad about the abrupt end of his young life, and sad that his admirable abilities hadn’t been implemented in a peaceful way. He lived his fate, rose to glory, and didn’t have a happy end. He lost one close comrade after the other during the course of the war. He didn’t marry the woman he loved. He died. And a half-century later, his story was made into a pop song, the content of which I never really thought about before.

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron

After the turn of the century
In the clear blue skies over Germany
Came a roar and a thunder men had never heard
Like the screamin’ sound of a big war bird

Up in the sky, a man in a plane
Baron von Richthofen was his name
Eighty men tried, and eighty men died
Now they’re buried together on the countryside

Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more
The Bloody Red Baron was rollin’ up the score
Eighty men died tryin’ to end that spree
Of the Bloody Red Baron of Germany

In the nick of time, a hero arose
A funny-looking dog with a big black nose
He flew into the sky to seek revenge
But the Baron shot him down – “Curses, foiled again!”

Now, Snoopy had sworn that he’d get that man
So he asked the Great Pumpkin for a new battle plan
He challenged the German to a real dogfight
While the Baron was laughing, he got him in his sight

That Bloody Red Baron was in a fix
He’d tried everything, but he’d run out of tricks
Snoopy fired once, and he fired twice
And that Bloody Red Baron went spinning out of sight

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Entry filed under: historical figures, music. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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