Our president’s grasp of American History is as thorough as it is insightful. That knowledge was on full display during his much-publicized Fourth of July speech which noted the efforts colonial soldiers made to secure our nation’s airports during the Revolutionary War and the subsequent War of 1812. The speech inspired me (as I’m sure it did you) to dig into my history books. While “historians” spend an inordinate amount of time detailing the battles of Lexington and Concord, Saratoga, or the London-born General Cornwallis surrendering his hometown of Yorktown, Virginia, they neglect to tell the story of our nation’s 18th Century air fields and the brave soldiers who fought to secure them.
When discussing America’s “Airport Resistance” we must start with the city where the Revolution began: Boston. English military brass deduced early on that troops should be concentrated in New York’s two air fields: Shakespeare Airport and Charlemagne International. That meant that Boston Airport would be relatively unguarded. This proved to be a fatal mistake.
After taking Breed’s Hill, George Washington’s soldiers provided cover fire as colonial troops stormed the Delta Concourse and trapped British soldiers in the food court of Boston Airport. According to one British soldier’s journal, “I was enjoying a drumstick I had just purchased from ‘Turkey Bell’ when colonists overtook the ‘Burger King George’ and ‘Panda Express.’ We were, in an instant, cut off from the rest of the airport. Soon after, we received word that the Americans had secured Gate B12. It was all lost after that. To add insult to injury, the portion of the airport they held us in was ‘non-smoking’ so we could not imbibe from our pipes. The colonists refused let us go outside to the ‘Transportation’ area. It was most disagreeable.”
The skirmish in the food court allowed Colonel Jebediah Logan to capture the ticket counters and secure victory for the Americans. Logan reportedly yelled “check your bags boys” before engaging the enemy. He subsequently collected a fee from every British soldier captured for every bag they carried. The people of Boston honored Col. Logan’s bravery by renaming the airport for him after the war. It has remained Logan Airport ever since.
After securing Boston, General Washington set off on his ill-fated Battle for New York. Without a Navy or Air Force, Washington attacked British soldiers in Manhattan but soon retreated to Brooklyn. As British pilots prepared to take off from Charlemagne International, a dense fog settled in over the city. This allowed Lieutenant Fiorello LaGuardia – commanding a platoon of Sherman Tanks – to destroy all of the British planes before they could get airborne. Although a single British plane managed to take flight, it got lost in the fog and landed on Staten Island. While the inbound flight was free, the pilot lacked the funds to return to Manhattan.
After the war, Charlemagne International was renamed in honor of Lieutenant LaGuardia. However, out of patriotism, flights are routinely delayed from that destination and it still costs money to travel from Staten Island to Manhattan.
Similar battles took place during the War of 1812 for Baltimore International Airport. The Americans were forced to split their ranks to head off the British invaders. Half marched to Washington, D.C. to protect the White House and half stayed behind to defend Baltimore International.
Because they were short-handed, American forces pressed the Skycaps at Baltimore International into duty. The “Skycap Militia” later became known as the “Colts” which inspired the naming of an NFL team in that city nearly 200 years later. During the “Battle for Baltimore International” a young Francis Scott Key—who worked for Southwest at the time—penned our National Anthem in the crossword puzzle of an in-flight magazine. American Airline flight attendants – who doubled as code-breakers – did the same in the Sudoku puzzles. Together, they managed to secure Baltimore International Airport. Due to the animosity caused by the war, Baltimore International did not provide direct flights to London for more than 100 years. However, it should be noted that the Battle for Baltimore International inspired Private George Gershwin to write “Rhapsody in Blue” (the color of American military uniforms) which was later used in a United Airlines commercial.
The next time you board a flight to wherever you’re going, please take a moment to remember the brave men and women who fought for your freedom in 1776 and 1812. They gave their lives so you could upgrade to business class. The airline miles you accumulate on your credit card pale in comparison to the miles our revolutionaries marched to Valley Forge after the failed Battle for New York’s airports.
“The land of the free, and the home of the brave,” is not just an anthem for our country, it is also the answer to a crossword puzzle contained in the seat-back. The next time you buy a ticket, check your bags, or ring for a flight attendant, have some respect. Thank them for their service.