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Song & Memory

Song and Memory: "Coming in on a Wing and Prayer"

Ann Heppermann

Kara Oehler

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Once Upon a Doorstep
(Courtesy Lucinda Alsobrook Coulter-Burbach)
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Lucinda Alsobrook Coulter-Burbach: My name is Lucinda Alsobrook Coulter-Burbach, and the song that is most memorable to me is "Coming in on a Wing and Prayer."

I lived in a little town where they built a staging base for the Air Force, and it was very real to us that the country was at war.

I knew that we were fighting Hitler and Mussolini and that it was a terrible terrible thing.

They had a bombing range not too far from town and during the war. There were planes going overhead every day and at night sometimes, too. Those planes used to roar. And I can remember lying in bed and hearing bombs fall. And I knew not to be afraid. I knew it was our soldiers that were doing it. So, when they went over our house, the trees would bend down from the air blowing overhead, and I would run out to the side yard next to the holly tree and sing at the top of my lungs, "Coming in on a wing and a prayer!"

I had pigtails and I always wore dresses, and I would stand out there and try to sing loud enough to be heard by the boys in the plane overhead.

I wanted to bring them home safely. And maybe that wasn't really doing it, but for a seven-year-old, it seemed to be.

An awful lot of the families in town took in boarders. It was mostly women who thought they might never see their husbands or their boyfriends again. They had just moved heaven and earth to get there, to be close to the base, and there was no place for them to stay so people took them in.

We had nine borders upstairs. There was my mother and father, and we also had a soldier and his wife and a baby living in my playhouse. They had hot plates on the window box and the baby slept in a carriage. So there were actually 13 adults, one child and three babies.

One of my earliest memories is standing outside the one bathroom, pounding on the door and saying, "But I have to go!"

We had so many people in the house and some of them could play the piano, and so we would stand around the piano and they would sing. We sang all the military songs like "Caissons Go Rolling Along." The Air Force Song was also very very important.

If something was really special, everyone would pool their ration coupons and we'd have a cake, which made it really special because we didn't get many sweets during the war. And I thought it was a great time.

They closed the base down in 1946. Even though the base was closed, the streets were still there and so were the hangars. There was also over a mile and half of runway that was very, very wide. When I was in high school, we would go out there and drag race on the old runways. There was only one policeman around most of the time, and he didn't even have a car. I've driven over 115 miles per hour on that old base. And my parents are dead so they can't hear me say that, which is a good thing.

Later on, I really wanted to take flying lessons. I was in Biloxi, Miss., and on the radio they were advertising that I could take a flying lesson for five dollars, and I wasn't making much money at that time. This is back about 1959, and I went out and took my first lesson.

I am sure that the first time I soloed, "Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer" was playing in my head the whole trip.

You know it's funny, when I see the military flying (my husband now is retired military and we're on a base occasionally), when I see the planes overhead, I still think of that song.

It's a 1940s song, but today we have men overseas flying again and we have to worry about whether they will come home safely. I guess it's praying for our soldiers wherever they are.

More stories from our Song & Memory series


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  • By Mary Jo Spence Knight

    From Houston, TX, 08/22/2011

    This is truly the sweetest story! Lucinda is my cousin also and I would love to go to her house as a little girl and play make believe in that beautiful playhouse and hear all the wonderful stories. It was so magical because the play house was so adorable!

    By Elaine Evans

    From Cambria, CA, 03/10/2008

    Lucinda Burbach is my cousin and I remember, during the war when I was 15, going back to Tennessee to visit her and my aunt & uncle. I recall that there were actually a couple living in her playhouse, as she said. That's how desperate the housing situation was there in that little town. On the weekends there would be dances held at the air base and we would go and dance with the airmen. To me it was a fun time and the music of that era was wonderful. I actually met a flyer there, Ross Carlock, with whom I corresponded all during the time he was ultimately stationed in Italy and I dated him when he came home to California after the war.Our special song was "The Very Thought Of You" and to this day, 63 years later, whenever I hear it I think of those special times.

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