Nancy Franklin wrote in a New Yorker magazine article about the 2011 ABC TV series Pan Am : "Pan Am is the right airline to use to convey the sweep of decades . . it grew to be not just a company with a fleet of airplanes but the very symbol of flight . ."
That significance is particularly apt in December each year, bringing to mind three unalterable moments from Pan Am’s past. All three inescapably shaped the future - the world we live in now. In these three events spanning half a century, Pan American became, in turn, a critical national resource, the symbol of America, and finally an indelible historic standard. Seen with the perspective of time, the essential value of a unique American legacy can be comprehended more clearly. That hardly assuages personal loss, but for those who understand Pan American's unique heritage and place in history, it makes for a fuller appreciation of just how important a part of our world Pan Am was - and will remain, as long as we remember.
Pan Am Memorial Window, Lockerbie Town Hall by Chris Newman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
December 21, 1988: Twenty-nine years since a wanton act of pre-mediated evil - the Libyan bombing of PA flight 103 - killed 270 people at Lockerbie, Scotland a name forever fused with an image of a crushed fuselage and memories of lives callously and horribly taken.
December 7, 1941 was America's entry into World War II, a date so aptly described by FDR as one that will live in infamy. For Pan Am, that day marked a crystallizing moment, vindicating not just Juan Trippe's vision of a uniquely American world-girdling, ocean-spanning air transport system, but also the faith shown by the U.S. government in supporting Pan Am’s evolution. When the nation needed Pan Am - and in the early months of the war, it surely did - Pan Am answered the call. There was no alternative to Pan American's logistical, technological, and international capabilities for national defense.