Miles And Memories

From the graceful Clippers to a tragic terrorist bombing, former Pan Am employees remember `the world's most experienced airline.'

October 01, 2001|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

An oddly graceful flying boat called the China Clipper rose out of a cove off Middle River in late October 1935 and flew straight into aviation history.

Not quite a month later, the Pan American China Clipper, by the Glenn L. Martin company, flew from San Francisco on the first transoceanic flight by a commercial airliner. The Clipper hopped island to island across the Pacific Ocean to Manila in about five days.

"Ron Davis, the curator for air transport at the Air and Space Museum, said that was the greatest event in transport history," says George Price, a Pan Am pilot for 31 years. "He didn't say air transport history. All transport. Quite a spectacular thing for an airplane built here in Baltimore."

Pan American World Airlines Inc. went on to became America's premier international airline, a symbol of the United States. Pam Am carried the flag around the world, from its first flight from Key West to Havana in 1927 by a Fokker Trimotor, a plane that looked like it was made of tin roofing, to the last flight by a sleek Boeing 747 when the airline folded in 1991.

Along the way, Pan Am became downright beloved by its employees, from ground crews to flight attendants to the captains flying the planes. About 1,500 of them gathered in Baltimore over the weekend for a 10-year reunion they called Pan Am 2001.

They did lots of tourist things. They sailed on a schooner in the harbor. They visited Annapolis. They ate in Little Italy.

But they also went to Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday for a remembrance service to honor the 270 victims of the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Dec. 21, 1988. Lockerbie had been called the worst case of airline terrorism - until the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Price, the president of the reunion, laid a wreath of blue and white flowers, the Pan Am colors, at the base of the memorial cairn built of 270 stones from a quarry near Lockerbie.

Jacqueline Campbell, a white-haired woman from Paris, wept as she photographed her daughter's name among the inscriptions at the base of the cairn. Noelle Lydie Campbell Berti was a flight attendant on Flight 103.

"She work for Pan Am almost 20 years," Campbell said in thickly accented English.

"A lovely girl," somebody behind her said.

The cairn's dedication eerily presaged the words used in the Sept. 11 tragedy: "The 270 Scottish stones which compose this memorial commemorate those who lost their lives in this attack on America."

Many of the 300 or so who went to the service felt the Lockerbie bombing was the start of the terrorism that reached a nadir at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"It was terrorism when Pan Am 103 was brought down over Lockerbie," said Diane Jeans Studeman, a flight attendant out of San Francisco. "Now we have terrorism on our own shores. It brings it home. Hopefully, more will be done now this time to go after the terrorists and those who harbor them."

In his remarks at the remembrance, her husband, retired Admiral William O. Studeman, who helped investigate the Lockerbie bombing as deputy and acting director of the CIA, said "the parallels are uncanny and disturbing."

"Mixed with the images of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, down the Arlington hills over which the aircraft that attacked approached, I also retain visions of the destroyed fuselage of ... Flight 103, blown out of the night skies and lying grotesquely on Scottish soil ... "

Admiral Studeman, the son of O. J. Studeman, a pioneer Pan Am pilot and executive, and the Pan Am retirees who came to the memorial service symbolized the extraordinarily affectionate esprit de corps among the veterans of the airline's best days.

"It's like getting back together with a crew of 1,500," said Price, 88, of Miami. "You're all remembering the same things. You're all thinking the same things. We always kind of stuck together.

"We'd always end up in some foreign country," he said. "So that always put you pretty close together in the layover. So you had that dependence on each other. You got to know each other.

"We were all really a family," he says. "Some members of the family you don't get along with. Some you do."

Mary Goshgarian, a gregarious woman who was in passenger service 35 years, mostly in Miami, said: "Pan Am was in three wars. We were the American flag carrier. We built hotels and air strips all over the world.

"Any time I went to any country - I was just a clerk, right, working in the airports - yet they treated me like I was royalty. It was a wonderful, wonderful job.

"They were a classy airlines," she said.

"I would say `distinguished,' " Lynn Van Fleit said of the airline on which she served as a flight attendant from 1973 to 1985. "Carrying that blue globe around the world is something I was very proud of. You were part of history."

Starting with Clippers

Pan Am started out both classy and distinguished with the Clippers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.