Winging it

Dear Ace: I was running through the UVA campus recently and passed a statue of a naked man with wings I’d never noticed before. What’s his story? —Marc U. Ray

Dear Marc: While Ace admires your commitment to fitness, he must say it’s a pity you didn’t stop! The particular bronze you breezed by is called The Aviator. It was designed by Gutzon Borglum—the same artist who would go on to create the carvings on Mount Rushmore—as a memorial to World War I combat pilot James R. McConnell.
    McConnell, a North Carolina native, was a student at UVA before the war broke out in Europe. In 1915, he left America for France, where he volunteered as an ambulance driver (shades of Hemingway, anyone?). Still wanting to do more for the Allied war effort, he left the ambulance corps and signed on with the French as a pilot. The man was assigned to an all-American escadrille, or fighting unit, and in short order he was flying sorties behind enemy lines and over embattled French territory. It was on one such mission on March 19, 1917, that McConnell was killed, after two German dogfighters shot up his plane over the battlefields of the Somme.
    How does Ace know all of this? It’s simple! Had you, my dear Mr. Ray, set foot in the nearby Clemons Library (which, by the way, was where The Aviator used to stand before he was moved 20 yards, in 2002, to make way for the special collections library), you would have been treated to a museum-quality display on McConnell’s service during the war and the efforts after his death to create a memorial for him at UVA.
    With the display is a book, Flying for France, written by McConnell himself shortly before his death. In it, one can learn about his unit’s mascot (a lion cub named “Whiskey”) and the fact that he considered the French army to be “the world’s finest.” A far cry from the opinion of many Americans today, n’est-ce pas?
    McConnell, a man after Ace’s own heart, had a sense of humor too (obviously matched by decades of UVA students, who have been known to dress him in outlandish garb, and polish a particular part of his anatomy to a brilliant shine). On the conditions of his barracks, he wrote with tongue in cheek, “Outside of the cold, mud and dampness, it wasn’t so bad.” Perhaps, then, the pilot would appreciate that his statue still stands today…with the occasional addition of some undergrad’s UVA boxer shorts.

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Winging it

A: Gypsy, to answer your question Ace requests that you put yourself back into the late ’80s, when Madonna was still like a virgin (note that Ace said like a virgin—shiny and new), Alf starred in a TV series rather than TV commercials, and those little buggers known as gypsy moths took over Central Virginia and threatened the very foundations of our democratic society.

 According to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (that’d be Virginia Tech forthe slow class) website on gypsy moths, www. gypsymoth.ento.vt.edu, as a result of a gypsy moth population explosion between 1989 and 1996, defoliation of Virginia’s precious forest acres skyrocketed to 90,000 acres from 20,000 acres. And defoliation can lead to death. The State heeded this call to arms by implementing a Cooperative Gypsy Moth Suppression Program. Extreme rhetoric, yes, but Ace assures you that it was just a little spraying program courtesy ofthe Virginia Department of Agriculture. Survival of the fittest, baby: us versus them, and Virginia was out for blood.

 Through the program, State and federal funds were allocated to landowners whose properties were being chewed up by camped-out tent caterpillars (those nasty little buggers that turn into gypsy moths). To get the dough, the State required counties to employ a part-time gypsy moth coordinator to set up anti-caterpillar sprayings. Most counties in Central Virginia got in line and signed on the dotted line, including Albemarle, which hired Bob Grace to sack the moths.

 Enter Susan Rorrer, who, having “written a paper on gypsy moths,” she says, as an environmental studies student at Lynchburg College apparently qualified to be hired as Nelson County’s official gypsy moth coordinator in 1992. However, when asked what civic duties she’s currently fulfilling, Rorrer says, “In Nelson right now, the gypsy moth coordinator isn’t doing anything.”

 Seems, she says, there’s a rumor going ’round that in 1996, “A fungus was introduced by a researcher at some university,” which suppressed the gypsy moth more completely than any chemical spray-wielding gypsy moth coordinator ever could. Rural legend or no, Rorrer knows that “something is keeping the populations down to date,” which rendered her services irrelevant post-1996. She’s now Nelson’s E-911 coordinator, which, sorry to say, does little to explain why “Gypsy Moth Coordinator” still appears on Nelson County’s website.

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Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

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