If anyone can bring her bird back, it's Ava


THE decision to permit women to hold combat roles in the military will not only change the way America wages battle, but it will also affect the plot of every Hollywood war movie in years to come.

Here's what we will be seeing in our theaters soon:

The scene is an American air base in Blighty, England. Several figures shrouded in fog are on the Tarmac peering out toward Serbia.

We recognize John Wayne, who is in a Red Cross aide's uniform, handing out coffee and doughnuts to the pilots. We find out that his girlfriend, Capt. Ava Gardner, is out there leading a jet fighter squadron.

"How can you send a kid up in a crate like that?" Wayne yells at Gregory Peck, who is the commanding general of the base.

"She's not a kid," says Peck. "She's a woman."

"OK, then," says Wayne, "how can you send up a woman in a crate like that?"

"She's not just a woman. She's a crack Air Force pilot."

"But why would you send her up in weather like this?"

"Because," replies Peck, "flying is a dirty job, and one of the two sexes has to do it."

"This is the last mission she had to fly before she could go home. If anything happens to her, I'll never forgive you," Wayne warns him.

At this moment, 1st Lt. Kirk Douglas comes into the control tower. He has a Band-Aid over his eye.

Peck says, "Douglas, this was your flight. Why did you let Gardner have it?"

"I didn't let her," Douglas protests. "I was climbing into my plane when she grabbed my parachute and said, 'I'm taking this flight, Kirk. My sister was shot down over Bosnia and I want to pay the Serbs back.' "

Douglas continues, "I told her, 'No way. You have malaria, and you've been grounded.' The next thing I knew Gardner swung at me and knocked me out. Then she took my plane."

Wayne says, "That sounds like Ava. I'm worried. I gave her a negligee from Victoria's Secret to wear around her neck for good luck, and I found it left behind in her room. General, do you think the weather will clear up?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen anything like this since Air Force women pilots could only fly Piper Cubs."

Douglas says, "If anyone can bring her bird back, it's Gardner. I saw Ava in the Officer's Club last night and she drank three bomber pilots under the table."

As the men are talking, we hear the drone of airplanes.

"They're coming," Douglas shouts.

Peck counts, "One, two, three, four, five -- one of our planes is missing."

Over the loudspeaker Ava's voice is clearly heard.

"This is Gender One. I seem to have a slight problem. I've lost one wing, my flaps won't go down, and I have only a quart of fuel left -- but I'm going to try to make the runway anyhow."

"Jump, Ava!" Wayne cries. "Do it for our children."

Singing "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," Ava lands the crippled plane. As the fire truck pulls up, she walks into John Wayne's arms. The film ends as Peck and Douglas stand at attention and salute her.

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