Per my last post, I wrote about recently spending time in the midst of several World War II veterans, and photographing three of the vintage but still flying planes in which they fought and risked their lives for the defense of our country. Heroes all. Three WWII vintage war planes flew into the Blue Ridge Airport near our home last week, and I visited on two days to make photos and to learn more about this period of our history.
While I was looking into the plexiglass windshield on the nose of a B-24 Liberator bomber, a man standing behind me asked if I knew what it was I was seeing inside. I said I thought it was the once very highly classified Norden Bombsight, and he told me I was correct, but would I like to learn more. For the next few minutes he told me he had been the pilot on a B-24 like this one, flying in the Pacific Theater of the war, and later spent time in the Army of Occupation in Japan after the fighting was over. He told me he was later that day going to fly the B-24 we were standing next to, during its trip from the Blue Ridge Airport to South Carolina for the next planned exhibition location. He also told me he had built his own helicopter from scratch recently, and showed me some photos of his work which he carried in his wallet. He said he had wanted to fly from when he was a young boy, and had never lost that passion. I asked him what it was going to be like when he sat in the pilot’s seat again, and he replied that it would be as if he had never left it. Such was the impact the war had on him.
The B-24 on display has the names painted on its side of hundreds of veterans who had flown in or were related in some way to the plane. Also, the same “fighting logo drawing” as used during the war had been repainted in bright colors on the side of the plane’s nose. In sum, the bomber looked powerful not only in its size and the number of machine guns all around, but what it carried inside.
The plane’s significance really hit me when I crawled under to look inside the bombay doors, where I saw three (dummy) 500-pound bombs which signified the main purpose of the bomber; one with the words, “To Hitler from the Mighty 8th Air Force” painted on its side. I felt as if I had been transplanted back in time.
I thanked the veteran I had met, and told him I very much appreciated his service to our country. With that, he was met by others like me who wanted to talk with him. In closing, I note that the 8th Air Force suffered half of the Army Air Force casualties during the Second World War in all theaters of operation, with 26,000 airman alone killed in the battle for Europe. To them, this photo series is dedicated.