EAA B-17 Ride Spurs Bomber Vets to Share Stories With Squadron 4
By George Barbeauld
(L-R) George Barbeauld, Tom Buck’s Crew Chief; Bill Haeflinger, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) B-17 Copilot; Col. John Firlit, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) B-17 Pilot; and Tom Buck, C.O. EAA Warbirds of America Squadron 4.
A few years ago, my manager told me his neighbor was a B-17 pilot. At that time, the Aluminum Overcast tour visit to Squadron 4 was a few months away. We tried to encourage him to attend, but he declined. The B-17 tour the following year got the same results from him.
This year, as the date of the B-17 tour approached, I asked my manager if his neighbor would be interested in attending. This time he accepted! When the day arrived, we finally met Col. John Firlit of the U.S. Air Force. Arrangements were made to give John a flight in the B-17. He was seated behind the copilot and was thrilled to be in the cockpit again. Even after landing, he stayed up there talking to those EAA pilots. He was grinning ear to ear when he finally got out of the B-17. John sat with us and told us about some of his missions. He had 31 missions and 1,100 hours in the B-17. He left Lewis Airport for home that day one very happy veteran.
I visited him a few weeks later, and in the course of the day, invited him to come to the Squadron 4 meeting at Clow Airport in Bolingbrook, Illinois. I asked him if he would be interested in giving a short presentation of his B-17 experiences. He agreed and asked me if it would be okay to include his copilot. I was surprised to hear the copilot lived in the area and they’ve been friends all that time since the war. I said he’d be more than welcome.
On the morning of Saturday, October 17, John Firlit arrived at Joliet Airport in his dress blue uniform. Soon his copilot, Bill Haeflinger, arrived, also dressed in blue. What a good looking pair they made. And then the fun began.
These two B-17 veterans were very entertaining. At the meeting, Bill talked about briefings, his 29 missions, and formation flying, poking fun at his pilot as he went along. John got his turn to tell some of his memories and pick on his copilot, too. At times it was hilarious. They entertained us with war stories and their humor. We were privileged to enjoy the first time these two - pilot and copilot - had ever given a presentation together. Everyone at the meeting agreed it was fantastic. We can hope that they will want to come back and visit Squadron 4 again.