B-17 Tour Sponsored by WOA Squadron 4
In early September, Squadron 4 in Aurora, Illinois, hosted EAA’s B-17 Aluminum Overcast. The squadron has developed quite a following among the veterans, a number of whom were in attendance. On his 20th birthday, Bill Thorn flew his 19th mission as top turret gunner on Fertile Myrtle in August of 1943. It was the disastrous “Double Strike” raid on Regensburg and Schweinfurt - 600 men lost and 60 planes down for the U.S. 8th Army Air Forces.
Rob Lowe, 8th Air Forces ball turret gunner, had the best views. Twenty-six missions completed. On his 21st mission, June 6, 1944, it was D-Day. His job was money! He had to drop lots of it to the resistance fighters, along with pamphlets.
I met Frank and Marcie Stout at a local medical clinic. Frank was wearing a White Sox cap. After I told Frank I was a Sox fan, he beamed until I pulled out my keychain that said, “Red Sox” (my Boston roots). In the ensuing conversation, I learned that 92-year-old Frank was a crewman on an 8th Air Forces B-24. He participated in 372 combat missions. On the 12th mission, his plane was shot up so badly it broke in two. Frank had to rush his buddy out. For the next six months, Frank was a guest of Herr Adolf at Stalags Luft I and IV.
Ted Micci, 90, was a B-17 radio operator.
Dorothy Worst, 95, an Army nurse in North Africa, had a spirited conversation with 90-year-old Frank McCarter (Flying Tigers) and 90-year-old Clancy Hess.
Clancy flew recon in P-38s and just about everything else. He also transported generals. After the war, he bought a P-38 for $1,200! That plane, with Marge painted on it, is now featured in the EAA AirVenture Museum. Marge was the wife of America’s leading ace, Richard Bong (40 kills).
The squadron provided a great lunch for the veterans, other guests, and Squadron 4 volunteers.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (September 2 to 4), more than 50 volunteers handled flightline duties, merchandise sales, photography, and “meet and greet.” Goodwill ambassadors Frank McCarter and Charlie Mueller talked to many, many people.
Squadron 4 member and Warbirds of America National Director Bill Miller once again brought his “Old Tyme Snackery” and old popcorn-style vehicle from which he fed the hungry volunteers and visitors. Saturday night, Squadron 4 treated volunteers and B-17 crew members to dinner at a local restaurant.
Squadron 4 C.O. Tom Buck arrived in his Avenger TBM. WOA National President and Squadron 4 member Rick Siegfried came in his T-6 Texan. His dad, “Old Bob,” flew in with his PT-17. John O’Connor displayed his beautiful F8F Bearcat, while Keith Birsa arrived Saturday in his PT-17 and Sunday in his Aeronca L-3.
Of course, the star attraction was Aluminum Overcast. Many people came just to see her land and take off. Many rides were sold and a long line waited to tour the B-17.
Local Ford dealer and WOA member Rick Baker is owner of Rod Baker Ford in nearby Plainfield. His father flew Corsairs against the Japanese. Rick bought a 10-passenger ride in the B-17, and for the third straight year, provided a courtesy car for the B-17 crew. Ford Motor Company is a big supporter of EAA. Support your local Ford dealer and get big discounts on your new Ford vehicle as an EAA member.
On Sunday afternoon, Charlie Mueller, 8th Air Forces B-17 navigator, was talking to me about his wartime experiences. I pulled up a chair for Charlie, and before you knew it, 30 to 40 people were listening in awe. Charlie normally flew in Tangerine. It wasn’t until many years later that he found out he had been shot down by Mon Tete Rouge - translation, “my red head”! Charlie talked about his stay in a German hospital as a prisoner of war, when a Royal Air Force crew member was brought in. The Brit had jumped - not bailed out - of his burning plane and lived to tell about it. True story! His chute was on the floor and burning, thus his action.
Charlie also talked about his 14 months in Stalag Luft III, made famous by Steve McQueen in the movie The Great Escape, and how they played mind games with the German guards. Later, a young lady profusely thanked Charlie and shook his hand. A man with three young sons came back and said, “I told my boys you have met history - you will never get this from a book.” Next year, we hope we can schedule a regular timeslot for Charlie and Captain Frank McCarter.
As a result of Aluminum Overcast coming to Joliet Port District (Lewis University Airport) in Romeoville, Illinois, hundreds of people learned about WWII aviation. EAA, WOA, Squadron 4, and the many guests and visitors enjoyed a fantastic Labor Day weekend.
Warbirds Squadron News
Jivin’ in Joliet
By Arthur F. Sereque Jr., WOA 548852, for Briefing
Squadron 4 C.O. Tom Buck led a bevy of rare birds to his annual fly-in and barbecue at Joliet Park District Airport, Illinois, on a beautiful Sunday, August 21. His Grumman Avenger TBM, in the colors of George H.W. Bush, paved the way. Mike Gillian (pronounced Gillen), a resident of fly-in community Brookeridge in Downers Grove, Illinois, arrived in his F4F Wildcat, based in Aurora, Illinois (ARR). John O’Connor, also a Brookeridge resident, flew in from ARR with his F8F Bearcat. From fly-in community Aero Acres in Dwight, Illinois, Chuck and Brad Brady arrived in the only flying Fairchild UC-61, made even rarer still as it is the only one with a 165 Warner spinning the prop.
Coming in directly from Brookeridge were Squadron 4 member and Warbirds of America National President Rick Siegfried and his dad, “Old Bob” Siegfried, in their T-6 Texan and PT-17, respectively. Among the two dozen planes that arrived were Keith Birsa’s PT-17 and L-3 Grasshopper, Bob “Boris” Fitzpatrick in his Yak-52, an L-19 Bird Dog, and two members of Lima Lima—part of the T-34 Mentor aerobatic team that had just finished a routine at the Chicago Air & Water Show. The estimated two million spectators at the Chicago show didn’t realize what they missed in Joliet!
Among the guests were Captain “Chuck” Downey, the youngest Navy pilot in World War II; Captain Frank McCarter, 60 missions in P-40s and P-51s with the Flying Tigers; and Staff Sergeant Lou Seno, 14th Air Forces B-24 crew chief who had to work in 110°F heat or in driving monsoons. Also present was Squadron 4 member and WOA National Director Ed Finnegan. C.O. Buck welcomed members, friends, and guests to the fly-in, after which 140 gourmet box lunches disappeared.
Rick Siegfried gave a WOA update, followed by a P-51 ride raffle; for several years, Squadron 4 member Vlado Lenoch has generously donated a ride in his P-51. The money raised is used to offset the cost of our annual banquet. Although the winner had flown in P-51s before, they were not pleasure flights - strictly business flights - shooting at the Japanese. It was Captain McCarter who won! At 90 years young, he indicated that someone who has never been in a P-51 should take the ride. What a great gesture!
This year a second ride was offered by Keith Birsa in his Stearman - within an hour of a call to his home in Diamond, Illinois. Dave Finger was enjoying his ride!
Many say, “It’s not the planes. It’s the people.” This year, however, it was both. Great planes, great camaraderie. Just an absolutely great day!