Rare flyover in DC marks WWII day of triumph
By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 8, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a day of triumph 70 years ago. It felt that way again Friday as 56 World War II-era aircraft buzzed the nation’s capital.
More than 400 WWII veterans attending a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe at the National World War II Memorial watched as one formation after another — 15 in all — passed overhead. Tens of thousands of spectators along the National Mall were treated to the sights as well, and people watched from office building windows, balconies and rooftops.
Flying south along the Potomac River, the aircraft made a left turn at the west end of the Mall where the Lincoln Memorial stands. Flying at an altitude of 1,000 feet — double the height of the Washington Monument — the aircrafts’ flight path took them down Independence Avenue before turning right just past the U.S. Capitol to head out of the city to the Culpepper and Manassas airports in Virginia.
Bob Vaucher, 96, said the show was an educational opportunity.
“There is a great deterioration in the perception in many younger people, of what World War II was about,” said Vaucher, who flew more than 100 missions as an Army Air Forces bomber pilot during the war. “It was so important to the freedom of this country and the world, that I think anything you can do to stimulate the right perception is a good thing. … The flyover will certainly make an impact. They’ll take the memory of it back home and talk about it and tell others about it.”
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who had been slated to speak before the flyover, was unable to attend. Her sister, Kathy Silva, read her prepared statement lauding the courage, ingenuity, faith and industry of Americans.
Officials at Friday’s event promised that the U.S. efforts to defeat Hitler’s Third Reich would not be forgotten.
The idea for the rare vintage flyover came about to emphasize how the country can work together for the common good, said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation and Manufacturers Association.
“In this day and age, our country is pretty fractured,” said Bunce, who played a major role in organizing and promoting the flyover. “The intent is to remind people that 70 years ago, the entire nation — people on the home front as well as the men fighting in combat — gathered all together to support the war effort.”
Events such as Friday’s flyover can be a catalyst to bring unity, Bunce said. “When everyone is there for this pure purpose of honoring this greatest generation, it should unify our country.”
Flyovers were common in Washington after WWII, “but after 9/11, that air space became very secure,” he said.
It took quite a bit of negotiating with federal agencies to get permission to fly, Bunce said.
“Some people said, you’ll never make it happen, but the FAA, the Secret Service, the Department of Defense, the Transportation Security Administration, the National Park Service police, the Capitol police, everybody came together and said, ‘We’re doing this to support the veterans, to honor them.’ That’s what it was all about.”
Many of the aircraft that flew in Friday’s event will be on display from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Two F4U Corsairs fly over the National World War II Memorial on Friday, May 8, 2015, in Washington, D.C., as part of a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory-in-Europe Day. The flyover, which included 56 WWII aircraft, capped off the event, which drew tens of thousands of spectators along the National Mall.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES