WWII era planes at Mass. airport elicit memories, reverence, good times
By CRAIG S. SEMON | Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. | Published: September 21, 2019
WORCESTER, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Marveling at the mammoth World War II warbirds from the tarmac at the Worcester Regional Airport, Herbert C. Keilson's eyes focus on the fuselage of a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.
"When I see these planes it makes me think about how great our country is," Mr. Keilson said. "To build that airplane, it just, to me, proves if labor, business, politicians, people and the military get together, we can win anything. And, we won the war."
Mr. Keilson, 96, of Worcester, is a World War II Army Air Force veteran who used to be a flight engineer, with the rank of technical sergeant, on a B-24 bomber.
He was first assigned to "Angel," a B-24, while it was still on the assembly line at the Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
By the time the war was over, Mr. Keilson logged 1,700 flying hours.
"I wound up in Liberal, Kansas," Mr. Keilson said. "We were supposed to be training crews and because we lost so many bombers and crews in the initial stages of bombing Germany that they changed us to just training crews. So the next year and almost a half, that's what we did."
One time, Mr. Keilson was on top of a wing of a B-24, refueling it, when a Navy plane came barreling toward him on the runway, he said.
"The Navy plane landed and had some kind of trouble," Mr. Keilson said. "So I had to jump out of the way because the propellers were still turning. It took off the whole front of the plane."
During the war, Mr. Keilson was a supply runner, flying "The Hump," a hazardous supply route over and around extremely high mountains from India to China.
"I didn't have an enemy shooting at me but the weather was our enemy because you're flying over the worst mountains in the world," Mr. Keilson said. "Never a flight that I can remember that we didn't have ice and snow and sleet. You name it."
The B-24 is part of "Wings of Freedom Tour" continuing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Worcester Regional Airport. Viewing and tours are $15, $5 for children under 12.
Bob Shepard, 93, of Worcester, also locked eyes with the B-24.
A World War II Army Air Force veteran who went through gunnery school in Las Vegas to be a gunner on the B-24, Mr. Shepard had no missions on the B-24 (because the War ended by the time he was locked and loaded) but was part of the occupational forces in Japan.
As for firing a .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun, Mr. Shepard said it has "a lot of noise and vibration."
While seeing the B-24 stirs up memories, Mr. Shepard doesn't miss flying in the military aircraft.
"It wasn't a comfortable ride," he said. "It was colder than hell up there."
Hunter Chaney, director of marketing for The Collings Foundation of Stow, calls the B-24, "the icon of industrial might in World War II." He said this particular World War II bomber is the only one of its type still flying in the world.
In addition to the B-24 bomber, visitors are invited to view a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber, a North American B-25 Mitchell, a P-51 Mustang fighter, the Douglas A-1E Skyraider, the "very iconic" twin-tailed Lockheed P-38 Lightning and P-40 Tomahawk.
For those wanting to feel an indirect kinship with beloved Academy Award winning actor Jimmy Stewart and maverick filmmaker Robert Altman (of "M*A*S*H" fame), both of whom flew B-24s during World War II, civilians can actually take a flight on a B-24, as well as a A-1E, P-40, P-51 B-17 and, if you want to pretend to be a bombardier like Capt. John Yossarian in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, a B-25. Thirty-minute flight experiences and 30-minute or 60 minute flight training are also available for various type of aircraft. For more information call (800) 568-8924 or visit www.collingsfoundation.org
Although he is a Korean War Navy veteran, Ed Carrigg, 87, of Westport, took a short trek into the wild blue yonder inside the belly of a B-24 bomber with two of his granddaughters, Civil Air Patrol Second Lt. Maeve Carrigg, 14, and Civil Air Patrol Chief Master Sgt. Ita Carrigg, 13.
Maeve and Ita agreed that having the experience of flying in a war plane made it much more enjoyable being with their granddad.
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People view a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress at the Worcester Airport during the Wings of Freedom Tour Friday, September 20, 2019.
RICK CINCLAIR/TELEGRAM & GAZETTE/TNS
Bob Shepard of Worcester went through training to be a right waist gunner, the gun seen above him, on the B-24 Liberator during WWII. The war ended before he flew combat missions. Shepard saw the B-24 and other vintage warplanes at the Worcester Airport during the Wings of Freedom Tour Friday, September 20, 2019.
RICK CINCLAIR/TELEGRAM & GAZETTE/TNS