Ed. Note – Due to technical difficulties, which means it was too hard to edit comments, a number of interesting comments on various subjects, some dating back a month or more, were never published. They have been now, under the appropriate blog. We originally set this system up to avoid profane, libelous or utterly silly comments that we have seen on other popular blogs. In fact, most of the comments here have been civil and intelligent, but we will still watch to make sure things don’t get too rowdy. Hopefully, with some system tweaking, we will be able to publish comments in a timely fashion.
There were more than 16,000 of them built. Only one still flies. Last weekend it flew into Fort Lauderdale’s Executive Airport. We write of the famous Consolidated B-24 Liberator Bomber that along with the even more famous Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were America’s heavy bombers in World War II. This was courtesy of the Collings Foundation, which preserves a handful of classic warbirds and tours the country on its “Wings of Freedom” program.
There was also supposed to be a B-17 there, but when we arrived early Sunday morning there was no B-17. It had engine problems and was delayed arriving. I was there with the grandkids who like to build models and are currently working on a B-17. Seemed like a nice idea to show them what a real one looked like and remind them to be sure to paint the underside gray, as the real plane was. I tell them I flew a B-17. What I do not tell them is that I was just a media guest on a flight a few years ago from Stuart to Vero Beach. But I was in it. That’s flying, right?
Anyway, we walked around and inside the big bomber – and it’s big, even by today’s standards. The private planes taking off from Executive that morning seemed miniature in contrast. Compared to the B-17, the B-24 had a wide fuselage and early in the war it was used mostly as a transport, of both men and supplies. In early 1942 that was more important than bombing. But those planes, in the bomber mode, were so filled with equipment that the compartments for the crew seem small and cramped. You wonder how anybody, burdened with heavy clothing and a parachute, managed to get out from small hatches. A lot did. More than 33,000 men jumped or crash-landed in crippled planes over Europe alone. Not everybody made it. A staggering 30,000 men also died and 13,000 were wounded. Not all of them flew the big bombers, but many did.
We knew some of those brave men (all gone now) who as very young guys pioneered a new form of warfare – strategic bombing. Former associate publisher of Gold Coast, John Broderick (he’s still with us), had a late brother-in-law, Bob Barnes, who was co-pilot of a B-24 with the 15th Air Force. His pilot was wounded on a mission, and Bob brought the damaged big bird home. For that he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. A former salesman, Ambrose Hussey, was a tail gunner on a B-17 and bailed out over Germany. John Collins, associate publisher from 1970 to 1985, married a woman whose first husband died in a B-17 over Europe.
As usual, some of the men who flew those planes when it counted came around to see their old metal friends. The youngest among them are in their mid-80s. They are fewer every year. Like Civil War canon, their weapons will outlive The Greatest Generation.