from Wally's Words by Wally Spiers
Grand lady of WWII
August 8, 1991

They came to St. Louis Regional Airport in Bethalto in a steady stream to see one of the grand old ladies of World War II.

Some had served on a plane similar to the B-17G Flying Fortress on display. Others had relatives who had flown in one, and some just wanted to see the aircraft.

What they saw was a flying machine that in its time was remarkable in its ability to deal out death and destruction.

Former crew members recalled good times and bad times, laughter and hearbreak. Airplane and aveters seemed a good match in some ways. Both had silver exteriors and both have survived remarkably well.

Charles Grover of Rosewood Heights served as a bombardier in a B-17G with the 15th Air Force based in Italy.

His war ended when his plane was hit with flak on his 14th mission. THe plane was hit over Czechoslovakia but managed to limp into Switzerland, wherer the crew was interned for four months. Grover said he escaped in January 1945.

"I celebrated my 21st birthday the same moth I was shot down," he said. "This brings back a few memories."

Grover said he sat up front in the plexiglass nose of the plane, dropped the bombs and manned the remote control guns in a turret beneath his perch.

He hada a front row seat on the action separated by a thin sheet of plexiglass from the deadly explosive flak shoooting through the air.

John Madson of Godfrey also was a bombardier but he was based in England; his plane was knocked down over Frace on the 35th mission.

He was amazed at the restored detail in the aircraft=down to the instruments in the bombardier's compartment and radio equipment.

"I don't know where they found some of this stuff," he said.

Madson was disappointed he was not able to sit in the bombardier's seat one last time;the area is roped off from the public.

"The thing they can't reproduce about a B-17-and I remember most=is how cold they were," he said. "We used 27,500 feet mostly as a standard bombing elevation, and in northern Europe in the winter that was the equivalent of 60 degrees below zero."

The airplane is named Sentimental Journey and is the pride and joy of Confederate Air Force Arizona Wing. ITs name is painted on the side, complete with the famous World War II full length posterillustration of Betty Grable looking saucily over her shoulder.

The plane was donated to the air enthusiasts' group in 1978 after 18 year of fighting forest fires.

The plane is polished, repainted and has had all its gun turrets put in working order. It has been restored as closely as possbile to World War II working condition.

Sentimental Journey traveled 19,000 miles last year to 56 cities for 60,000 visitors. It will be on display through this evening at the airport as long as there is daylight.

"We'll be here as long as anyone wants to look," one worker said.

During World War II, 12,731 B-17Gs were built. Each cost about $220.000. AT toatl of 4,750 B-17s were lost in combat, and with it 46,000 were killed.

Madson said each time someone you knew was lost, it was a blow.

"You got pretty close to those people," he said. "The thing that amazed my wife-me too-when I look back is how young we were. There was one guy we called Pappy because, my gosh, he was 27 years old."

"But we aged pretty fast," he added, somberly.

Site hosted by Build your free website today!