WWII VET RE-LIVES HISTORY ON "WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR"
By C. MacDonald
LONG BEACH AIRPORT--Above is a photo of Wilbur Richardson standing in front of a B-17 Flying Fortress built at Douglas Aircraft in
Long Beach. When World War II started, he was working for Douglas Aircraft. In 1944, he found himself as an Army Air Force gunner, firing two machine guns from the bubble ball
turret beneath a B-17. Inside these cramped quarters, Wilbur flew on 30
missions in 79 days over Germany and other enemy territory. It was a
dangerous job and on one day he lost half the men in his barracks.
"We called our B-17 'Kismet,"
which is Persian for 'Fate,'" said the 87-year-old, who's helping preserve history for future generations. "We knew, everytime we took off, that we might not be coming back."
"On one mission, our plane was hit 400 times by enemy fire. Sometimes bullets would ricochet inside the aircraft." During another flight over Munich, his plane was hit just twice, but one of the bullets smashed into Wilbur's hip and he ended up in the hospital. He still keeps in contact with the six living members of his 10-man B-17 crew.
Wilbur even returned to Rougham Field, north of London, 16 times, where his 8th Army Air Force missions over Europe originated. For two Summers, he helped restore the Control Tower that often assisted his planes and others take off and land safely.
After living in Long Beach for 69 years, Wilbur moved to Chino Hills to be closer to the "Planes of Fame Air Museum" at Chino Airport, where he has volunteered for 27 years.
He says there are only a few B-17s still flying. Even rarer are B-24 Liberators. You can visit and fly in both, along with a P-51 Mustang (Dwight Eisenhower rode in the back of another modified one over the beaches of Normandy to direct the D-Day invasion) on the wonderful "Wings of Freedom Tour." It travels throughout the United States. To see where you can catch all the action, go to www.collingsfoundation.org or call 800-568-8924.
The tour is made possible by The Collings Foundation, a non-profit, 501-C3 Education Foundation that supports living history, enabling Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. Since 1989, the "Wings of Freedom Tour" also has counted on donations, memberships and numerous volunteers, including pilots and World War II veterans, to make it a memorable success.
One of the volunteers is Christy Wolff, who serves as a flight engineer aboard a B-24. "The airplanes perform magic," said the private pilot.
"We took a WWII veteran on a flight and when he first got on the plane, he wept. It had been 65 years since he flew missions on a similar aircraft. His family later came back and said this was the first time he started telling them amazing stories about his experiences in WWII. It may never have happened had it not been for that flight. That's what makes our days!"