Honor Veterans

Why We Tour...

By Steve Schapiro

If you want to know why the Commemorative Air Force keeps the B-29, B-24 and its other planes flying, all you had to do was be on the ramp today at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The first flight of the day saw two B-29 veterans fly—Bill Clary was a left blister gunner in World War II and Pete Duncan was a right blister gunner in Korea. Bill survived a midair collision at 20,000 feet in a B-29 on a training mission over South Dakota. He went on to fly 29 missions in the South Pacific. Pete flew on the last B-29 mission in Korea. You can read more about their service on the feature page in the coming days.


“Now I’m excited,” WWII Veteran Bill Clary said before his flight in FIFI after receiving a kiss from WWII re-enactor Stacy Brogden. Bill served as a left side blister gunner on a B-29.

 

Pete’s wife Maeve, son Alan and his wife Ann, drove more than three hours so Pete could fly. “It’s all he talked about,” Maeve said. All three were emotional watching FIFI taxi out. “I’m filled with pride and grateful for the freedom they provided,” Ann said of the men who flew in these bombers.


Pete Duncan easily climbs the ladder to board FIFI, just like he had during the Korean War when he served as a right side blister gunner.

 

Over at the B-24, Jack Lemonds celebrated his 88th birthday by showing his granddaughter Amanda the type of aircraft he nearly died in over Brunswick, Germany. His plane was hit multiple times by flak. The incendiary bombs exploded and the plane split in two just behind the wings. Jack dove out with parachute in hand and was able to strap it on as he fell. He would spend the rest of the war as a POW in a German camp.


Jack Lemonds holds the .50 caliber machine in Diamond Lil like he did almost 70 years ago on a mission in which his plane was shot down.

 

Ralph Stevenson, a ball turret gunner, also was shot down in a B-24. He survived two missions over Ploesti, only to be shot down on his 35th mission, bailing out at 19,000 feet.


Ralph Stevenson, a ball turret gunner, survived two missions over Ploesti, only to be shot down on his 35th mission.

 

Scott Wellbrook came with photos of his dad’s plane turned knife-edge as the left wing, on fire, breaks off between the engines. Lt. Richard L. Wellbrook was at the controls that day, and somehow managed to survive.


Lt. Richard L. Wellbrook was the pilot of this B-24 and survived being shot down. His son Scott came to see Diamond Lil and show us these photos.

 

Edward D. Smith, 95 years old, came out to see the B-24 as well. He spent hundreds of hours as a navigator on photo mapping missions during World War II. He was based in India and flew a few missions over the hump—the Himalayas—into China.


95-year-old Edward D. Smith spent hundred of hours as a navigator on a B-24 doing photo recon work based in India as part of the 24th Combat Mapping Squadron.

 

And Albert Busedu, a tail gunner toward the end of the war, told stories about his missions in the South Pacific, and his friend brought a large model of Albert’s plane, the Queen of the Strip.


Albert Busedu, a B-24 tail gunner stationed in Guam and Okinawa, sits with a model of his airplane, The Queen of the Strip, made by his friend Spencer R. Rackley, IV.

 

While the vets were sharing their stories, a number of younger people came out to learn about the history of these aircraft, including Cub Scout Pack 313 from Gastonia, NC.

Clark Hatcher, a 24-year-old pilot who is passionate about Warbirds, flew to Charlotte in a 1964 Piper Comanche with his friends, Sam Laskey, 22, and Cecil Edgerton. All three came for an opportunity to fly in Diamond Lil. “It’s hard to soak it all in,” Sam said.

Cecil Edgerton flew his Piper Comanche in with Sam Laskey, 22, and Clark Hatcher, 24, (L to R) for the opportunity to fly in Diamond Lil.

 

Melanie Skinner brought her niece Sasha Moroe, 8, who said it was “awesome” seeing the planes and was excited to meet “two girl pilots”—Debbie King and Tracy Toth, who fly the B-24. “It’s hard not to cry, it’s real emotional. I’m happy these guys are keeping them flying,” Melanie said. “Sasha is a child of the millennium. World War II is ancient history. To be able to touch them, to feel them, to hear them, that’s what history is all about.”

“Now I’m excited,” WWII Veteran Bill Clary said before his flight in FIFI after receiving a kiss from WWII re-enactor Stacy Brogden. Bill served as a left side blister gunner on a B-29.

Pete Duncan easily climbs the ladder to board FIFI, just like he had during the Korean War when he served as a right side blister gunner.

Ralph Stevenson, a ball turret gunner, survived two missions over Ploesti, only to be shot down on his 35th mission.

Lt. Richard L. Wellbrook was the pilot of this B-24 and survived being shot down. His son Scott came to see Diamond Lil and show us these photos.

95-year-old Edward D. Smith spent hundred of hours as a navigator on a B-24 doing photo recon work based in India as part of the 24th Combat Mapping Squadron.

Cecil Edgerton flew his Piper Comanche in with Sam Laskey, 22, and Clark Hatcher, 24, (L to R) for the opportunity to fly in Diamond Lil.

ABOUT US
The CAF AirPower History Tour is a production of the B-29/B-24 Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force

© 2019 by the Commemorative Air Force All Rights Reserved.

VISIT US
 
Visit FIFI  & Diamond Lil when they are not on tour: 

Vintage Flying Museum

505 NW 38th Street 

Hangar 33 South

Fort Worth, TX 76106


 

SOCIAL MEDIA