A B-17 carrying six World War II veterans took to the skies last week, just as it did more than 70 years ago.
The Flying Fortress “Nine-O-Nine” looped around the Port Angeles area in a ceremonial flight on June 21, as the Wings of Freedom Tour returned to William R. Fairchild International Airport for the first time since 2015.
“Nice ride,” said Don Alward of Port Angeles, who served on a Navy destroyer and saw the first U.S. flag go up at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. “Lots of memories.”
Alward was one of a handful of veterans who received a complimentary flight on the B-17 shortly after its initial arrival.
A B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and P-51 Mustang fighter joined the B-17 on the tarmac east of the main terminal. Members of the public can view the classic warbirds up close or book a flight through the nonprofit Collings Foundation at www.collingsfoundation.org.
The B-25 landed at Fairchild at 1:06 p.m. The “Tondelayo” bomber was followed by the P-51 “Betty Jane,” “Nine-O-Nine” and, eventually, the B-24 “Witchcraft.”
Each plane was greeted by an American Legion Riders flag line.
The theme for this year’s tour stop is “Salute to Veterans.”
Wings of Freedom area coordinator Alan Barnard arranged for 10 local veterans, including six World War II vets, to take a complimentary flight on the B-17.
The heavy bomber took off flying west at 2:05 p.m. and touched down on the main runway at 2:24 p.m. with hundreds of spectators looking on.
“Good pilot,” said Frank Meek of Sequim, a Navy veteran who served in World War II, after the VIP flight.
“Good co-pilot. Excellent help getting in and all. That was the best part of the trip, those guys giving everybody a hand.”
Meek remembered working on an airfield in Guam during the war when he saw a B-29 Superfortress flying over a hill. The B-29 was returning from a 15-hour flight to Japan and back.
“He didn’t make it to his field over the hill from me,” Meek said.
“He landed on our Navy field where this B-17 was parked. (The B-17) looked like a kiddie car alongside that big B-29.”
Sid Gerling of Port Angeles, who served in the Korean War as a Marine, described the complimentary flight as noisy, cramped and “fantastic.”
“I’ve been up in a lot of planes, but this was the first time I’ve ever been up in a bomber,” Gerling said.
“(It was) quite smooth. We were able to walk around without having to hang on to anything, as much as we can at our age.”
“This made my year,” Gerling added.
The Port of Port Angeles hosted a vintage car show, barbecue and live music at the airport on June 21, through the afternoon and into the evening.
Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.