It is 3 p.m. in Burbank, March of 2011. A middle-aged man from Glendale is gathered with a group of strangers on a tarmac, waiting for their pre-flight briefing. It is something he has never done, but something he’s envisioned from stories his father has told him. The news is uplifting.
Together with eight strangers and his girlfriend, the man will be flying over Glendale in a B-17. During the flight, there will no threat of enemy fire. The man will be free to roam around throughout the plane and is encouraged to visit the bombardier’s position and peer through the bomb sight just as many brave men did nearly 70 years ago.
And so it was that on Sunday afternoon, I found myself retracing my father’s footsteps as a B-17 tail gunner courtesy of The Liberty Foundation, which last weekend came to town offering flights in one of only eight B-17s still in operation.
There’s an old saying, “You can't really know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.” I thought flying in the same plane my father flew in during World War II would give me the opportunity to feel, if only for a fleeting moment, what he might have felt flying over Germany, England and France. Perhaps it would give me a new perspective as to why so much of his life’s fabric was draped around this part of his history.
As we took off, I heard my dad’s voice.
“During takeoff, the crew would lay down where the radio operator was,” he told me so many times. “Then, while the other guys would sleep, I’d go up to the front of the plane where the bombardier sat and look out.”