WWII VETERANS SHARE MEMORIES OF THE ICONIC B-17 FLYING FORTRESS

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The iconic B-17 dropped more than 640,000 tons of bombs on European targets and downed more enemy aircraft per thousand raids than any other U.S. aircraft, becoming the champion of the American aerial campaign during WWII

The gorgeous photos in this post show one of the few remaining airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress bombers left in the world, the beautiful, fully-restored “Aluminum Overcast.”

As reported by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz, 62nd Airlift Wing, in the article Glimpse history with the “Greatest Generation,” members of the local media were given a larger-than-life history lesson when they flew aboard the fully restored B-17, on May 10 in Tumwater, Washington, and spoke with WWII veterans who either worked aboard, or piloted the aircraft during its heyday.

Despite the harrowing circumstances, many of these veterans welcome the idea of embarking upon the Flying Fortress once again, as if being reunited with an old friend.

“In combat it was always a blurred line between being excited and being afraid,” said 94-year-old Dick Nelms, 447th Bombing Squadron B-17 pilot. “It’s just exciting to see this aircraft today, knowing I’m going to fly in it again.”

Noteworthy the iconic B-17 dropped more than 640,000 tons of bombs on European targets and downed more enemy aircraft per thousand raids than any other U.S. aircraft, becoming the champion of the American aerial campaign during WWII.

Nevertheless, the cost of victory was high: in fact of the 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, 4,735 were lost in combat.

“I flew to Berlin [Germany] three times,” Nelms said. “I watched B-17s being shot down, many of them carrying my friends. We had to learn to control fear, and I did. That’s why I’m able to sit here and talk to you 74 years later.”

While millions of men like Nelms were serving a grateful nation in Europe, women on the home front were fighting the good fight as well.

Fred Parker, a veteran who worked on B-17s during WWII, smiles aboard Aluminum Overcast, a B-17 built in 1945, prior to taking off, May 10, 2017 at the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater, Wash.

“I bucked rivets in ’44 while I was in college,” said Betty Lausch, who laid eyes on a fully-operational B-17 for the first time May 10. “My husband worked on B-17s during the war, but I haven’t seen a completed one until now. It’s better than anything I could have imagined and I’m so grateful for the chance to fly in it.”

According to Amstutz, for many, the B-17 is not just an aircraft, but a symbol of the generation who carried the U.S. through one of its most turbulent eras with unwavering resolve.

“I’m glad it was these guys who were there to answer the call,” said Tom Ewing, present-day B-17 pilot. “The more you learn about what they were asked to do and what they did, the more you’ll understand why they are called the ‘Greatest Generation’. These are true heroes and it is a very lucky thing that you see these men standing here today.”

As the Flying Fortress burst through the cloud bank and the Puget Sound came into full view through the glass bubble traditionally occupied by the bombardier, passengers couldn’t help but ask WWII veteran and B-17 crew member, Fred Parker how one might ever get used to a view like that.

Parker didn’t miss a beat.

“You never get used to the view,” he said. “You stay scared.”

Photo credit: R. Nial Bradshaw, Todd Cromar and Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz / U.S. Air Force