World War II vets take flight on rare B-17 bomber, same they flew in World War II
Groton — For the two World War II veterans, this flying experience was vastly different from those they had 70 years ago.
Vincent "Bill" Purple, 92, of Petersham, Mass., and Louis A Fournier, 92, of Warwick, R.I., flew into Groton-New London Airport Monday on a restored B-17, one of four restored World War II-era aircraft on display at the airport until noon Thursday, and the same type of bomber they flew in combat during the war.
The aircraft, a B-17G Flying Fortress "Nine-O-Nine," a B-25 Mitchell, a B-24 Liberator and a P-51 Mustang, a fighter plane, took off from Worcester, Mass., and are owned and operated by the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization.
The Groton stop is part of the group's Wings of Freedom Tour, a traveling display of rare bomber and fighter aircraft that were the backbone of the American effort in the war.
Purple flew 35 missions, mostly over Germany, on B-17s while stationed with the 379th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force in Kimbolton, England, about an hour and half drive north from London.
He served as first pilot and also the squadron leader, a position that required him to fly 10 missions to qualify.
"'He's good enough to do it, I think' is what they said," Purple said Monday after getting off the flight.
When airmen returned to Kimbolton from a mission and were landing the aircraft, they had to make a smooth landing, otherwise they'd be fined 50 cents for each time the aircraft bounced. That money went toward the officer's club.
"I helped support the officer's club," Purple said.
He recalled the raid over Berlin on Feb. 3, 1945, which involved 1,000 bombers.
"All of our aircraft in that 1,000-plane raid had ten 500-pound bombs. Every 30 seconds, we'd drop ten 500-pound bombs," he said. We might've lost 50 or 60 aircraft, but that's not bad. On the other hand, that's 500 people that didn't come home."
From 1942 to 1945, the Eighth Air Force lost 30,000 people, Purple said.
Fournier, the other World War II veteran, was part of the youngest bomber crew in Europe, according to his son Stephen. He was with the 34th Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force.
When asked if the aircraft was the same as he remembered it, Fournier replied "oh yeah." As for whether it brought back memories, "No, not from where I was sitting," he joked.
That's compared to the seat he had while a navigator on B17s.
He recalled when a German fighter plane flew through his formation.
"He must've been dead. The plane just flew right straight through, and I tried to get a shot at him and my nose gunner's head was in the way. I couldn't get a read on him," he said.
Stephen, and Fournier's other son, William, who joined him on the flight Monday, said their father told them he joined the Air Force because he didn't like to walk.
"It really enlightens you what these men went through," William Fournier said.
Walk-through tours are available 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday. Flight experiences are available in the afternoons with a reservation.
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.