WWII veterans take a deserved flight into the past

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2001

For the second consecutive year Independence Day on the Kenai Peninsula was celebrated with a slice of living history. The return of the "Dragon and His Tail," the only B-24 Liberator still flying, and a B-17 Bomber, restored by the Collings Foundation, provided an opportunity for Alaskans to honor the generation that fought the greatest war of all time while some of them are still with us.

"Our original goal when we started in 1979 was to share history with people so they can touch, smell, feel, and live history, that's still our goal," said Bob Collings founder of the Collings Foundation. It was Bobs wife Caroline who had the original idea for the Foundation, "I was home with a young child in 1978 and Bob was running a high tech company and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. We had the resources to get it started, but we never ever thought that 20 years later that we would be able to have such an impact on our country," said Caroline who now estimates the collection of vintage aircraft at between 15 and 20. At least a dozen volunteer's travel with the air show that visits some 35 states and makes over 125 appearances each year.

It was during a stop in Oregon that a son brought his father who had been a B-17 Captain in WWII to see the planes along with his own children. His father had suffered a stroke 8 years prior to the visit and as a result had lost the use of his voice and although he regained most of his other health his speech remained garbled so his grandchildren had never heard him speak.


Historic WWII Bombers on the runway at Kodiak Island waiting to return Vets home to Kenai

According to Bob Collins, when the grandfather got in the cockpit of the B-17 he very clearly started to describe how on a mission his plane had been hit by enemy fire and he had helped the crew bail out. The son was awestruck because he hadn't heard his father speak clearly in 8 years, and his grandchildren had never heard their grandfather speak, yet while in the airplane he told the story of the event very clearly. Yet, when he left the aircraft and his feet hit the tarmac, his speech returned to being garbled.

A year later when the planes returned to Oregon, the son made a donation so that his father could take ride in the B-17. "We let the father sit in the pilots seat and fly the airplane and while flying the plane once again his speech became clear and audible over the intercom. As long as he was sitting in that seat, he could speak clearly." said Collings who becomes very emotional recalling the story.

The Collings Foundation is a non-profit educational foundation that welcomes donations to keep the airplanes flying. More information is available at www.collingsfoundation.org.

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