World War II Veterans Return To The Skies With A Commemorative Flight On A Rare B-17 Bomber

For the two World War II veterans, their recent flight in a B-17G was nothing like those they experienced almost three-quarters of a century ago.

Vincent “Bill” Purple, 92, of Petersham, Massachusets, and Louis A Fournier, 92, of Warwick, Rhode Island, were aboard as the restored historical plane flew into Groton-New London Airport. The plane was one of four restored World War II-era aircraft on display at the airport and the same kind of bomber they flew in combat during the Second World War.

The aircraft, Flying Fortress “Nine-O-Nine,” a B-24 Liberator, a B-25 Mitchell, and a P-51 Mustang fighter, flying escort, departed Worcester, Massachusets. They are owned and operated by the non-profit Collings Foundation, an educational organisation.

The Groton stop is a portion of the group’s Wings of Freedom Tour, a travelling exhibit of scarce fighter and bomber aircraft that were the mainstay of the American war effort.

Purple completed 35 missions, primarily over Germany, on Flying Fortresses, while stationed with the 8th Air Force’s 379th Bomb Group based at Kimbolton, England, about a 90-minute drive north of London.

He was a first pilot as well as a squadron leader. To qualify, he had to fly ten missions.

He remembers the Feb. 3, 1945, raid over Berlin which used 1,000 B17s.

All the aircraft in that raid had nearly a dozen 500-pound bombs. Every half-minute, they’d drop ten quarter-ton bombs, he said. They may have lost 50 or 60 aircraft, which isn’t so bad. But from another perspective, that’s 500 people that never made it back.

Purple said from 1942 to 1945 the Eighth Air Force lost 30,000 people, The Day reported.

“Oh yeah,” replied, Fournier, when asked if the aircraft was the same as he recollects from his days as a navigator.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE