These stories happened to me or my close friends. I have been active in Warbirds since I was 13. While other kids were playing video games and such, I was working on a B-17 and Me-109 ( HA-1112).
My best friend was Carl Schmieder, he was a board member of Warbird of America, T-6 Lead at Oshkosh, a ICAS ACE, and help start the FAST program. He also helped me to get my A&P, and private pilots certs. I was flying formation before I had my pilots license. Carl dies in the crash of his T-6 in Jan 99.
anyway, here is one of my stories, it is called Show it to him Granpa.
– Matt Gunsch
Show it to him Granpa
by Matthew T. Gunsch
I was a member of the Arizona Wing of the Confederate Airforce when I was younger and the wing was more fun to be around, and one of the events I took part in was one of their first Warbird shows at Falcon Field, what follows is a story of why it is such a privelage to work with Warbirds.
We had been moving planes and setting up fencing panels all morning and I was getting hungry. The show was supposed to open at noon, but we were far from ready and there were a few people looking at the planes we had on display. As I was getting ready to leave I noticed a older gentleman looking in the rear crew door on the B-17. Since we were not ready to open the gates, there was no one to take money for the show or tours, I decided to take him thru the plane for free, then go get lunch. As we went from station to station in the plane I gave him the usual spiel about the crew stations and what crewman did there. He did not ask any questions and just looked around as I was pointing things out. The normal tour exited the plane thru the front hatch after going thru the cockpit. As you step down out of the cockpit and toward to the hatch you can look forward into the nose where the Bombadier and Navigator stations were, we normally did not take tours in there as it is a very small area and the tours tend to back up, but since it was just the two of us, I removed the Bungee cords that were blocking off the nose. When ever I did take someone into the nose I would have them sit in the Bombadier’s seat, where they could look thru the Norden Bomb sight and thru the glass nose. When this gentleman sat in the chair, a change came over his face, it is hard to explain, but, you could see he was looking into the past. He proceeded to tell me that he had been a B-17 Bombadier in the 8th Air Force during WWII and had 2 planes shot out from under him. The first one he told me, was hit at the start of a bomb run. He had just leaned over the bomb sight and heard a loud explosion and then it got very windy, he was not hit and did not hear any orders from the pilot, so he stayed at his sight and completed his run. Once the bombs had been dropped and control of the plane released back to the pilot, he sat up, it was then he noticed 2 large holes in the plexiglass nose, right at the level of where his head would have been, had he not been learning over the sight. He turned and it was then he saw that the navigator, who sits behind him and to the left side of the plane, had been hit and killed instantly. It was the only damage they received and they made it back to the base in England.
The second plane did not fair as well, as they were shot down and he became a Prisoner of War. After he said that, he was back in the present and said he better be going, and thanked me for the tour, I said that the pleasure was all mine and thanked him for sharing his story with me. I went to lunch thinking about that man and his story and how many men like him were still around.
The next day, we finally had everything set up and the gates were open and we had a good turn out. I was standing with the B-25 and answering questions, when I saw the gentleman from yesterday, with him was his daughter and grand daughter. He said he wanted to show me a picture of his crew. He had a 8 x 10 picture of him and his crew in front of the B-17that was shot down later over Germany. He pointed to each person and told what happened to each of them, some came home, a lot of them didn’t. He told me what it was like in the POW camp and how he was treated. We had been talking for a while when his grand daughter tugged on the sleeve of his jacket and said, “Show it to him Grampa”. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and held it in his open palm. He gently opened the handkerchief and inside was a side view of B-17, about 4inches long, carved out of wood, complete with open bombay doors and markings, He said he carved it out of a bed slat while in the POW camp, and he would have been shot had they found it. I was could not think of a thing to say, other to say thanks for what he did and I was so glad he came back and showed it to me, and as long as I was around, if he wanted to sit in the B-17, come find me and I would let him sit in HIS B-17 as long as he wanted. He put the bed slat B-17 back in his pocket and that he had taken enough of my time, I thanked him again and watched as he, his daughter and grand daughter walked away.
I never saw him again, but his story has stayed with me and I still have the same feeling every time I tell it.