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Archive for Sunday, July 10, 2011

Veterans recall their experiences with Boeing B-29 bombers

Only still-flying Superfortress coming to Kansas July 15-17

When a B-29 comes to northeast Kansas later this month, three Lawrence men will have a chance to relive their moments spent in the plane during World War II.

July 10, 2011

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Clyde Bysom, 93, of Lawrence, has many tales of his time as a tail gunner on the a Boeing B-29 bomber during World War II.

Clyde Bysom, 93, of Lawrence, has many tales of his time as a tail gunner on the a Boeing B-29 bomber during World War II.

Tom Kugler, 91, Lawrence, was a bombardier navigator on a Boeing B-29.

Tom Kugler, 91, Lawrence, was a bombardier navigator on a Boeing B-29.

Eldon Felix, 85, of Ottawa, looks out his window as he recalls his experience with the Boeing B-29 and being in charge of some Japanese prisoners of war, one of whom created a model of a B-29 as a gift for Felix.

Eldon Felix, 85, of Ottawa, looks out his window as he recalls his experience with the Boeing B-29 and being in charge of some Japanese prisoners of war, one of whom created a model of a B-29 as a gift for Felix.

Clyde Bysom was already working for Boeing building B-29 bombers in Wichita when he enlisted in the Air Force in 1944.

Along with other veterans, the 93-year-old Lawrence resident will get to relive his days as a tail gunner in World War II when “Fifi,” the only still-flying B-29, comes to the New Century AirCenter in Gardner this week.

Bysom was stationed on the island of Tinian in the Northern Marianas at the end of the war. From there, we would wake at 4 a.m. for the 13-hour round trip to make bombing runs over Japan. He spent most of that time alone in a cramped compartment at the back of the plane, wrapped in a flak blanket with his gun.

“I read the Bible quite a lot, especially during missions,” to pass the time 30,000 feet in the air, Bysom said. “We would take turns sleeping.”

Each 5.5-ton bomb — the plane carried only one per mission — could level 18 city blocks, Bysom said. His missions aimed for industrial targets such as supply depots and railroad yards.

His crew’s B-29, “Some Punkins,” named after its round orange bombs, may have flown the final combat mission of the war, targeting the Nagoya Arsenal. Just after they dropped their bomb, they heard over the radio that the war was over.

“We had just left the coast of Japan,” Bysom said. “It took a little while to sink in (but) we were sort of expecting it. The war was winding down.”

Back on Tinian, he joined in celebrations by playing his tenor sax, which he still plays Thursday nights at the American Legion with the Junkyard Jazz Band. After the war, he worked as machinist at the Sunflower ammunition plant and later for the Reuter Pipe Organ Co.

Tom Kugler, 90, of Lawrence, enlisted in the Army Air Corps after high school in 1939 and was trained as a bombardier, but he never saw combat. He flew various planes while stationed in Florida and patrolled the Caribbean for 18 months during the war.

Later, he trained on the B-29 at Great Bend Army Airfield in central Kansas. His crew, once slated to go to the Pacific soon after Pearl Harbor, did not go overseas and he was out of the service by the end of the war.

“When I was young and foolish, we wanted to kill everybody and save the world,” Kugler said. “Now when I look back, I’m so happy I wasn’t involved in all that.”

The war was already over when Eldon Felix, 84, of Ottawa, arrived at Okinawa, where he was a mechanic on the ground crew of a B-29. “It was great working on the B-29,” he said. “We had very little problem with it.”

But when its missions ceased, Felix was put in charge of 12-person Japanese prisoner work crew. One of the captives secretly fashioned a B-29 model out of plastic to give to Felix in appreciation for a steady supply of cigarettes. It’s a memento he still keeps and displays.

“He handed it to me and bowed,” Felix recalled. “He was very friendly even though we couldn’t understand each other.”

Of his experience in the war, Felix said, “I’m glad I had it but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

Rides on Fifi, as well as other planes, are available from July 15 to July 17 during the Annual Air Expo put on by the Heart of America Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, an organization that restores old military planes.

According to Bysom, B-29s were “very comfortable when everything worked.”

But Kugler isn’t interested in going back in time. “I wouldn’t take a ride if they offered it to me,” he said. “I don’t want to fly around in some antique.”

Still, he considers his time flying the best years of his life. “It was all a great experience, and I would do it again.”

Fifi, most recently restored last year, tours the country. It will arrive from Colorado at the Gardner airport at about 11 a.m. on July 14. After the expo, it will go on to Oshkosh, Wis., for the country’s biggest air show.

The B-29 rides range in price from $595 to $1,495. For more information, call 432-413-4100 or go to www.RideB29.com.

Comments

FlintlockRifle 2 years, 9 months ago

Those old warbirds are something to see and above all to hear that big engine come to life with a big puff of smoke and away she goes. Them old girls still gives me goosebumps, Many thanks to you ole G.I'S

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bootlegger 2 years, 9 months ago

God Bless the flyboys!! General Paul Tibbets; and General Jimmie Doolittle!!!!

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 9 months ago

"But Kugler isn’t interested in going back in time. “I wouldn’t take a ride if they offered it to me,” he said. “I don’t want to fly around in some antique.”"

I think he's very wise, because crashes involving WW2 vintage airplanes are quite common, and usually fatal. In fact, once my parents were on a road trip and had to reroute because the highway was blocked by the wreckage of one.

clips: A Second World War fighter plane crashed at an airshow yesterday, killing the pilot and narrowly missing a main road. Crowds watched in horror as the Hurricane veered off course before hurtling into the ground in a fireball during a re-enactment of the Battle of Britain at the Shoreham Air Show in Sussex. The plane - one of only a dozen Hurricanes still in working order - crashed into a field about a mile from the airfield where more than 20,000 spectators had gathered. Brad DeBow, manager of Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg, lost a respected colleague when Danny Joe Summers’ World War II era AD-4N Skyraider crashed on Tuesday. DeBow is uncertain what will happen with the four vintage airplanes owned by Summers that the museum has on display. AURORA, IL - A World War II vintage bomber plane crashed on its way to Indiana Monday morning. The crash occurred in Oswego, Illinois. All seven on board reportedly survived the crash, but the plane was on fire. The B-17 "flying fortress" Liberty Belle appeared to be damaged beyond repair. It was scheduled to fly over Indianapolis Monday, with public flights offered next weekend as part of the Liberty Foundation's 2011 Salute to Veterans tour. The fate of the last MARTIN B-26C: Witnesses observed the aircraft approximately 250 feet above the ground heading towards the southwest. As the aircraft passed overhead, the 'engines were sputtering.' Approximately 3/4 mile from the witnesses, the aircraft made a 'sharp' right turn, nosed down, and impacted the ground. The engines 'quit' prior to the aircraft turning right. There were 5 fatalities. But about the B-29 specifically, note that none of these crashes were during wartime:

"On 5 August 1950, B-29, SN 44-87651, crashed, burned, and exploded 5 minutes after takeoff from Fairfield-Suisun AFB, CA, causing fatal injuries to 12 crewmen and passengers. Eight crewmen and passengers received minor injures. The 1948 B-29 Lake Mead crash occurred July 21, 1948 when a Boeing B-29-100-BW Superfortress, modified into an F-13 reconnaissance platform and performing atmospheric research, crashed into the waters of Lake Mead, Nevada, USA Sept. 28, 1952 — B-29 crashed into a mountain near Philipsburg; Montana, all 13 crewmen parachuted to safety. *

If you want to watch a B-29 crash, just search on youtube.com, there were a lot of them caught on video, especially during landing. I couldn't possibly link them all here, because there is a 3,000 character limit on this forum.

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