The Advocate Story, October 16

WWII veteran pilot among those visiting war planes at Hammond event by Vic Couvillion.  This story was online

HAMMOND — Among the historic aircraft enthusiasts waiting for an opportunity to explore the insides of a World War II B-24 bomber on the morning of Oct. 3 at the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport was 99-year-old John Butz, of Covington.

Butz, rolled in a wheelchair by his son toward the airplane, managed with help to climb into the belly of the bomber. He saw the inner workings of this iconic war bird of Butz’s youth, when he flew a plane just like it on 48 combat missions.

Butz, who continued to fly small aircraft after his time in the military, is hard of hearing. However, he was able to answer some questions posed by onlookers and confirmed that the complicated controls and dials in the veteran aircraft were still familiar.

Many of the well-wishers were quick to say, “Thanks for your service!” This expression of gratitude for the warriors of what has been called “the greatest generation” was, in a large measure, one of the reasons why volunteers in the Commemorative Air Force work throughout the year to maintain and fly the old war birds.

Jacques Robitalle, public information officer for the Commemorative Air Force, said one of his organization’s goals is to honor the men and women who built and flew these aircraft during World War II.

The Commemorative Air Force, working with the Big Easy Wing, the organization headquartered in New Orleans, counts honoring the remaining veterans of the war as a priority, Robitalle said. He said that as the organization stages shows around the nation, there are still veterans who remember serving on the planes. He adds that the numbers of those veterans is diminishing.

Discussing the B-24, or Liberator, Robitalle said, “A visit to this aircraft and to watch it fly provides the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of our fathers and grandfathers who participated in the dangerous air wars over Europe, the Pacific, North Africa and Asia.”

The B-24, nicknamed “Diamond Lil,” was one of five World War II aircraft flown to Hammond for a visit Oct. 1-5. A large number of visitors had the opportunity to examine a rare B-29 Superfortress, this one named “Fifi;” a P-51D Mustang; a T-6 Texan; and a PT-13 Stearman, along with the B-24. The Mustang was one of the most loved aircraft in aviation history, Robitalle said. He pointed out that the plane’s speed, range and sleek lines make the aircraft a favorite of Allied fighter pilots and the bomber crews that the planes protected. The T-6 Texan and Stearman were aircraft used to train pilots.

The B-29 was used in the China-Burma-India Theater and in the Pacific Theater where its range could take the air war to Japan, Robitalle said. He said development of the aircraft, a huge flying machine for its day, cost more than $3 billion, which exceeded the cost the U.S. spent on the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. Visitors to the Hammond show had the opportunity to climb in the aircraft. Rides were offered to the public on the B-29 and the B-24 in Hammond.

Robitalle said that the Commemorative Air Force also maintains a program to educate the public about the role that aviation plays in the nation’s history and to encourage young people to pursue careers in aviation.

Shirley, representing the Big Easy Wing, said young people regularly show a keen interest in the vintage aircraft. “On the first day that the planes were here on display in Hammond a high school student visited one of the bombers with a video recorder to make a presentation for his school. The young man, he was about 14, asked all the right questions and was very serious about learning all about the aircraft and its role in the war.”

Robitalle said, “The Commemorative Air Force was founded to acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States and selected aircraft of other nations for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.”

He said the group counts approximately 13,000 members and these volunteers maintain a fleet of more than 175 aircraft representing more than 60 different types including planes from several foreign countries and other military conflicts since World War II.

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