In the early 1940s, Lt. Ira O. Reed climbed into his station in the belly of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress to fly the first of his 33 combat missions during World War II.
Nearly 75 years later, his daughter, Ann Reed Rundorff, climbed into the same type of bomber at Bush Field, this one nicknamed “Nine O Nine,” to get a feeling for what her dad experienced during those war years he never talked about.
The B-17 is one of eight still in flying condition in the United States, and it stopped in Augusta for Oct. 29 and 30 as part of The Colling’s Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour.
The B-17 was one of three WWII planes on display last week. A B-24 Liberator bomber and a P-51 Mustang fighter were also available for up-close tours, and flights for a fee.
“It just truly gives me an appreciation for what my dad did at age 19,” Rundorff said of her father, who died in Hershey, Pa., in 1998.
He rarely spoke of his experiences during the war. His family learned about them from a diary he left.
When the movie Memphis Belle came out in 1990, Rundorff saw it and got a better understanding of what those years were like for her dad. The movie told the story of the crew of a B-17 bomber that went through 25 combat missions.
“I saw the movie and asked him some questions. He didn’t want to talk about it. He had nightmares until the end of his life,” she said.
“That’s why I came. I wanted a real physical feeling of what it was like inside (the plane).”
The display is a traveling museum of World War II aircraft presented by The Collings Foundation, an educational foundation dedicated to educating younger generations about mechanical history.
It has more than 100 cars, 40 airplanes spanning World War I to Vietnam, and 80 tanks.
The Wings of Freedom Tour keeps “the awareness of WWII history in the forefront of people’s minds so that generation isn’t forgotten,” said spokesman Jim Harley.
Air Force JROTC cadets from T.W. Josey High School posed for a group photo next to the Boeing 24-J Liberator, nicknamed Witchcraft, which was emblazoned with the names of its crew.
They had watched the Memphis Belle that morning, in preparation for their field trip to the airport.
Their commander, Lt. Col. Kurt Barry, saw an advertisement for the display and thought it would be a great learning experience for them.
“We’re kind of isolated, being the only (Air Force) JROTC in the CSRA,” he said. “In order to see planes, we’ve got to go two hours to any Air Force base. Here, the air show came to us.”
The students are learning about flight and aviation history, and the tour was an opportunity for them to see it first-hand.
Barry said it was interesting to him to be able to compare aircraft. He flew reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, primarily in a Boeing 707.
“Some things are similar (in the B-17), like the oxygen tanks, the masks, things like that,” he said. “I remember it could get really cold at 36,000 feet. These kids must have been dying of frostbite or what-not.”
Junior Dexter Miles, who will join the Army after he graduates early at the end of the school year, said it was interesting to see how soldiers worked in the planes.
“I wonder how they did it,” he said of some of the gun positions. “When you’re in the air, if you make a wrong step you’re going to fall.”
Sicoya Starts, a senior, is also joining the Army after graduation. She said she appreciated the experience.
“When I went on the inside, it’s really small,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to experience (the warplane display) so that we can know our history.”