From his seat aboard the “Sentimental Journey” Tuesday, Ed Jackfert had a bird’s eye view of the area he’s called home for nearly all of his 94 years.
For most who will have the opportunity to take a ride on what’s one of only 10 airworthy B-17 bombers remaining from World War II while it’s in town this week, the experience will be a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. But for Jackfert, it was an occasion to reflect on what he knows all too well the aircraft represents — and what he’s spent the last seven decades telling all who will listen.
“It’s something to remind them that war is nothing but death and destruction,” Jackfert, a Wellsburg resident who survived three years of confinement in a Japanese prison camp, said.
The B-17, also known as the “Flying Fortress,” will be on public display through Sunday at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport. It was restored to authentic condition by Commemorative Air Force volunteers.
Jackfert was an aircraft engineer for the U.S. Army Air Corps, stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines when Japan bombed the facility on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Among the many aircraft destroyed that day were several B-17s, which were beginning to supplant the B-18 aircraft on which Jackfert worked before being assigned to the infantry.
After his flight Tuesday, Jackfert said he was impressed by how well the plane still operates. But his thoughts as he soared above the Ohio Valley were mostly thousands of miles away as he recalled the shame of knowing he and his fellow POWs were being forced to manufacture weapons that would be used against their own men.
“There’s times I broke down a little bit, because it bothers me. … That was bad. It still hurts me,” Jackfert said.
Ground tours of the B-17 will be offered at the airport throughout the week. Rides on the B-17 are available to the public, too, but they aren’t cheap — $425 for waist gunner/radio operator seats, and $850 for bombardier/navigator seats in the plane’s nose.
Reservations can be made by calling 602-448-9415.