DOWNINGTOWN — Pete Hayes, of Downingtown, brought his grandsons and his daughter, Hoppy Hayes, to the “Wings of Freedom Tour” for their first time because he wanted his grandsons to experience a part of aviation history.
“I remember all of this as a 13-year-old during World War II,” Pete Hayes said. “I recognize the planes and I wanted to introduce Hoppy and the boys to this and tell them about the history.”
His grandson, Brady Manning, also of Downingtown, learned about World War II in school last year when he was in eighth grade.
“To see it up close is insane. It’s pretty cool,” Brady said about the aircrafts. “It helps me to understand what we learned in school.”
Brady and his younger brother, Devin Manning, both enjoyed seeing the bombs on the aircrafts and seeing how tight the aircraft is on the inside compared to the overall size of the aircraft.
“It shows you the reality of what it is,” Brady said.
His grandfather echoed that “it’s more than just learning from a textbook, it’s learning on-site about the aircraft used in World War II.” Pete and Hoppy Hayes hoped that the boys would also understand the sacrifices the veterans made during their time serving away from their families.
“Young people did this for us to be where we are and to be safe,” Pete Hayes said. “They weren’t much older than you guys. Some of the guys who were flying on these aircrafts were 18 or 21 years old. ”
Ed Hoelker, now 95, was one of those 21 year olds on the B-24 serving in the Army Air Corps. After completing his month-long training, he was stationed in California where he was assigned with other crew members for their combat duty during World War II.
“The war was slowing down and we would repeat our training because we didn’t know what would happen with the war, but then it ended and we went home,” said Hoelker, of Audubon in Montgomery County. He will be 96 years old on Sunday.
He served active duty from January 1943 to November 1945, and he served another year in the reserves. Shortly after returning home, he married his sister’s friend and they had six children. He toured the aircrafts on Monday with three of his daughters.
After his service, and because of his flight experience, he became a flight instructor and did so for 20 years. He loves flying and he said that was the best part about serving.
“I loved being up in the air. The world looks a lot better up there. It’s perfect,” Hoelker said. “Just flying on an airplane is rewarding. It’s hard to explain because it’s based on an individual.”
Hoelker and Tony Cimellaro, who also served in the Army Air Corps, both had toured the B-24J that was on display and it brought back some memories. The B-24J is the sole remaining example of its type flying in the world.
“We used to run back and forth on this,” said Cimellaro, 93. “Now it’s hard to get in and out of.”
Most of the visitors, young and older, smaller and taller, said that it was difficult to move around and to navigate through the tight spaces.
Hoelker spent most of his time in the cockpit and Cimellaro was a ball turret gunner.
“It’s the best seat in the house,” Cimellaro said about the spot at the bottom of the aircraft.
Cimellaro and his fellow crew members were tasked with searching for the enemies’ submarines, but they never found any. His fondest memories are of the time they spent flying, and being with the other service members.
“We did a lot of flying and that’s what I enjoyed,” Cimellaro said. “We all got along. You have to; your lives depend on it.”
He was drafted and served from 1944-46.
“It was a good experience. I wouldn’t trade those three years for anything,” Cimellaro said. “It made me believe in myself. When you’re 5-foot, 4-inches and weigh 113 pounds, you don’t play basketball or football. This was a really great experience.”
Army veteran Carl Chetta, of Ronks in Lancaster County, and his wife Theresa Chetta, toured the aircrafts together. He likes to build models and he hoped to see the B-52, but they enjoyed seeing the other aircrafts.
“We saw some of them take off,” Carl said. “It was great.”
He served in the Army from 1955-57 and was stationed in Hawaii. After he returned home he helped build parts of aircrafts for Boeing.
The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour is on display at the Chester County G O Carlson Airport through Wednesday, featuring the WWII Vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, “Nine O Nine,” B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft,” B-25 Mitchell “Tondelayo” bombers, P-51 Mustang “Toulouse Nuts” and P-40 Warhawk “Jaws” fighters. The aircrafts will remain on public display on Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. – noon.