The Collings Foundation is a non-profit, educational foundation (501(c)3), founded in 1979. The purpose of the Foundation is to organize and support “living history” events and the preservation, exhibition and interaction of historical artifacts that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. The Foundation’s Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flies as “Nine-O-Nine,” an 8th Air Force, 91st BG heavy bomber. The B-17 was the companion of the B-24 in thousands of wartime, bombing, and reconnaissance missions. Together they were the backbone of the daylight strategic bombing campaign of WWII.
The “Wings of Freedom Tour” has two goals: to honor the sacrifices made by our veterans that allow us to enjoy our freedom; and to educate the visitors, especially younger Americans, about our national history and heritage. The Foundation encourages people to tour the planes, talk to the veterans who come to visit the aircraft, and participate in a “flight experience.”
Along with Sarah Wu from Seattle Times and Eric Johnson from KOMO News, filming one of his Eric’s Heroes segments (those stories make me ugly cry, but in a good way!), we boarded the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress for a media flight, along with WWII veterans Dick Nelms, 95 and Bob Hagenbaugh, 97. Both Dick and Bob flew the B-17 during WWII and watching them relive the days where they put country (and the world) before themselves was something I will never forget. Nelms flew 35 missions over Germany and I overheard him tell Sarah that his favorite moment was coming back alive each time. Both Dick and Bob had not met prior to the flight and before boarding, they chatted non-stop about war stories like they were old friends. God bless our military past, present and future – who put their lives on the line every single day to ensure freedom for us all.
The flight itself was nothing short of magical. Our pilot, Mac McCauley, lifted off and flew us around Seattle for about 30 minutes. Looking out the window with the machine gun in my view, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the WWII veterans – some just teenagers, many in their early 20’s flying over the skies of Europe, taking on enemy fire from below, not knowing if they were going to make it back to base alive. It was such an honor to sit where these men sat over 70 years ago, to see the bays where the bombs dropped and to know that the two men sitting up front with our pilot, had witnessed it all.
When it was time to return, Mac landed the B-17 so smoothly that Sarah, Eric and I asked each other if we had indeed landed. I left the plane in awe of what I had just witnessed. Its really hard to put into words what it felt like to not only experience a little piece of history, but to be there with two men who had actually been there. We have to keep the stories of WWII and the men and women who were there alive. This war changed the course of history as we know it today, and we have the Greatest Generation to thank for that.
One way you can help keep our history alive is by volunteering with the Puget Sound Honor Flight. The mission of the Puget Sound Honor Flight is to transport Western Washington war veterans to Washington D.C., to visit and reflect at memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. I have been a guardian on two flights, my first with two WWII veterans, and my second with two Korean War veterans. The stories you hear and the experience will last with you forever!
The Museum of Flight is the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world and offers and wide range of tours and experiences throughout the year. You can check out their calendar of events here.
The Collings Foundation tours the country with their Wings of Freedom Tour and you can check out their upcoming schedule here.