Historic planes make SE stops

World War II aircraft fully restored and open for tours from Sunday through Wednesday

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2001

Two pieces of American history will fly into Juneau this weekend.

The Wings of Freedom tour will bring two authentic World War II planes to town Sunday, their second visit in two years. The B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator will be available for tours through July 11.

"Last year, people were slow to find out about it," said Richard Rountree, organizer for the Juneau stop. As people found out, there was more demand.

The exhibit is part of the larger efforts of the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational group that teaches Americans about their history through direct participation with "living history" events.

"We're a living museum and we try to take our museum to the people," said Bob Collings, founder of the foundation. "There are a lot of veterans in Alaska, and Alaska was a frontier in World War II."

The B-24, originally called "All American" before being renamed "Dragon and His Tail" in 1999, flew numerous missions over the

Pacific during World War II. Though precise records are unavailable, Collings said the foundation has spoken with former pilots of the plane on their tour and learned more about its missions.

"It was dropping supplies and things to people behind the lines who were gathering information about troop strength and such," Collings said. "In a B-24 case that would be kind of an everyday occurrence."

Seeing the planes - which have been fully restored to their World War II condition - can be an emotional experience for veterans. Collings said he spoke with a man in Kodiak for several hours about his experiences in the war.

"He was just telling one story after another," Collings said. "He was shot down over enemy territory. ... He didn't have much to go on and went without a lot of food."

After leaving the crash site in south Germany, the veteran traveled through Austria, Switzerland and Italy before returning to safe territory, he told Collings. The man lost 56 pounds during the journey.

"It brings back a lot of memories," Collings said. "A lot of times there's tears. But the interesting thing is when you get them out of the airplanes (and) they open up a lot. It's terrific for the families to listen to their dad. A lot of times they haven't even told their children these stories."

The restored planes make 125 stops over eight months, leaving their base in Florida in April and crossing most of the United States. In November, they return to Florida for maintenance and a winter tour.

During their trip to Alaska, the planes have stopped in Wrangell, Sitka, Anchorage, Kenai, Palmer, Homer and Kodiak.

"You just meet some wonderful people, some terrific veterans," said Collings, who participated in the Kodiak and Anchorage stops. "You have such marvelous scenery up there that it really makes it interesting."

The planes will be available for tours or flights from their arrival time, which isn't known yet, to 8 p.m. July 8; from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 9 and 10; and from 8:30 a.m. to noon July 11.

A donation of $7 for adults and $3 from children is requested for a tour; a flight can be arranged for a $350 tax-deductible donation. Call (904) 451-9508 for details.

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