The Gathering of Fortresses & Legends was held at Willow Run Airport last summer. It was the largest gathering of World War II bombers for many years. During the show, 8 of the 10 airworthy B-17 Flying Fortresses flew for quite some time.
This salute to the heroes of WWII, and all other veterans started with a flag jump done by Amanda Scheffler, of the Misty Blues All Women Skydiving Team. This was her first jump from the bomb bay of a B-17 and she was especially honored to perform in front of 6 busloads of veterans of the Army Air Force. In fact, right after her jump she went to their tent to thank them for their service.
The Horsemen flew their P-51 Mustangs along with pilots of the Canadian Harvard group.
The Horsemen flew several formation strafing type passes in support of the American ground troops during the battle reenactment.
One of the F-16s of the Viper East demonstration team flew a heritage pass with 2 P-51s.
For the heroes of the "Greatest Generation," the sight of the flight line brought back many memories. Many of the heavy bombers were painted in their service colors.
Here is a guest writer: "My name is TSgt H Shane Scroggins with the 187 Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard. I am the dedicated crew chief on Acft# 86-346. It is an F-16C. My grandfather, Maj Arthur Robert Scroggins was a bombardier with the 95th Bomb Group (Heavy) during WWII. They flew B-17's. During the course of the war he was shot down three times, twice in B-17's and once in a P-38. I will cover the B-17 crashes first.
On January 4, 1944 the group had flown mission to Kiel. My grandfather's aircraft, Superstitious Aloysius, took heavy flak damage and was forced to ditch in the North Sea. They were quickly picked up by a British destroyer, H.M.S. Verdun. All survived with minor or no injuries. In October, 1944 he flew a mission to bomb Cologne. Once again they took heavy damage and crash landed in Belgium not far behind allied lines. He had received shrapnel wounds in his legs and the navigator had been killed. Infantry medics pulled him from the plane and bandaged him up. They also shot him full of morphine to help with the pain.
As he was passed back from aid station to aid station he continued getting more morphine injections. Finally afraid that they were going to kill him by over medicating him he finally begged a medic not to give him another injection. After a brief stay in the hospital he was soon returned to Horham air base and to flying status. His final scrape with death was a direct result of a idea of Col Hub Zemke. Col Zemke had an idea to strip out the nose of a droop snoop P-38 and install a norden bomb sight and a semi-crazy bombardier. My grandfather was that bombardier.
There was no escape door in the nose of the P-38, only a panel that had to be opened and closed from the outside with a screwdriver. If anything happened there was no chance of escape. On their first mission they were hit by ground fire and so had no brakes when they landed. They skidded off the end of the runway, crashed through a fence, and came to rest in a wheat field. Luckily there was no fire and both Col Zemke and My grandfather were unhurt. This idea was quickly scrapped."
"My grandfather has always been a hero of mine. He instilled a sense of duty in his children and grandchildren. His son, my father, served in the Alabama National Guard for over 20 years traveling to Europe, Central, and South America. He had one that served in Desert Storm. Two other grandsons deployed to Hungary to support the operations in Bosnia. His granddaughter, my sister, married an Air Force guy."
"When I decided to join up I was thrilled to find out that since he was a retired officer he could give me the oath of enlistment. That was and still is one of the high points of my life and has become one of his favorite stories to tell. I keep a picture of me, him, and my father on my desk. When I got home after Basic Training he gave me the US insignia that he wore during the war. I have carried them on all three of my deployments to the middle east in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Later when I was assigned as the dedicated crew chief on a jet I wanted to do something to honor him and his service. I decided to name my aircraft after the one he had ditched in the North Sea in, Superstitious Aloysius. I also put his unit's tail marking on the tail of my aircraft."
"I am attaching a picture of my jet flying over Iraq with both the name and tail marking clearly seen. I am proud to fly the name and the Square B's of the 95th Bomb Group. " Thank you Shane, for you and your families service to all of us through the years.
The crew of the B-52 that flew over the show came back to visit with their heroes, the former B-17 crewmembers. This was billed as the last gathering, and unfortunately for many it will be the last time they visit together. At least the weather was perfect and spirits were high as they enjoyed this time together.
3 B-17s and a P-51 Mustang flew a missing man formation in honor of all veterans from all the branches of service who gave their all for our fine country. As we do our humdrum activities today, try to send a positive thought or prayer to all the members of our armed forces, and their families, for the many sacrifices they have made for our freedom. A heartfelt News Plus Notes thank you to everyone who gives us the opportunity to visit amusement parks and do all the other things in life we tend to take for granted. God bless our troops and their families.