Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour Makes Stop In St. Louis: Part 2, Veteran Flight, Departures

By Leo Cachat of The Aero Experience

The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour made a stop at the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, located at historic 1929 Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, IL July 25 – July 27, 2014.  The Aero Experience was there to bring you the sights of the weekend, especially our visits with some of the Veterans who flew in one of the three historic aircraft parked on the ramp just outside the museum.  I attended Friday’s arrival and witnessed Saturday’s B-24 veteran flight, while fellow contributor Mark Nankivil covered Sunday and Monday’s departure of the aircraft for nearly Creve Couer Airport (see photo essay below).

I arrived Saturday morning just before 9 a.m., and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect as a group of Veterans were getting ready to go for their flight in the B-24.  I was allowed to go out as they received their briefing before boarding this beast - quite a tricky process. Once everyone was aboard, the ramp was cleared and the bomber took off.  They flew around the St. Louis area in one of only two B-24s still flying in the world (B-24A “Diamond Lil” was in Dupage, IL that  weekend prior to arriving in Oshkosh).  After the B-24 returned, I talked with some of those who flew. Each person said it was great, but one gentleman said his hat blew out!   I don’t know if that counts as a bombing mission or not, so we’ll have to keep an eye on the side of the plane and see. I spoke with Kelsey Hickman, a crewman on a B-24 during WWII. His jacket leaves no doubt that he is well traveled, and his spirit beamed as he spoke with a crewman of the bomber as they sat beneath the plane.  He spoke of being shot down 4 times, crash landing 2 times and being a P.O.W. in Russia during WWII.  What can you say to a man like that other than thank you - which is exactly what I said.  I also spoke with Doyle Treese who was a tail gunner in a B-24 during WWII.   It was an awesome experience to listen to the stories of these men who changed the world almost 70 years ago!  Rodney Fant was also on board this special flight around St. Louis.  He was a navigator in a C-130 in the Vietnam War. I don’t know if these gentlemen knew each other before they came to the museum for their flight, but they were leaving together sharing stories.  This is the beauty of what aviation, and more specifically the restoration of historic aircraft, can do.I then roamed the ramp and photographed the crowd that came out on what has turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year.  It was very nice to see a good-sized crowd and, more importantly, a lot of kids looking at these three pieces of history sitting in front of them.  I watched as some of the children marveled at the general aviation aircraft taxiing by them on the way to the nearby runway for takeoff.  It was a very pleasing sight to see their excitement, and I hope the experience makes an impact on them the way it did to me when I was a young child.

Thank you to the men and women of the Collings Foundation for bringing these beautiful historic aircraft to St. Louis and for the opportunity to visit with you and the Veterans that flew in your aircraft.  You keep history alive in a culture that more and more does not teach our children about the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation to save the world from tyranny.  We look forward to welcoming you back in future years!

Thanks to Mark Nankivil for these photos from Sunday and Monday’s departure:

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