WWII planes return to airport

MARTINSBURG – The World War II airplanes on display this weekend at the Altoona-Blair County Airport provide some patrons with a chance to remember and others with a chance to imagine.

“I look at these aircraft and try to think of everything those guys went through,” said 17-year-old Greg Decker of Hollidaysburg, dressed in a soldier’s wool uniform and leather jacket like those worn during World War II. “To be flying one of these at 30,000 feet with the enemy shooting at you, that had to be crazy.”

Crazy wasn’t a word World War II veteran Joe Conlon of Roaring Spring used when he recalled the 19 missions he made in a B-24 bomber during World War II. Conlon was 17 years old when he enlisted and 18 when he got his bombardier wings.

“It was a job,” Conlon said. “You got up and you flew, with oil dripping out of every engine.”

By mid-Friday afternoon, the Collings Foundation of Stowe, Mass., had its Boeing B-17 bomber on display, along with its P-51 Mustang, the fighter that helped protect the crews of bombing aircraft. The B-24 bomber was expected later in the day. All three aircraft are to be available, for viewing and flights, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday.

On Friday afternoon, Conlon was among the veterans waiting on the B-24.

World War II veteran Perl Fink, 84, of Juniata was, too.

“My brother died in one,” Fink said. “They were coming back from a bombing raid during a thunderstorm, and two planes crashed into each other. The pilots wouldn’t have been able to see each other.”

Fink’s brother, Ivan Wayne, a top turret gunner, was 20 years old when he died in the 1944 crash.

Dick Fox of Hollidaysburg, a volunteer for the Collings Foundation, which assists with tour arrangements and flights, said he was pleased with Friday’s turnout. It included residents of the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home who arrived in two vans and Boy Scout

troops 32 and 34 of Hollidaysburg.

“It used to be that these shows brought out the veterans,” Fox said. “But now the World War II veterans are all in their 90s, so it’s bringing out their children and grandchildren.”

Bill Forsht of Altoona, son of World War II veteran John Forsht, was on the grounds Friday, carrying black-and-white pictures of a crashed B-24.

“That’s where my father climbed out,” Forsht said pointing to the aircraft’s window.

While the Collings Foundation has included the Altoona-Blair County Airport in several tours over the years, it continues to draw people who have never seen the vintage aircraft.

“I think this is wonderful,” said retiree Brian Umstead of Altoona. “This is the first time I’ve come out, and I had a chance to go through the B-17. It’s very tight in there. Claustrophobia would keep you out.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.