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B-17 flight brings back memories for WWII vets

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The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour continues through Wednesday at Porter County Regional Airport. Walk-through tours of the planes take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday. Flights are available for a $425 donation. For more information, go to www.collingsfoundation.org. See more photos, and a video, of Monday’s flight at posttrib.suntimes.com.

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Updated: August 31, 2013 6:24AM



VALPARAISO — Harold Chubbs looked out the window of the B-17 Flying Fortress as it flew over Lake Michigan. There was a wide grin on his face.

“That was quite a flight,” he said Monday, after the World War II plane landed at Porter County Regional Airport. “It made a good landing. And that’s a good thing — no one was shooting at me.”

Chubbs, 89, of Crown Point, was a flight engineer on a B-17 with the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war, spending between 61/2 and 12 hours on the plane, often with oxygen. He was stationed in Italy, and his job on the B-17 was to make sure everything was in place before it landed.

“Everything looked peaceful today,” he said, adding while he was in the war, he had to observe traffic and rivers. “As soon as we got on land, we got shot at.”

Chubbs and two other World War II veterans, Gordon Bates, 88, of Crown Point, and Henry “Cobi” Jacobi, 92, of Highland, took the flight through the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour, which continues through Wednesday.

This is the 24th year for the tour, and it’s almost always stopped in Valparaiso. Bob Collings, the foundation’s founder, is a 1956 graduate of Valparaiso High School.

Upwards of 1,000 people will come see the B-17, and its World War II cohorts, the B-24 Liberator and the P-51 Mustang, while they are stationed at the airport, said Mike Prentiss, the tour’s Valparaiso stop coordinator. Between 40 and 50 people are expected to go on flights, for a $425 donation to the foundation.

The 20-minute flight was a far cry from what the veterans experienced while airborne during wartime. An overhead spot in the plane’s midsection was wide open to the partly sunny sky. At one point, the three veterans gathered at a window together and looked out, the weapon at the porthole long silent.

As the plane turned south over the lake to head back to the airport, waves lapped along the beach.

While this was Chubbs’ fourth flight on the B-17 since the war — his first was about 30 years after it ended — Bates had not been in a World War II-era plane since he was in the 503rd Regiment Combat Team’s parachute troop. Then, he was parachuting out of a C-47.

His worst experience in the war was a jump over Corregidor Island outside of Manila in the Philippines in which 25 men were killed and many were injured.

“I was lucky,” he said.

Jacobi was stationed in Townsville, Australia, where he was in charge of the Fifth Army Air Corps Supply Section. He, too, flew on the C-47, delivering parts and supplies from Townsville to New Guinea.

Before he boarded the B-17, Jacobi admitted the flight was a tearjerker of sorts, because he left his wife behind for two years while he was overseas, though he got to spend two years with her stateside first.

“It’s going to bring back a lot of memories,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of flying.”



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