A restored World War II bomber arrived in Hays on Tuesday afternoon, bringing some interested spectators — including veterans and others who lived through the war and the stateside support.
The B-17 Sentimental Journey will be in Hays through Sunday and, along with a P-51 Mustang fighter, will be the main attraction of the seventh annual Great Planes on the Great Plains Fly-In at Hays Regional Airport on Saturday.
Built near the end of the war in 1944, Sentimental Journey never saw combat but was used in the years following to map the Phillippines and during U.S. atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.
It left military service in 1959 and fought wildfires for approximately 15 years, said the bomber’s loadmaster, Eric Zinn of the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum, which owns the plane.
The group brought its B-25 bomber Maid in the Shade to the fly-in last year.
“That’s why we’re here now. You guys were so generous to us, so we came back. As long as the people of Hays want to come out and see the airplane, we’ll be here,” said the bomber’s co-pilot Stephanie Meyer.
Meyer became Sentimental Journey’s co-pilot approximately two months ago after being with the group for nearly a year and a half.When she’s not flying the CAF planes on tour, she flies C-130s for a civilian company in Phoenix.
“I was a good fit with the four engines and the large aircraft frame,” she said.
Jim Kimmel has been the plane’s pilot for approximately 22 years, he said.
“I have an attachment to this. My old man flew them in combat,” he said.
He’s taken his father flying in Sentimental Journey several times, he said.
Half the fun of flying the plane is meeting with veterans, he said.
“I just like to hear different stories, and they’ve all got at least one story to tell,” he said.
One of those veterans Tuesday was Russ Clark of Hays, who served as a Navy machinist mate on the USS Farquhar, which provided protection for Navy ships in the Atlantic and Pacific during WWII.
He was on board in May 1945 when the Farquhar became the last American ship to sink a German submarine.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Clark said before boarding for a 15-minute flight around Hays.
“It’s good to see these things still around so maybe younger people will have an understanding,” he said.
Eris Waller, Stockton, also came out to see the B-17. Waller is not entirely unfamiliar with warplanes, as right after high school, she became a civilian employee at Walker Army Air Field, which was located 3 miles northeast of Victoria.
From 1942 to 1946, the Army Air Force trained bomber crews at the base. At its height, there was approximately 6,000 military and civilian personnel.
Waller worked in memorandum receipts, where all the paperwork for the planes was handled.
“I was the first one from around this area to work with the crew from Louisiana that came up and started the field work,” she said.
She supervised eight other women in the office for work that included ordering parts for the aircraft.
She also met the man who would become her husband, Lamont “Chuck” Waller, who was the crew chief at the base.
“I wasn’t too involved with the planes myself, but it brings back a lot of memories of experiences I had at the base,” Waller said.