Seventy one years ago, June 6, 1944 Allies Forces, mostly British and American, stormed the beaches of Normandy. The pictures help, but the grim and hard fighting that day is almost unimaginable for those that were not there. The movie Saving Private Ryan does it some justice. Airpower, both close air support suppressing German firing positions on the bluff and gliders dropping soldiers behind the lines, were also important. But the main credit that day goes to the ground forces.
Last night, Friday June 5, I was fortunate to be invited by my friend Howard Becker for a special gala dinner at the Tri-State Warbird Museum. What an evening, we were treated to a special time of flyby’s by P-51 Mustangs as well as a B-17. Our special guest speaker was Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry a worthy recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, The Congressional Medal of Honor.
The highlight for me was meeting or seeing several World War II veterans and aircraft. I will try to highlight each of them over the next few blogs. First are Russ Witte and his son Jim. Russ commanded a B-25 during the North African campaign of 1942. He told me that he chased Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox) across Libya. Following his flying tour in Europe he returned to Eglin Field in Florida where he served as a test pilot, flying almost every airplane in the U.S. inventory.
Given that information, I thought the logical question to ask was, “Sir, what was your favorite plane’? “Well, I guess it was the B-25 since I flew the most missions it in it” was Russ’s reply. Pictured below are left to right: Howard Becker, Dr. Aviation, Russ Witte, and Jim Witte. At the end of our conversation, Russ shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your service”. Can you imagine that? He did more in five years in the Army Air Corps than I did in 24 years in the Air Force. However, that attitude is typical of that generation. Thanking others for their service when the WWII vets themselves did so much more than most of us will ever do.