World War II B-17 Bomber visits Kentuckiana

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by Kelsey Starks

WHAS11.com

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 22 at 4:06 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The plane made famous in the 1990 movie “Memphis Belle” is touring Kentuckiana this weekend.

The Liberty Foundation flies the historic bomber all across the country to help tell the story of World War II. It’s a story many WWII veterans no longer are telling; they are dying by as many as 1,500 a day. 

The planes were known as a flying fortress . . . a tank in the sky . . . a war-bird unlike anything ever built at the time. They could sustain serious damage and still make it home. 

My grandfather was just 20 years old when he was a bombardier in a B-17 he named “Sugar Box” after my grandmother. They had just married when he left for the war. His plane never came home.

“He was a bombardier in a B-17, so he flew in the front,” my dad, Kirk Kirkpatrick, remembers. “On his 23rd mission, he was shot down. Only five of the ten made it out alive. He was one of the five.”

He survived a German prison camp for nearly three years. He was rescued by Patton’s troops when the war was over and eventually made it home to Kentucky where my dad, Kirk Kirkpatrick, was born years later. It would be more than 70 years later when his son and his granddaughter got to take a ride for ourselves.

Of these historic planes, just 12 of the 12,000 made are still flying today. It’s the only thing keeping their stories alive. 

Sgt. James Lee “Hutch” Hutchinson, a veteran from Bedford, Indiana, flew as a radio operator in a B-17. He’s just one of a couple thousand World War II vets still living. He sees these trips as his final mission.

“It’s a mission," Hutchinson said. "It just tells the story from the few remaining guys. I’m 89. We're going; I’m afraid the stories will go."

My grandfather, John L. Kirkpatrick, died in 1996. He never talked a lot about what happened during his time in the war, but you can read more about his story HERE.

Some veterans will see this plane and open up about their memories – allowing those stories to forever live on.

“I’m thinking of my dad,” my dad said as he stepped out of the restored B-17. “And how it must have felt at 21 or 22 years old with people firing at you . . . temperatures at 40 degrees below zero . . . dropping bombs . . . I just can't imagine."

It’s an experience this daughter will never forget.

You can see the B-17 in person Saturday and Sunday at the Clark County Regional Airport. 

A tour through the plane is free, while a 45-minute ride costs $450.

For more information about he Liberty Foundation or the Memphis Belle, visit www.LibertyFoundation.org or call 918-340-0243.
 

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