WWII veteran enjoys honor flight 73 years after being shot down

WWII vets taken on B-25 honor flight

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The Bowman Field Aviation and Military Heritage Festival is taking place this weekend. As part of the festivities, World War II veterans are being treated to honor flights on a fully-restored, World War II era B-25 bomber--the plane made famous by the Doolittle Raid of 1942.

Louisville native Staff Sergeant Willard Gill was one of the veterans flying aboard the B-25 today. Gill was a gunner on a B-24 bomber during the war. He and his crew were shot down while returning from a bombing raid over Germany, eventually ditching in the Adriatic Sea.

“I was on the fourth mission when our plane went over to northern Germany, target of Blechhammer. Our plane was shot with anti-aircraft fire pretty heavily, and so after we started turning back toward home the pilot said, ‘We’re in trouble, we’re losing fuel and we may not be able to make it back to the airbase in Italy,’” Gill said.

This weekend’s honor flights are being performed by the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. Matt Conrad is the pilot in command of the B-25 named “Show Me,” and he says flying this plane with men on board who fought in World War II never gets old.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s amazing to fly this airplane, it’s actually an honor and a privilege to do it. I still get chills today when we start this airplane.

“I’m not afraid to say it, I still tear up when I talk to, especially veterans that were part of this airplane and they’re sitting right behind me and I get to fly them around. I feel humbled, and I feel--it’s an amazing experience and I wish everybody could experience it,” Conrad said.

Gill and his fellow crewmen were later rescued from a small island in the Adriatic Sea and would eventually go on to fly 31 more missions in the war over Germany, Austria, northern Italy and Poland.

Seventy-three years later, today’s flight was much less harrowing, but something he will never forget.

“I’ll tell you it was a great flight. To see the inside of that old plane--it looked a lot like the B-24 I used to fly in, and also good to look out the windows and see the scenery, the landscape, the river and all that. Our pilots, I thought, were great and the way they handled it, they were pointing out certain points of interest to me. They were, they were really wonderful,” Gill said.

The Commemorative Air Force will be taking veterans on honor flights all weekend at Bowman Field. Vintage plane rides are also available for members of the public during the festival, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

More information can be found at bowmanaviationfest.com.

Watch Gill's full story of being shot down here:

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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