The Texas Flying Legends Museum had the honor to perform the Hat Toss Flyover for the 2013 graduating class of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The National Museum of WWII Aviation graciously hosted our planes and pilots during that week. We give thanks to all the members and volunteers for the Museum and a special “Thank You” to all the visitors and veterans who came out to see us, you are the reason we do what we do!
On the eve of May 29th, as the TFLM team departed Colorado Springs after the USAFA Flyover, our scheduled trip was to take us to Rapid City, South Dakota for a photo session at Mount Rushmore. However the weather had different plans, or perhaps it was a greater power bringing in the rains, and we had to redirect our planes and find somewhere to land quickly. We ended up landing in Chadron, Nebraska, a town of less than 6,000 residents, at the Chadron Municipal Airport. To our amazement, as we taxied in to the small airport, there were residents there to greet us and the numbers grew by the minute!
“It sounded like a war was happening out [there]… first the bomber then the fighters roared in! We knew they had to be landing at our airport,” said one local resident.
One WWII veteran recognized the radial engine immediately, even though he hadn’t heard that sound since wartime. He rushed out to the airport and visited with the P-51 Mustang, just like the one he flew in the war.
Within an hour of arriving, the rains coming down slightly, the pilots huddled under the wing and decided we had to move on. We quickly said goodbye to our visitors, but we didn’t know Chadron was still in our future. It started getting dark and the wind and rain forced us back to Chadron only 45 minutes after our departure. Despite the weather, the roar of all 8 planes buzzing the low rolling hills could be heard and our guests returned to greet us!
The residents of Chadron were extremely supportive as the pilots scrambled to secure the planes and the rest of our crew arranged lodging for the night. Some helped move planes and some offered rides into town, but others made their way to the one plane that had their full attention. One gentleman said he had missed our first visit; he had been so disappointed, so to have another opportunity meant a lot to him, and he needed to get to the Zero—as fast as his walker would allow. When his wife asked him to sit and be pushed, he pushed on and spoke of how he was a B-24 Gunner in WWII and was credited with shooting down a Japanese Zero. He had never seen one up close, but he knew they could maneuver. He was one of many veterans that came out and spoke of their heroes, the comradery, and a life of sacrifices during war.
In the meantime, the word of the spontaneous “airshow” was getting around. Our new friends were unanimous in their appreciation for the work to restore and fly the legendary warbirds, and they were all so touched that we unexpectedly landed in their town. For a small population in Nebraska, we had at least 10 WWII veterans as well as other veterans of war visiting with us under the dark skies of weather and memories.
The most amazing coincidence was that the very next morning, the Chadron American Legion was hosting a presentation to send area WWII veterans on the Honor Flight to Washington. Before they left town, along a row a flags, escorted by the Legion Riders, the Texas Flying Legends made it their mission to honor these veterans and we were able to fly our two P-51D Mustangs overhead in a short demonstration.
After the demonstration and back at the small airport, cars filled the parking lot and along the road as hundreds of people came to see the planes and send everyone off. Most took pictures; some just saw and watched silently. Most memories of war are not peaceful, but one thing is for certain, while the veterans were honored beyond belief that we were able to spend time with them, the honor was all ours.
We met a B-24 gunner, a P-51 pilot, a B-25 flight engineer, a Navy pilot, and more. We filmed several veterans to document their stories to preserve those that served and gave us the freedoms we have today.