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World War II vets take flight

WWII veterans gather for a photo in front of the EAA's B-17, Aluminum Overcast, in Oshkosh on Monday, April 14. Ten veteran B-17 crew members were assembled to share stories and take a flight.

WWII veterans gather for a photo in front of the EAA's B-17, Aluminum Overcast, in Oshkosh on Monday, April 14. Ten veteran B-17 crew members were assembled to share stories and take a flight. Photo By Todd Ponath

April 15, 2014

Flying above Oshkosh in a B-17 bomber brought back memories for 10 reunited World War II Eighth Air Force veterans — memories both good and bad.

Harvin Abrahamson of Wauwatosa said what he felt, was cold.

Clear skies and a sharp temperature drop welcomed the Monday morning flight. Abrahamson wasn't dressed for it, he said. He forgot gloves. Even with a couple jackets on, the icy wind reminded him plainly of flying over Europe during World War II, he said, where at 30,000 feet, the average temperature was 50 degrees below zero.

B-17s had heated seats back then, he joked.

The Experimental Aircraft Association organized the veteran reunion flight to kick off its national tour of B-17 bomber "Aluminum Overcast." The veterans represented each crew position and are all Wisconsin residents. This was the first time some veterans had boarded a B-17 since leaving the military about 70 years ago.

"We felt it was really important to have the opportunity to honor them while we still have the chance," said Dick Knapinski, spokesman for EAA. Aluminum Overcast will visit 60 cities starting this weekend for tours.

Abrahamson, 89, is a Chaplin of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society Wisconsin chapter and lives at Luther Manor senior living in Wauwatosa. He was drafted at 18 years old.

Serving as a radio operator and waist gunner from 1943 to 1945, Abrahamson joined nine other "flying fortress" crew members on Monday who served as pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, flight engineer, ball turret gunner, waist gunner and tail gunner. Bob Abresch, 92, served as a pilot from April 1944 to September 1944 and is also a Luther Manor resident.

"It made me feel very good to show people what we did and to tell people what we were about," said Abresch.

B-17 airplanes were four-engine bombers packed with bombs and 12 50-caliber machine guns, Abrahamson said. They flew in formation in defense of German fighter air craft, which attacked in groups.

EAA presented veterans with honorary mementos and stenciled their names on the airplane in their crew positions. Despite never having served with each other, veterans shared stories and jokes, Abrahamson said — like giving the pilots a big compliment after the ride.

"Good landing," Abrahamson joked. "We didn't always have (those) overseas."

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