WWII planes touch down in West Chicago

WEST CHICAGO, Ill. (WLS) -- Roaring propellers and colorful airplane paint jobs at DuPage Airport looked like a movie set, Wednesday. But they're real, original World War II bombers on display for the Wings of Freedom tour.

"We have a B-17 Flying fortress, a B-24 Liberator (the only one in the world flying), a B-25 Mitchell," listed off pilot Mac McCauley, who volunteers with the Collings Foundation for this annual project.

Curious visitors of all ages stood in awe, marveling at the planes that helped defeat the Axis powers.

Jack Miller's father, Karl E. Miller, was one of those brave young Americans, flying as a B-24 navigator.

"Their missions were typically 6-8 hours at 30,000 feet," Miller said of his father's 10-man crew, adding an anecdote about a time "he was looking for landmarks, he had his head in the bubble on the right side of the plane. He went to the left side for a minute. He came back to the right side and there was no window there, it was shot away."

Today, Jeff Miller shares these memories-both a family and national history- with his grandchildren.

"That's important to me. I want them to know what World War II was, I want (them) to know what it took to win it."

Visitors climbed aboard the planes, seeing what conditions may have been like in combat by navigating narrow walk ways dangling over open bomb bays, maneuvering machine guns and popping their head into turrets.

For an added experience, you can even take a brief flight.

"You're up running around the airplane, moving around, doing the different positions, seeing what it was like," explained McCauley of those added-cost opportunities.

"I think it's amazing that they kept it in this condition, that they're able to show people that history is important," remarked 10-year-old Ethan Hanyzewski, from bellow the B-24's bomb bay.

These planes touch down in more than 100 American communities each year thanks to the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit focused on interactive learning with what it calls "living history."

For McCauley, that includes a chance to meet the veterans who flew these planes skies decades ago.

"It's been just a great privilege to meet these people. They are some of the most gracious people," he said.

As the "Greatest Generation" ages, the foundation can pass stories on to our children.

"The conditions that they flew under, I don't think that kids today would do it," added Miller.

Instead, they're lucky to live in a world where they admire, remember and honor those heroes as they're aircraft still take to the skies.
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