TERRE HAUTE —
Archie Goodwin looked skyward out of a large window as he waited for a piece of history to land Wednesday at the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.
Goodwin, 88, of Terre Haute served as ball turret gunner in a B-17, a World War II heavy bomber, named “Lady Velma,” which flew as part of the 390th Bomber Group.
“My pilot’s wife was named Velma and we put her picture on the plane with lacquer. At high altitude, that picture blew away in the wind,” Goodwin chuckled as he awaited the arrival of a B-17 Flying Fortress and a P-51 Mustang, a World War II fighter plane, at the Terre Haute airport.
Mechanical problems delayed the arrival of a B-24 Liberator, another World War II era heavy bomber. The planes at the airport are part of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour. The Collings Foundation is a non-profit educational foundation, founded in 1979 and based in Stow, Mass., devoted to organizing “living history” events that allow learning through direct participation.
The flying tour is in its 23rd year and visits an average of 110 cities in more than 35 states annually. It is estimated that 4 million people see the warbirds annually. Walk-through tours as well as flying tours are available.
Goodwin served from January 1943 to December of 1945. Seven months of that time was on active duty in the Flying Fortress over Germany and other parts of Europe.
His first combat mission overseas was on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“You could see all the ships and aircraft, but couldn’t see anyone at 23,000 feet. We were supposed to drop bombs to support the troops, but it was overcast, so we didn’t drop our bombs,” he said.
His B-17 crew did drop many bombs in other missions. Goodwin often endured heavy anti-aircraft fire, such as during five bombing missions over Munich, Germany. “That flak was so heavy. They said the lifespan was about 3 minutes over the target at that time. We were lucky. We didn’t get to be one of the statistics,” Goodwin said.
He flew on 31 missions, of which 30 were with the same crew, which had no fatalities. “We were supposed to do 25 missions, but they couldn’t get replacements, which is what they told us,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said he flew in three different models — the E, F and G — of the B-17.
As a ball turret gunner, Goodwin sat in a small space where he would fire two .50 caliber machine guns. Goodwin said he never used a safety harness inside the turret. “There wasn’t any cops around to say your fined,” he joked.
In the first B-17 Goodwin flew in, “we did not have the electric heated suit. We just had sheep skin. It was cold. We would be in there 8 to 10 hours,” he said.
Goodwin also recalls when he first came across a German Messerschmitt 262, the first fully operational turbo jet fighter. “Three of them came in and no propeller. I fired at one and all the other gunners fired and he went straight down as if hit, but whether he was shot down or not, I don’t know. They could level out and then come back up again,” Goodwin said.
“The interrogator after the mission couldn’t believe a plane without a propeller. We were questioned after each mission,” Goodwin said.
Among his last flights, Goodwin’s B-17 crew flew over Amsterdam to drop supplies “to the free French.” Goodwin said he waved his guns to woman holding a baby. “She waved real big” back, Goodwin said with a smile.
Brazil residents Charles Toney, 70, and his grandson, Hunter Toney, 10, also came Wednesday to see the historic war planes. Charles Toney served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne from 1960 to 1963. Wednesday also marked the 49th anniversary of his military discharge.
“We always come to anything military. We have gone to Fort Campbell, Ky., and Wright Patterson Field and saw the USS Midway in San Diego,” Charles Toney said.
Keith B. Daugherty, 70, of Terre Haute waited to see the P-51 Mustang, as his oldest brother, Marvin Daugherty, now deceased, flew the plane during World War II. Keith Daugherty said his brother also once owned a decommissioned P-51, however that was damaged after it was forced to land with its landing gear up, sliding on the plane’s belly in a field.
Keith Daugherty carried a black-and-white photo of the P-51 after the crash, which showed his brother looking over the aircraft. Keith added that his other brother, Gordon Daugherty, also flew planes during the Vietnam War.
“I just wanted to see the plane again,” Keith Daugherty said of the P-51.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.