By Stacey Doud | DFW Newsflash | November 2019
Irving — The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) presented the Wings Over Dallas-WWII Airshow at the Dallas Executive Airport, Oct. 25–27. The show featured opportunities to speak with WWII vets, a tribute to the Pacific Theater, and a Pearl Harbor reenactment called Tora! Tora! Tora!
There was something for all ages, including a static display of war planes and the new Aviation Discovery Kid’s Zone, which offered a landing simulator.
People could purchase rides in warbirds like the B-24 bomber ‘Diamond Lil,’ the AT-6 trainer ‘Nella,’ fighter planes such as a P-51 Mustang gunfighter, and the C-47 ‘That’s All Brother.’
Every plane flown at the show was found, restored and is piloted by CAF volunteers.
“The purpose of the CAF is to bridge the gap between the ‘Greatest Generation’ and their experiences to the next generations,” CAF Wisconsin Wing Colonel Tom McDermott said. “We want to honor, to educate and inspire. We’re telling the story. I know all about WWII because my father told me and taught me.”
The Dallas/Fort Worth Wing of the CAF was formerly located in the Midland/Odessa area.
“We have been blessed by the City of Dallas,” McDermott said. “They encouraged us to move from Midland/Odessa, where we had a wonderful home. We knew we had a bigger story to tell. Seventy-five percent of the membership had to vote to move out of Midland and come here to Dallas, and so it wasn’t without some pain.
“We are committed to South Dallas and the Dallas area. We are committed to the families whose dad or whose grandpa served. We are doing this to honor them and to tell their stories. We want to be as big as the Dallas Cowboys.”
Most of the CAF volunteers are pilots, or pilot’s wives or husbands. Many of them had relatives in who served in WWII as well.
“My dad was in the 13th Army Air Corps in a B-25 in the Pacific,” McDermott said. “My father would go in the day after B-24s [had been flying] and would clean up anything that was still there.
“My father was on an island in the Pacific, and the supply ship didn’t make it through. My father ate apricots for almost a month. That’s all they had on the island. To his dying day, my mother was not allowed to have an apricot in the house.”
One of the main tasks of the CAF is to locate and restore WWII aircraft.
“We were actually able to discover this aircraft [C-47] named ‘That’s All Brother.’ That was the message that was sent to Hitler in WWII,” McDermott said. “He had advanced all across western Europe. It was completely occupied.
“On June 6, 1944, so many people were waiting for this airplane. There were POWs [Prisoners of War] being held captive. Let’s all remember all of the Jews that were in the concentration camps. They were hoping we would get there in time. ‘That’s All Brother,’ led all the paratroopers early on the morning of June 6, 1944.
“Nobody knew that this aircraft still existed. Its heritage had faded. There were more than 20 prior owners when researchers discovered the tail number, which never changes, on the aircraft. The owner was listed as Basler Turbo Conversion in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They specialize in taking old airplanes and putting new engines in them, bringing them back to life.
“‘That’s All Brother’ was waiting [for a new engine], and two weeks before they started to cut it apart, its precious lineage was discovered. We found it, and we bought it. We restored it, and we took it to France. We took it to Europe, and we brought it home. Today, you’re seeing this aircraft at Dallas Executive Airport. That’s a perfect example of what we do. It’s to honor the men and women that built [the aircraft] and served. Many didn’t come home,” he said.
The CAF is also dedicated to honor the diversity of pilots that served.
“We are very proud that we tell the story of the [African American Squadron] Tuskegee Airmen,” McDermott said. “We have a trailer we take around the country and teach the message to thousands of schoolchildren that the airplane does not know what color the pilot is. An airplane also does not know if it’s a man or a woman flying.
“We also tell the story of the Women’s Air Service Pilots, the ‘WASPs,’ who flew AT-6s. This aircraft is dedicated to telling the story of the women that went to Sweetwater, Texas. During wartime production, most of the guys that could fly were already overseas. It was necessary for more pilots to ferry these aircraft. So, the Women’s Air Service Pilot program in Sweetwater trained women to fly these aircraft, and they were as good as the guys.
“When the B-29 was produced, Jimmy Dolittle [of Dolittle’s Raiders] called upon these women, because many of the pilots were afraid of them. They thought it was too complicated and couldn’t fly properly. Dolittle brought women pilots to show women could fly the B-29. The macho guys said, ‘Well, if the women can fly it, we can fly it,’” he said.
A few WWII veterans signed photos and told stories.
Colonel Joe McPhail (ret.) joined the Marines in 1941 and is now 97-years-old. He flew the F-4 Wildcat as well as an F4U Corsair with the “Death Rattlers” squadron. This group was the most successful Marine fighting squadron in 1945 with 124 victories. McPhail flew 140 combat missions during WWII and 102 missions in the Korean War.
“I was qualifying to go aboard the carrier,” McPhail said. “It was a CV, the smallest carrier built. When I qualified, they didn’t have any airplanes on the deck, and we would land, and they used an arresting cable that would help with your take-off and landing. I did this six times without stopping.
“The next day, I was to go on a mission, so they had airplanes on the deck, and we had to make a ‘catapult takeoff.’ They taxied me over to the port cat [port-side catapult] and hooked me up to the catapult, and they give you the ‘off brake’ signal, and we sat there and watched them shoot [the airplanes] out to the right side.
“Then comes my turn. I ran up [to the take-off position] and I salute, and away I go. I came back from my mission, land and go to the Red Room [debriefing room], and on the board, they have [written] ‘McPhail, the Reluctant Warrior.’ I asked them what’s the deal? And they said, ‘You took off with your brakes on.’ What happened was when I pushed that power up, I didn’t release the brake. It wasn’t intentional, but I got teased plenty. That didn’t stop me from flying again, though.”
You can view photos from the air show below:
Photos by Shannon Doud, Stacey Doud and Rodney Moore