Written by Ariel Graham
History came alive during the Wings of Freedom Tour held at the Frontiers of Flight Museum, March 13-17.
For the past 10 years, the Wings of Freedom Tour presented by the Collings Foundation has brought authentic World War II-era aircraft to Dallas for the public to enjoy. The four planes on display this year included a B-24 Liberator bomber, the last remaining Liberator bomber still flying in the world today, along with a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a P-51 Mustang fighter plane.
Kevin Ryan, a volunteer with the Collings Foundation, feels this event is not just for the public, but also for veterans and their families.
“[Wings of Freedom] is a nationwide tour. We do 10 months of the year with these World War II aircrafts,” Ryan said. “It’s to honor all the veterans who served. The [tour] gives the younger generations an opportunity to see what World War II airplanes are like and to fly on a World War II airplane if they so desire.”
Children and their parents were encouraged to climb into the planes to view the cockpit, weapons and cargo space inside the planes. When kids climb out of the planes, they often have questions for the volunteers.
“I enjoy just being able to answer questions for people, especially younger people,” Ryan said. “We’ve had a lot of families come out with younger kids, and I always tell the kids, ‘Now, remember this in a few years when you study World War II history in high school.’ The parents get pictures of them, so when they’re in high school [the parents] can say, ‘Hey, here’s a picture of you standing by the B-17,’ or whatever. It’s living history – living, breathing, snarling, smelly, wonderful history.”
Cheryl Sutterfield-Jones, CEO of the Frontiers of Flight Museum, said the Wings of Freedom tour is one of the most popular and eagerly anticipated events for the museum each year.
“This is one of our main events of the year that the whole community comes out to and enjoys,” Sutterfield-Jones said. “We have several events, but this one’s a little different, because it’s World War II. It takes us back to that vintage time to honor our American heroes and think about the world as it used to be. It fits in perfectly with Frontiers of Flight, because we go from the history of aviation to the future of space.”
But for her, the event is far more personal.
“My dad was a B-17 pilot,” Sutterfield-Jones said. “When they fly in, I almost get chills thinking about that could have been my dad flying on that airplane. I have a great respect for the veterans. I love seeing the veterans come out and interacting with them. If there’s a veteran here, I just want to stand up and talk to them and ask what your memories are like. I want the children and the next generation hear those stories.”
For many others in attendance, the event served as way to connect with not just world history, but their family histories as well.
“The year before last we had a grandson come out whose grandfather flew in the B-24s,” said Wade Williams, a member of the Army Air Force’s WW2 Reenactors of Texas. “[The grandfather] had a picture taken with a flight cap and goggles on. We did the same for the grandson and held the pictures together, and they were virtually identical. It was a really neat moment.”
Williams added that, as the number of World War II veterans becomes fewer each year. It is more important than ever to share these stories and memoires with the next generation.
“This is the kind of education younger people don’t get in schools, and they don’t learn much about that era,” Williams said. “During that era, the men and women, not just the men fighting overseas, but the women at home, they all came together in a manner that has never been seen before as a country and accomplished great things. I try to let the younger generation know about that.”