We have experienced a whole new meaning of being “on cloud nine”! This past weekend, what was to be a day trip, turned into a surprising 27 hours of empowering brotherhood! Tuesday evening on March 8th, the Warrior Bonfire Program was offered the opportunity for six of our Purple Hearts to ride on one of two remaining WWII B-24 Bombers during a repositioning of the aircraft from Houston to San Antonio. We had two days to locate six Purple Hearts, out of the San Antonio area, along with an aircraft to first get them over to Houston for the return trip. Our friends over at the Veterans Airlift Command connected us with a private jet for all six passengers piloted by Glenn Peters with Custom Flights. They also connected us with new friends at Operation Comfort out of San Antonio that helped us fill the slots with their local veterans. We were all booked and registered within 24 hours!
The mission was simple, arrive at 0800 on Friday morning, fly to Ellington Airport in Houston, board the bomber and return by 1330! Upon arrival in Houston, our crew of six met various maintenance team members of the bomber and was given an incredible guided tour of numerous wartime aircraft. Up close and personal they were able to climb aboard, see the engines and hear stories of the aircraft's glory days. As the day progress and the tours ended a bit of uncertainty filled the air. All was quiet and movement was scarce. The bomber wasn’t appearing to be near ready to take off and our veterans found themselves hanging out in the hanger and sharing a few memories. As the day progressed, maintenance issues along with pre-purchased flights for locals wanting to fly in the B-24 had pushed back our timeline for return resulting in an overnight delay!
Back on the home front, WBP team members were scrambling and working diligently to stay in contact with all parties in order to assist our Purple Hearts with the best service possible in this situation. All the while, our six veterans stuck in the hanger, were experiencing a bit of magic. Not to our surprise as we have seen this time and time again on our Bonfire trips, these groups instantly begin to gel by telling of their stories, sharing lessons learned and reliving a bit of their own glory days of time in combat. The Bonfire happens all the time without the fire! The healing power of a challenge and working together to work through it in these small groups is amazing. These men being put in a situation of the unknown actually felt very familiar, triggered good memories and allowed them to use the skills in which they have all been trained.
It reminded them of being deployed! In a good way!
They pulled together, adjusted their plans at home and experienced a thrilling next few hours of camaraderie and brotherhood. The team at the WBP arranged for rental car transportation, dinner and hotel rooms not far from the airport. By the next morning at 0715 a report came through, “Made wakeup, got breakfast, and we are all standing by waiting at the airport, Hoorah! Army Strong!!” Why we on the home front were worried, is baffling!
Once airborne in the B-24, for these men the feeling was surreal. The lift of the large aircraft was surprisingly smooth and having the opportunity to step into the shoes of those that fought in WWII with these planes gave them insight and understanding as to the difference in the way we fight and protect today. They acted like they were boys when holding and maneuvering the machine guns, “hard to believe that they actually had to do it like that back then,” Steve Holden commented in reference to a shared video where he had to use his entire body to swing the gun towards his imaginary enemies. Experiencing a bit of history and imagery for something that you love and is a part of you is a time to cherish.
“This was pretty dang cool!”
Our appreciation for the opportunity goes out to the Collings Foundation which restores and tours these old warbird aircrafts and allowed us to fly with them this weekend. Visit their website to see how to schedule to take a ride. Also, we send many thanks to the Veterans Airlift Command for helping with this mission as well Operation Comfort. Lastly, a great big thanks to the Southern Heritage Air Foundation for keeping us connected to the aviation community! This proves that one organization alone cannot do it all by themselves. It takes all of us, working together, for the veterans that need our support.