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Vets memories take wing as B-17 soars over Hillsboro

-  Flight offers close-up view of legendary WWII Flying Fortress in action


It’s been about 70 years since Bob Schuberg was in a massive B-17 bomber. But there he was on Monday, April 29, in a “Flying Fortress” cruising over Washington County in the cool, cloudy spring sky.by: TIMES PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Bob Schuberg of Portland squeezes into the B-17's front gun turret, which is located under the cockpit and offers a bird's eye view of the ground below.

The 87-year-old Portland resident was among a handful of World War II veterans who took a ride on the nonprofit Liberty Foundation’s B-17 “Memphis Belle” from Hillsboro Airport.

Climbing onboard the plane brought back a lot of memories for Schuberg, a B-17 tail gunner who flew 19 missions over Germany with the 568th squadron from Thurleigh, England.

“Our plane got hit a few times but not hard enough to cause serious problems,” said Schuberg, who brought along a book filled with photos and records from his flights. “In fact, it was 68 years ago this month that I flew in a B-17 for the last time.”

Schuberg was just one of three area World War II veterans on Monday’s flight who flew B-17 missions over Europe in 1944 and 1945.

Bill Frostick, 94, of Hillsboro, was a flight engineer in the plane’s top turret, flying 25 missions over Germany from the 306th bomb group’s base in Framlingham, England.

Chuck Gallagher, 91, of Beaverton, also was a top turret flight engineer, flying 35 missions out of Horham, England, with the 95th heavy bomb group.

The three veterans were invited to participate in two special Liberty Foundation flights in the “Memphis Belle,” one of only 13 B-17s still flying today. The B-17s used in World War II were dubbed “Flying Fortresses” because of their defensive firepower and ability to absorb punishment. The bombers were used in every theater of operation, with the majority operated by the 8th Air Force in Europe.

Tiptoeing around gun turret

There were 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, with 4,735 of them lost in combat. The “Memphis Belle,” on display at the Hillsboro Airport, was built near the end of the war and never saw any combat, but it is painted in the colors and nose art of the original historic “Memphis Belle” B-17 that flew countless missions with the 91st bomb group of the 8th Air Force and was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions.

For the three veterans, the opportunity to fly in a B-17 once again coincided with two media flights designed to promote flight experiences that will be offered to the paying public May 4 and 5.

The veterans were hit by a wave of memories when they climbed aboard the plane. For journalists accustomed to modern commercial flights, the plane was a bit primitive. It was not designed for comfort, with a few seats scattered around the gun turrets, gaps in the floor where the ground below could be seen, and part of the top removed, making the flight windy both inside and outside.

Passengers had to crawl to access some areas of the plane, such as the forward gun turret under the cockpit. The view was worth it.

They also had to walk a plank a few inches wide to reach the cockpit and tiptoe around the main gun turret that took up most of the middle of the plane to get to the rear.

Despite the noise (ear plugs were provided) and smell of acrid smoke, the flight was a thrill a minute. And flying over Washington County’s farmland seemed to transport the older passengers to those 1940s flights over the European countryside.

Single greatest challenge

Gallagher, who came with his wife Marilyn, recalled that his crew flew over Russia and Switzerland, bombing Nazi-held cities and railroads and supporting the invasion of France. He noted that when dropping bombs at 25,000 feet, “at least you didn’t know who you hit.”

“My intention when I die is to be cremated and have my family come in from all over and fly in a B-17 and dump me out to pasture,” said Gallagher, who is active in the Oregon chapter of the 8th Air Force Historical Society that meets regularly in Beaverton. “It’s a real nice bunch of guys. But there’s fewer and fewer of us.”

Schuberg vividly recalled his flights, saying the round trip from England to Berlin to drop bombs could take up to nine hours. Checking the flight log in his book, he said, “My last mission was bombing Dresden, Germany, in April 1945.”

According to Schuberg, the crew plugged their flight suits into an electrical system on the plane to keep warm at the high altitudes, “and once I was in the rear turret in position with my oxygen mask on, there was no walking around.”

For those wondering about the lack of restrooms on the bombers, Schuberg said crew members urinated into a tube, but even that wasn’t practical at high altitudes when everything froze.

Following the flight, Schuberg only had one complaint: because the rear of the plane was used for storage, he couldn’t climb into the rear gun turret where he served on so many missions.

“That was great,” Schuberg added once the plane was back on the ground. “But as a 19-year-old, I could get around much better than I do now. And they haven’t improved the darn thing one bit since I was on it in the war — it’s just as noisy and uncomfortable as before.”by: TIMES PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Chuck Gallagher and his wife Marilyn of Beaverton look at the B-17 Flying Fortress Memphis Belle at the Hillsboro Airport before taking a flight on Monday.

Frostick added, “It seemed a lot smaller that when I was 19 years old. But this was a great experience. I feel blessed that I got to do it.”

Scott Maher with the Claremore, Okla., Liberty Foundation said the plane’s flight is a reminder of the “single greatest challenge to freedom in the 20th century.”

“The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 flies today as a tribute to the courage and commitment of all the men and women who served our country in times of need,” Maher said.



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