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An accidental meeting with WWII B-17 airman

Visited Madras 30 years ago


Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO - The B-17 known as 'Chuckie,' which appeared at last year's air show, was purchased by Jack Erickson and renamed the 'Madras Maiden' and now has a new logo painted on its side.Thirty years ago, while recovering a stolen flight jacket, a Madras policeman unknowingly met a crewmember of one of the planes now housed at the Erickson Air Museum at the Madras Municipal Airport.

Stan Toms, now of Boardman, worked as a reserve, then fulltime officer for the Madras Police Department from 1972-85. Around 1983, he recalled getting a call about a theft at the City Center Motel. Responding, he contacted the resident of Room 6, a man in his 60s, who was visiting from Indiana.

“His name was Bob Arnold and he was really, really upset. He had gotten the room, left to go eat, and came back to find the front door kicked in. His portable typewriter was stolen, which he didn’t care about, and his World War II B-17 bomber jacket, which he was upset about,” Toms said.

After taking a report, Toms said he’d see what he could do. He drove around on patrol, but didn’t see anything, then called dispatch to say he was going to check the Rialto Tavern.

“I walked in, and lo and behold, there was a gentleman wearing the jacket!” Toms said. He arrested the man, then talked the case over with the district attorney. Normally, the jacket would have been put in the evidence locker until things were finalized. But since Arnold was from Indiana, the DA said it could be returned to the owner.

“Bob Arnold came and identified the jacket and I returned it, and he thought that I was the best police officer in the world,” Toms laughed.

The airman was so impressed that he and Toms became friends and corresponded by mail for years. “He sent me pictures of the plane he was assigned to, postcards, patches, and an 8-by-10 color photo of the B-17,” Toms said. After many years, he stopped hearing from Arnold, and figured he had passed away.

Then a year ago, Toms read about the Erickson Air Museum planning to open in Madras. “I had 30 years of all the things he had sent me in photos albums, so I contacted Rob Berg at the (Madras) airport and asked if he wanted it for the museum and he said yes,” Toms said.

He brought the memorabilia to Madras and said, “When I showed the 8-by-10 color photo to Rob Berg, his mouth dropped open. Then he said, `Oh, my God! You’re not going to believe this,’” Toms said.

Berg led him to the airport’s conference room and pointed to the wall. “Hanging on the wall was a picture of the B-17 that flew through the firewall at the air show in Madras and it was the exact same plane, with the same colors and numbers!” Toms said.

Toms never knew if Arnold was the plane’s pilot or a crewmember during World War II, and hasn’t been able to find information about the original crew. But now both photos hang on the wall at the airport.

After leaving Madras, Toms moved to Boardman and worked from 1986-2009 as a security officer for Boeing’s classified test field in Boardman. After Boeing left, the Insitu Co. took over the test site. Insitu, based in Bingen, Wash., builds and tests drones. He kept an eye on the site for four years, and is now retired.



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  • 23 Nov 2014

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