Honoring a Legendary Legacy: Take Flight with the Ghosts of World War Two

September 22, 2017, 1:39 pm EST | Share:

JOHNS ISLAND, SC (CAROLYN WILLIAMS, WTAT-TV) — Listen closely – the deep thrum of engines sounds above the Holy City as the majestic Madras Maiden takes flight.

For one day only, join the Liberty Foundation for a walk amongst the spirit of heroes, and if you so desire, a flight with the World War Two-era aircraft’s crew.

This B-17 Flying Fortress was first commissioned by the United States Army Air Forces on Oct. 17, 1944, joining an elite fleet of American military airpower.

From 1944 to 1959, she served our nation as a research and development aircraft before being acquired by the civilian world for a sum of $5,026.

Today, the Madras Maiden is crewed by a multitude of volunteers with the Liberty Foundation – a nonprofit flying museum. It is her first year touring the country and being available for public flights.

FOX24 took to the wild blue yonder with pilots John Hess and John Shuttleworth and flight mechanic Rod Schneider.

It was an experience we won’t soon forget: the smell of aircraft fuel and the roar of the engines filled the cabin as we ascended into sunny skies. I viewed Charleston’s most stunning sights from a bombardier station, a far cry from the situation young men had fought for their lives in decades before.

The wind whipped our excitement, the smiles and exhilaration hard to miss.

The crew makes their special appearances with one mission in mind, honoring our World War Two veterans.

“We really want to honor these veterans because what they did, their heroic actions, the volunteering to serve our country, whether they were 19, 20, whatever-years-old, is just amazing,” Hess said.

The stories these men hear from city to city, veteran to veteran, vary, but they each have a memorable impact on those they share with.

From wearing the first heated suits to protect against well-below-freezing temperatures to bailing out of a plane at altitude and being captured, the tales hit so close to home.

“This veteran pulls up his shirt, and he shows this big scar that he has,” Hess reflected, “and he was one of the first guys to get a heated suit … he was in the ball turret, curled up in a little ball, and his suit shorted out, and it basically electrocuted, burned him.”

One man’s story was particularly harrowing, Shuttleworth revealed.

“There was a gentleman who had to bail out of a B-17 – he was separated from his parachute, the plane was on fire and breaking up, it got a to a point where he had to get out. He exited the airplane without a parachute. He came down through a forest, hit a tree, catching every branch on the way down and landed in snow. He was busted up, hurt really bad, but he survived it and was captured and was a POW.”

Schneider reminisced on a truly inspirational moment: a veteran abandoned his walker to take a walk through the plane, disregarding objections from his wife. He shared stories his family revealed they’d never heard before.

“It becomes a time machine,” Schneider said, emotion seeping into his tone, “It was because he was on the airplane, he had gone back in time, and it meant a lot to him, meant a lot to the family.”

The Liberty Foundation hopes to increase awareness and honor the legacy of the World War Two generation, which has lost so many to old age in recent years.

Gather the family and head out to Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island this Saturday, September 23, to experience the Madras Maiden. Public flights are available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with ground tours held after the day’s last flight.

For more information on the Liberty Foundation’s 2017 Salute to Veterans tour, visit libertyfoundation.org.