The Wings of Freedom Tour is “living history,” as it’s called by the Collings Foundation, the educational nonprofit that has for 23 years flown WWII bombers and fighter planes to 110 cities across the country. Their latest stop was this week in Santa Barbara.
Clear skies and warm, breezy air welcomed the old-yet-operational aircraft as they glided down to the airport that served as a Marine Corps Air Station during WWII. Some of the brave men enlisted in service at that time were, along with their wives, present on the runway, admiring the planes and chatting together; other locals and children and WWII enthusiasts enjoyed the mobile winged exhibits as well.
The small, silver, and sleek fighter plane — the TP-51C Mustang — was actually flown in by one such enthusiast. The pilot, named Dave Renner, had a cousin who flew in the Pacific Theatre, and said he was on a trip visiting WWII sites around the world. A “damn patriotic American,” Renner not long ago retired as a commercial airline pilot, and now makes a hobby of traveling from place to place, visiting sites of significance to the war.
Looking on with approval at the B-24 Liberator — an impressive dark green bomber boasting four propellers — were George and Ruby Glass. George is a veteran, and has been living in the area since 1944. “Back then there were four buildings in Goleta,” he said. “I was stationed at this airbase during the war. You know that ticket office at your school, [UCSB]? That used to be our barracks.” Glass said he saw every island in the Pacific. “Near the end of the war I was headed for Japan,” he paused. “If the bomb hadn’t hit, I’d probably not be here,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye; every story springing to his mind was followed by a smile and a light touch on the arm of whoever was listening.
As people shuffled in and out of the B-17 Flying Fortress — a heavy bomber legendary for shrugging off attack damage — Jack Nadel looked on with satisfaction from the seat of his wheelchair, glad to see others sharing in his own history. During the war, Nadel had trained on the B-17; but it was over Japan on the B-29 Superfortress — the largest bird in all of WWII — that he, in 1945, completed 27 missions as a navigator and radar officer.
Gus Polasek, another WWII veteran, not only trained on the B-17 but also saw lots of combat, accomplishing 37 missions over the course of his service in the European Theatre.
Because the story of WWII cannot be told without mentioning the impact each of these aircraft had, the Collings Foundation continues to relate their significance to the public across the nation, displaying the winged relics with gusto and pride.