The 133rdMission of the Boomerang
When I was a boy in the 1960s there was a popular television show named “12 O’clock High”. It was about World War II bomber crews and it was one of my favorite shows because my dad was a bomber pilot in WW2. Being a kid, I had no real sense of history and did not know what my dad actually did; all I knew was that he was a bomber pilot. Because 12 O’clock High showed B-17 Flying Fortresses I assumed that’s what my dad flew. As I got older I learned that he was an instructor pilot flying B-24s out of Symrna, Tennessee and B-29s out of Montgomery, Alabama. With the lack of logic known only to youth, I had no interest in B-29s, but I was awestruck by the B-24. My dad was a corporate pilot flying a Beech 18 which, like the B-24, had twin rudders. This was the beginning of my fascination with the B-24 Liberator.
I flew my first control-line model B-24 in 1971 and was hooked forever. The Liberator is a heavy wing loaded model that lands really hard. I learned early that you could not use wheels for take-off and landing because when the engines quit it was all about gravity. However, the plane’s stability when compared to the model of a B-17 I had flown for five years fit my personality to a tee. My first B-24 was a 1/36th scale, profile aircraft that I have it to this day. As I have aged my skills as a model builder increased and so did the size of my Liberators.
The Assemblies of God church has a scouting group for boys called the Royal Rangers. As leaders we are taught that boys like things big and unusual. Since I taught aviation at the summer camp I decided to build a model of a B-24 that would be eye-catching and big. In 1993 I built my first 1/12th scale profile B-24. Its fuselage is about sixty-seven inches and it has a wing-span of one hundred ten inches. I chose to name it Killjoy after a scene in the Army Air Corp film “Target for Today”. I thought that name was a perfect description of war.
I grew up in the New Orleans area and from time to time my brothers and I would fly at City Park in New Orleans where there is a control line model flying field. The field has three flying circles: a 60-foot hard surface circle, a 70-foot hard surface circle and a 60/70-foot grass circle used for combat planes. The flying field is only a quarter of a mile from where one of the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The flying fields were badly damaged from the flood as well as the heavy equipment used to clean-up afterward.
One day I decided that I would try to do something toward fixing the field well enough to maybe someday fly there again. It was then that I met members of the New Orleans Ring Masters Flying Club. The Ring Masters is an old and honorable flying club that has been around since the late 1950s. Since we were doing work for the same purpose they invited me and my helper (my younger daughter who was 14 at the time) to join the club. Both she and I are kind of the comic relief with these giant B-24s but they all love the planes because of the sound of the engines and the fact the plane takes off on a dolly.
I recently constructed another giant B-24. I refer to the plane as a transformer because the nose section on the plane is attached with three bolts so I can change the nose section to make the model an early B-24 with the glass nose section or a late model with the nose turret. I learned years ago that if I wanted to stay married I could not have all the toys I wanted (especially with such large planes); they had to be able to be disassembled for storage. With this latest model I decided to paint the plane Desert Tan along the lines of the planes that served in North Africa in the early part of WW2.
I am a history buff and have read extensively about WW2. The 376th Bomb Group has always captured my imagination because they were the first bomber group in the western hemisphere to go into action against Nazi targets -- fully one month before the 8th Bomb Group flew its first mission out of England. As I was building this model I had no problem finding information on the 376th early B-24s, after all they led the famous August 1943 raid on the Ploesti (Romania) oil fields. I usually name my models and design their nose art to suit myself. I chose Pete’s Dragon for the early configuration but I couldn’t decide on a name for the late model. It was while doing internet research that I encountered the name Boomerang for the first time.
The Boomerang was the highest scoring B-24 with the 15th Air Force having completed 132 combat missions. All the pictures I found of the Boomerang were old black and white photographs. Depending on the time of day the photo was taken it sometimes looked Desert Tan and sometimes Olive Drab. I have to tell you, if you are going to display any model combat plane, having the right color is very important. I found one color picture of the Boomerang taken at the end of the war that showed the plane as Desert Tan but I couldn’t believe it had flown until the end of the war in Europe still painted Desert Tan. I thought they would have at least removed the paint and made it natural metal like the newer ones. Can you imagine how a tan aircraft stood out like a sore thumb in a blue sky with all those silver planes?
Pete’s Dragon was tan and was going to stay tan. It would be great if the Boomerang was tan. Clearly my last resort was to go to the 376th Bomb Group association for help. Thus began the 133rd mission of the Boomerang.
I went to the 376th website hoping to get a better picture of the Boomerang and if not, to try to contact someone who for help. While wandering their website I came across an announcement that the Group reunion would be in New Orleans in just two weeks. Wow! That was fantastic! If I can’t find a color picture, I could go ask the guys who knew the Boomerang! Imagine if I could display my giant model of the Boomerang for those veterans at the reunion. But I would need some help on the home front. I raised the idea of displaying the model to Tony Atzenhoffer , the Ring Master’s president, to see what he thought. I trust him enough to know that if he didn’t approve there would be no point of continuing this mission. Tony loved the idea.
So here was the plan…the New Orleans Ring Masters will put together a display for the 376th Bomb Group. No problem, except for the fact I have barely more than a week to get permission to do the display and put the display together. And all this time I am not really sure of the color of the plane, and I don’t know anybody with the 376th, and have never done anything like this before. So where do you start?
On the 376th Bomb Group website the contact person is a man named Ed Clendenin. So I shot an email to Mr. Clendenin and got back a reply that said he was out of his office and wouldn’t be back till after the reunion. Great. But it said one of their activities would be a visit to the D-Day Museum in New Orleans (which, by the way, is a “must see”). I contacted the museum in hopes they could give me some help. All they could tell me was the 376th Bomb Group would be there but they weren’t sure what day. My last hope was to contact the hotel where the reunion was to take place. The staff and management of the Double Tree hotel could not have been more helpful!
I must tell you that trying to explain to strangers that you would like to display a giant control line model airplane for a bunch of WW2 veterans who would be guests in their hotel is an intimidating task. The person in charge of the reunion said they could not give me permission to put up a display but they put me in touch with the person in charge of the reunion. His name is Ed Blake. I figured with a call out of the blue with such a request I had less than 60 seconds to present my plan. No pressure. Mr. Blake was amazing. He listened to the idea and thought would be a good concept; he gave me permission to bring the display. Yes!
Now it is command decision time. Even though I did not have a definitive picture showing the color of the plane, I chose to go with the late model B-24 in tan livery. But I still needed to get those decals done. I am not computer savvy; however, my wife is a wizard when it comes to using computer programs to create visuals. She could handle this but there was a minor glitch. On the internet anywhere you look there is maybe six pictures of the Boomerang; on the 376th Bomb Group website there is three different pictures of the nose art with different arrangements of the name on the plane. There is a picture of the nose before it’s very first mission. Then there is a picture of the nose when the plane has 125 missions. Then there is a third picture that is obviously taken after the war in Europe is over and the plane is ready to go home. In that last picture is obvious that they had repainted the nose section, redid the nose art and on the port side they painted the names of all 132 cities the plane bombed. I decided to make the decals for the plane as it flew combat.
Somewhere along the life of the plane someone modified the name to Liberandos Boomerang (Liberandos being the groups nickname). In the photo before the plane flew its first mission it simply has the word Boomerang with a lightning bolt through it. In the 125 mission photo it has the word Liberandos added above Boomerang. My wife worked her magic and the plane was ready to go.
Along with the plane I decided to bring a few items from my stash: an old mechanical E-6B navigational computer, a map and a plotter, a reproduction B-24 flight manual, and a photo album of my favorite pictures of our giant Liberator taken over the years and a video of the Boomerang flying at City Park. (Thank you Royal Rangers for teaching me how to put a first class display together because it was going to be very important.)
I told the hotel that I would be there from 10:30 am until 6:00 pm before the start of the reunion activities. That Friday at 10:30 Tony Atzenhoffer, Myron Firmin (another Ring Master), and I were there ready to talk with anybody who wandered over there. That is when we were told that this wasn’t a reunion for only the 376th. There were at least five groups of the 15th Air Force holding a joint reunion. Because the WW2 generation is passing on so quickly the decision was made to have several groups together instead of squadrons only. We were not prepared for what transpired.
That giant B-24 drew the veterans like a magnet. Because my dad was a WW2 veteran I know there is a something I call flowing. When three combat missions as pilot-in-command. One gunner was shot down on his eighth mission, the 1943 Ploesti raid. His plane was so low to the ground when his chute opened that the Germans thought no one got out. He evaded the enemy for five days before being captured. One navigator got a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. You stimulate memories like that giant B-24 did, they each start relaying stories that happened to them. I guess in cybertalk you would say streaming. Pilots, navigators, bombadiers, gunners, and mechanics walked up and just started talking. One gentleman had flown forty missions. One navigatorwas awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. Then came a gift from above.
Tony turned to me and said come talk to this guy. It turned out he flew the Boomerang on one of its 132 missions. I just had to ask him if the plane was Desert Tan. He said yes, it looks exactly like the Boomerang. Then he added that was except for the flak holes in the aft part of the fuselage. He said when the sheet metal mechanics repaired the holes they didn’t take the time to paint them. I had seen a picture on the internet of the 98th Bomb Group aircraft The Squaw which had ninety-eight combat missions before it was returned to the states for a war bond tour. It had unpainted flak damage to the rear fuselage so I can imagine what the Boomerang looked like.
It just wasn’t the veterans. Their children wanted to know things about the planes. My only guess is maybe they didn’t know how to ask their dad about his experiences for fear on looking ignorant. They still had questions and finally somebody to ask. Everyone wanted to know how I got interested in B-24s since it’s not really the most popular airplane from the period. When I told them my dad flew B-24s it really made a difference even to the veterans. I had brought pictures of him as a cadet flying PT-17s in Bartlesville, South Carolina (one of those pictures the army sent to the parents). The cadets jokingly called them MIA photos.
It was an amazing experience. Three model builders who were only trying to honor WW2 veterans bringing so much pleasure and fond memories to so many people. One lady told Tony ‘I don’t know what they are paying you but it is well worth it’. Tony told her we weren’t there for money we did it for love. It is sad that most of the old guys probably won’t remember that reunion for long. My dad had dimentia so I know from experience. But we were able to honor the Greatest Generation even if just for those 7½ hours. It was priceless. It brought to mind a song popular during WW2 – “We’ll Meet Again Someday”. And so we shall.