Washington state

WWII-era planes draw diverse crowd

Most families, veterans, and plane aficionados were happy to catch a few rays Saturday morning while soaking up the history on display at the Wings of Freedom Tour at Bergstrom Aircraft in Pasco.

But for those who wanted a break from the heat, the enormous shadows cast by the wings of the World Ward II-era aircraft did just trick.

Pete Hopkins of Pasco took a break in the shade of the right wing of Witchcraft, a restored B-24 liberator.

Hopkins, a Korean War veteran, was too young to serve in WWII, but it looms large in his memory. As he has aged, he’s become more interested in the history of the period — from its culture to its machinery.

“The older you get, the more nostalgia you have,” he said.

Malin Bergstrom, president of Bergstrom Aircraft, said, like Hopkins, many visitors are drawn to the tour by a personal connection.

“It’s an easy assumption that veterans come out to see planes they flew in and worked on,” she said. “But I hope younger generations want to learn from their father or grandfather. The stories we have here, it gives me goosebumps.”

John “Des” Howarth, 91, of Richland, was one of many veterans in the Bergstrom hangar Saturday, where he reminisced about the war and his love of the airpanes of the era.

Featured by the Herald in 2003, Howarth was a navigator on a B-24 bomber in England during WWII.

Howarth initially was rejected from enlisting in the Army because he was born in Canada, though he was living in Michigan at the time of the war.

Determined to serve, he crossed back over the border and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Once on duty in England, he was able to transfer to the U.S. Army Air Forces 36th Bomb Squadron.

On a foggy February morning in 1945, Howarth was aboard the B-24 Beast of Bourbon when it crashed shortly after takeoff.

He escaped through an opening in the top of the plane. Three other crewmen died.

On Saturday, Howarth was accompanied to the Wings of Freedom tour by his friend David Watson of Kennewick.

Watson was an aviator in the Vietnam War. The two met at Meadow Springs Presbyterian Church in Richland and bonded over their love of aircraft.

“If you ask any pilot, it’s, ‘If it flies, I’ll fly it,’ ” Watson said.

Still, he feels a particular passion for WWII-era planes, which he described as technologically sophisticated and physically powerful.

“That to me was the golden age of aviation,” Watson said. “I wish I could have flown during WWII, but the thing is, I’d be as old as Des now.”

For every veteran like Hopkins, Howarth and Watson, there was a person at Saturday’s display who had never served, but felt drawn by history or the aircraft.

“If a kid’s here and they don’t have a personal connection, it’s because it’s planes,” Bergstrom said.

Francis Klein of West Richland and her son Kaleb Klein, 10, make it a point to see any and all military machinery on display in the region.

Francis Klein likes the historical value, especially with WWII machinery that has a direct link to the Tri-Cities, like Fat Man, the atomic weapon made from plutonium produced at Hanford — a model of which was on display at Bergstrom this weekend.

Kaleb Klein, meanwhile, has a passion for the Army and all its equipment, from tanks to ships, atomic weapons to ballistics. However, planes, he said, are his favorite.

“He’s been infatuated with the Army since he was 4 years old,” Francis Klein said of Kaleb. She thinks he will sign up as soon as he’s eligible. “He’s going to end up serving his country one way or another.”

Today is the last day of the Tri-City leg of the Wings of Freedom Tour. Airplanes are on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bergstrom Aircraft near the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for children and free for WWII veterans.