Aircraft Commander George Bowling flew 35 bombing missions over Germany in World War II – but that doesn’t mean his B-17 never got hit by enemy fire.
On one mission, two of the plane’s four engines burst into flames after taking hits.
At that point, it’s a matter of following training procedures – dropping altitude, shutting off specific air flaps to isolate the flames and cutting off fuel to the two burning engines.
“And it burns itself out,” said Bowling, a 91-year-old deCordova resident said.
Thanks to his ability to follow what he learned in pilot training and with support from other aircraft, Bowling and his crew made it safely from Berlin to a British airstrip just a few miles inland from England’s east coast.
“We had to leave the formations,” Bowling said. “We had enough fuel and fighters to help us. We made it back to England. You depended on the navigator to keep you informed how you were doing on fuel and mileage.”
There was an alternate plan, but it didn’t offer an attractive ending. It would have involved parachuting into enemy territory.
Bowling is one of seven Hood County residents who will be flown on a commercial jet with other Texan military veterans to Washington, D.C. on May 6 as guests of Honor Flight of Fort Worth (honorflightfortworth.org).
The others are: Bill Bell, Roy Falls, B.J. “Bruce” Glatzel Jr., Dan Havelka, Roy Malone and Lawrence White.
They will be taken on a tour of war-related landmarks – the grave of the Unknown Soldier, the Air Force Memorial, the Korean and Vietnam memorials, the Arlington National Cemetery and the memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt.
The Hood County group will meet on April 13 at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens and be presented with Honor Flight jackets and T-shirts.
Honor Flight began in Ohio in 2005, but has expanded to 71 hubs in 30 states. The Fort Worth chapter began in 2011. The Honor Flight program operates entirely on donations. It is free of charge to the veterans, who can bring one person on the trip to assist them.
Military veterans who fill out an application are considered. The older applicants are taken first, according to Loyce Engler-Houston, CEO and co-founder of Honor Flight of Fort Worth.
“Everyone we’ve ever taken came back saying this is the trip of a lifetime,” Engler-Houston said. “They’re very humble and appreciative as well.”
Bowling, who was in the Army Air Corps 447th Bomb Group, enlisted in 1941 and was discharged in 1945. After the war he worked as a pilot for American Airlines for 32 years. He flew in and out of the nation’s capital, but that was before most of the memorials were built so he is looking forward to making the trip with others who also served and loved their country.
“It will be all new to me. I think it’s pretty special. I think it’s going to be wonderful.” said Bowling, whose first wife, Alice Lon, was featured as a singer and dancer – the original “Champagne Lady” – on television’s popular Lawrence Welk Show from 1955-58.
Bowling recalled that the World War II era was “a time when everybody was proud of the country, and they were doing everything they can to win the war.”
Bell, also a deCordova resident, is the youngest of the group at age 88. He served in the Navy from 1942-46, mostly overseas in the Pacific Islands areas including the Mariana Islands, Hawaii, the Marshal Islands and the Gilbert Islands.
He was 17 when he enlisted, so he had to get his mother to sign granting her permission.
Bell was Navy PHM 2nd Class, primarily at a sea plane base near Saipan in the Marianas.
A good friend from his hometown of Coahoma, Sonny Robinson, was killed in the Japanese bombing of the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
That makes his opportunity to see the memorials that much more special.
“It sure is,” said Bell, whose wife, Dorothy, died last July after 52 years of marriage. “It’s something I really look forward to.”
Falls, 93, originally from Fort Worth, moved to Hood County in 1985 and now lives in Comanche Harbor. He joined the military in October 1941 and was discharged as a corporal on Nov. 8, 1945.
After a stint in the Army Air Corps, he was transferred to the Army Infantry. He was sent to Europe in March 1945, toward the “tail-end” of the war, and was assigned with other soldiers to process German prisoners.
Concerning the Honor Flight, Falls said, “It’ll be quite a thrill. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I’m looking forward to meeting (the others).”
Glatzel, still another deCordova resident, enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 18 in December 1942 and was discharged in April 1946.
He joined one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and became a flight officer. Glatzel remained stateside and trained pilots from Mexico, Ecuador and Turkey, among others.
After serving in the military, Glatzel eventually went to work for Texas Electric in Fort Worth, after moving to Hood County in 1973. He has lived in Texas since 1953.
“I’m anxious to see it all,” Glatzel said. “It will be a great experience.”
Glatzel, a New Jersey native who turned 90 on March 18, said he has lived next door to Lawrence White (a fellow soldier also going) for the last five years.
Havelka fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was a prisoner of war for eight days after parachuting into Germany. The 93-year-old Royal Oaks resident was in the Army’s 507th Division Parachute Infantry Regiment.
The Texas native, who moved to Hood County in 1986, earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He was wounded while trying to help load a patient on a stretcher into an ambulance.
Shrapnel from incoming fire struck Havelka in the face, and killed the man who had been holding the other end of the stretcher.
Havelka was a lieutenant when he was discharged in 1945.
“It means a whole lot to him, especially with his World War II memories,” said Havelka’s friend, Louise Hidalgo, relaying his comments over the phone.
Malone was only 17 when he joined the Army near the end of the war, in April 1945. He went to Inchon, Korea, serving as a company clerk in the Sinal Corps. But the war was over almost before the young staff sergeant knew it, in June.
“I came home and was told I couldn’t get married,” Malone said.
He got the last laugh, however. He married Wyleta Anderson when he turned 21, and they have been together ever since. They will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on Wednesday – when Malone turns 86.
Malone, who formerly worked in Fort Worth and Waco, now lives in deCordova. He bought a residence in Hood County in 1972 and became a full-time resident four years later.
White noted that Glatzel, his neighbor in deCordova, urged him to send in the Honor Flight application. He’s thrilled to be going, particularly since he knows most of the others.
“I think it will be fabulous, especially going with some friends – World War II boys,” said White, 89, who was in the Navy Reserve six years, the Army Reserve three years and the National Guard 11 years.
He said the last time he visited Washington was almost 20 years ago, before the World War II memorial was built. There’s also a sad element to his memories.
“So many of my friends and buddies were left behind,” said White, who was a state trooper in Oklahoma for 21 years after leaving the military before working for a brief time as a U.S. marshal in Tulsa. He also worked for the Oklahoma Police Academy for 18 years.
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