90-year-old WWII vet describes flying B-29 bomber | Community Spirit
CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - A 90-year-old veteran from Jefferson County, Illinois came out to see the B-29 bomber he flew in World War II.
Evertt Atkinson welcomed back one of the Commemorative Air Force's most rare and valuable airplanes, the FIFI B‐29 Superfortress. Atkinson flew FiFi and several other planes during WWII.
FIFI is one of only a few remaining B‐29s in the world, and the only one still flying.
David Oliver, 30, is the current aircraft commander of FiFi. By the time David went off to college he was a flight instructor teaching fellow students how to fly. His senior year he was selected as captain of the Southern Illinois University aerobatic team. They went on to win the Collegiate Championship that year with David taking top honors as the individual National Collegiate Aerobatic Champion.
The B29/B24 Squadron of the CAF is based in Addison, Texas.
Evertt Atkinson describes his years in the pilot seat of FiFi.
Watch his interview above and read a transcript below.
"For many, many years, about 25 years, my wife and I toured with FiFi all over the United States at our own expense for the most part, helping the public see and appreciated what was done in World War II and what we did it with," Atkinson said.
"It was a magnificent airplane, especially for its time. There was pressurized like today's airliners. And before in the 17 and the other airplanes we'd flown, we'd always had to have an oxygen mask, you know, above the altitudes that were specified. It was even a little bit insulated and theoretically was heated."
"It's a special occasion today for me to be able to be here and found out that the airplane was coming in and I'm sure the active crew today, much younger young men, will never know what an experience it was for a young kid that was given the job of go do it."
"I was a single engine fighter pilot for a year and then they needed four-engine pilots and they put me in the left seat of a B-17 bomber. I'd never been in a multi-engine airplane. But it was the way the service worked. They needed somebody. They pointed their finger and you did it. And you gave them, with my case, I tried to give them 110 percent."
"I mastere the left seat of the B-17 and then they promptly put me into the B-29 program. I ended up as an aircraft commander, 22 years old, still just a 2nd lieutenant, with 10 young men to take care of day and night, a wonderful crew. And what an opportunity it was for us to serve our country in this particular respect."
"I did enlist, but I didn't enlist to fly the B-29, the big hero. I enlisted to go where ever they sent me."
"We held up our hand and swore to defend our country against enemies foreign and domestic with our lives if necessary for $30 a month after Pearl Harbor. We got a raise in June, $50. It was much better."
"I enjoyed it very much and when the war ended, I was offered the opportunity to pick up an airline transport pilot's license. Just walked down to the front of the theater and pick it up."
"I went out the back door and came back home to the farm. I'd been farming with horses. Never been on a tractor. Pearl Harbor came along and changed my life along with all those other 19 year olds like myself."
Atkinson says it take a great deal of support from volunteers for the upkeep of the aircraft and lot of money to keep the planes touring the country. He says their looking for volunteers to help the commemorative airforce.
"We thought we were the best B-29 crews that they had ever turned out. We were competent and confident. And that's what it took of course."
"The B-29 turned out to be an airplane with major problems, especially with the engines. A lot of crashes from engine fires. And crews and planes were lost because of those failures. More crews and planes were lost to those matters than we lost in combat."
"My wife said years later, 'If I'd have known how dangerous that B-29 was to fly I would have worried myself to death.'"
"But we survived it. I was only one of my crews members out of 11 crews members. Just myself and my navigator are all that's left. Time has done its thing."
Atkinson says he was heartened to meet with several of the young pilots at Monday's event.
"I got a chance to meet with several of the young pilots in there at the desk. I'm very impressed with their interest in aviation and I hope that through visits like this, it will peak their interest in World War II or any world war, aviation was a factor and realize how much we accomplished with our airplanes during World War II with the odds against us."
"The commitment was there. You took off and did the job the best you knew how. Some of us got back."
Atkinson remember engine trouble on his own plane.
"We had one fire, the only time my crew ever had a problem. We were so professional, truthfully said, that we did turn back to the field, but we had it licked and went on our way again. So scary, no. We were properly trained. I knew there was danger everytime we crawled into an airplane, but I could get kicked by a horse at home."
"I dare anyone listening to give life 110 percent if you can. The three words that prompt me over my life's span have helped me a great deal are 'I wanted to, I wanted to.' It makes life a lot simpler."
Atkinson says there are a lot of differences between flying today and flying 70 years ago.
"There's a saying amongst old codgers like myself 'If it doesn't have a repeller, it isn't an airplane.' It's not automated aviation machine. The pilot comes center stage here, pushed the up button and the plane goes up. He pushes the roll button and the plane rolls. People say 'Oh what a pilot he is.' But, that all. He doesn't feel the airplane like we did during World War II and earlier pilots. You felt the pressure on the controls as you tried to move the airplane through the air. So it's a totally different world. It's all electronic today and I feel sorry for the kids that are learning to fly and go out there and do the rocket and interception came without the feel of the pure satisfaction of making that airplane do what you wanted to do, knowing that you either had done it or you hadn't done it. With the result might have been less than desirable."
Atkinson says he crashed his first plane just about a week after he got married.
"Eight days after she put that ring on my finger I had the first one. Didn't get a scratch. Later I had the unfortunate experience of totalling another one. There are times when you can get an airplane in a situation where you're beyond the limitations of the envelope of performance. In that circumstane, you're not a pilot, you're a passenger. I found that out."
Atkinson gives his best advice for young people today.
"Look around and see what needs to be done and do it. And do it with real enthusiasm. That makes life a lot more desirable. You get up in the morning and there's something to do and you go and do it. You have accomplished something. I feel sorry for the kids today who are living in an artificial environment where they simply twiddle their thumbs you might say. At the end of the day you can't see anything as you look around that they have accomplished in realtime, reality."
"Give everyday 110 percent. I don't care what age you are. Find something you like and give it all you got."
Check out this slideshow of pictures of B-29 Flying Fortress, a P-51 fighter plane and a WWII Army Jeep.
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