Stranger treats Oklahoma City veteran to dream flight in B-29

Veteran Albert Wheeler, 88, was grateful Saturday after a Shawnee man 60 years his junior bought him an expensive ticket to fly in a restored World War II-era B-29 Superfortress at Wiley Post Airport in Bethany.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: October 7, 2012

Albert Wheeler waited 67 years to take a ride on the bomber he says saved his life.

On Saturday, thanks to a selfless act by a Shawnee man young enough to be his grandson, Wheeler finally got to live out his dream.

The World War II veteran from Oklahoma City was telling war stories Friday in the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress at Wiley Post Airport in Bethany when an inspired stranger decided Wheeler needed to experience the aircraft in all its glory.

Before the 88-year-old veteran could object, Drew Walker, a 27-year-old system operator for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. swiped his credit card through a credit card machine set up alongside the airport's runway and bought Wheeler a ticket to ride.

For $595, Walker ensured Wheeler was among the several dozen people who took to the skies Saturday in the bomber known as FIFI, the last of the B-29s still airworthy.

“I was just so overcome; I really hesitated about accepting it,” said Wheeler, who showed up to the airport wearing a brown leather bomber jacket and a blue U.S. Navy cap, his wife of 66 years, Mercedes, in tow. “Finally my greed overcame my other emotions and I accepted.”

Historic aircraft flights

B-29s are best known for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, subsequently ending World War II.

FIFI is one of several vintage bombers brought to the Oklahoma City airport last week by the Commemorative Air Force, a nonprofit Texas group that preserves and flies historic aircraft across the country. The group raises money to restore its aircraft by charging people for short flights.

Wheeler, who patrolled the Atlantic Ocean during the war in a U.S. Navy torpedo bomber known as the Grumman TBF Avenger, said he was dispatched to the Pacific Front in the summer of 1945 but never made it.

“Just as I was about to leave, Harry Truman dropped the bomb and the war was over,” he said in the pilot's lounge before his flight Saturday. “Like I was telling those other young men earlier, that really made a Democrat out of me for a long time.”

His brother, who served with the U.S. Army, was called back from Korea when the war ended, he said.

The Wheelers ventured out to Wiley Post on Friday to check out the bombers.

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