BETHANY — Crawling through the belly of the plane, hands brushed along the side of bombs tucked underneath.
It took some coaxing from Chris Monroe to get his 4-year-old son Landon up into the rear deck of the B-24J Liberator Heavy Bomber, but once there Landon explored everything around him — machine guns poking out of the window, radio controls lying about for him to pretend to use, and the narrow catwalk that passed over the bomb bay that led to the cockpit.
Monroe, who is in the Air Force and works as an AWACS radio technician, said he has always had a love for planes and judging by the model bomber clutched in his son's hand, he's crazy about them, too.
When he heard about Wings of Freedom Tour that flew into Wiley Post Airport on Friday, which features several rare and legendary World War II planes on display, he said he knew it was an event he couldn't pass up.
“He loves planes, we have a ton of toy versions of them,” Monroe said. “When I heard about this, I just thought it was the perfect opportunity for him to get out here and see the real thing.”
The tour is sponsored by the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation, and features several working World War II-era planes, including a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, a P-51 Mustang fighter and the B-24 bomber.
Lesson for son
Monroe said it's a thrill for him to be able to show this kind of history to his son.
“I'm a big World War II buff and it's always good to remember history and it's always good to pass it on to him,” Monroe said. “It gives you real appreciation for the guys who flew on these.”
Dan Stroud works as a volunteer guide for the tour. He said loves the job because he's able to relay history to those who did not grow up around planes like he did.
Stroud said one of his favorite moments was when a veteran visited and he was able to explain to the man's family how important his job aboard the aircraft was.
“He was mid- to late-80s and he couldn't speak very well,” Stroud said. “I took the family into the plane and I explained what he did for his job and how important a member of the crew he was and what he did to save other people's lives. He started tearing up because he couldn't communicate that with them, but now they know what he did, and that's pretty special.”
Stroud said he feels honored to be able to tell the stories of the veterans through the wings and propellers that were there.
“It's a flying museum,” he said. “Everyday we lose more and more veterans. The more we can get the word out for their loved ones to come out and see how important their loved ones were, the better our next generation will be.”