From thousands of feet above Germany, Sgt. Taffe Simon saw the flashes and black smoke and heard loud anti-aircraft explosions all around him as he rode beneath a B-17 Flying Fortress.
He had a seat in the ball turret on the underside of the bomber that took America into World War II against the Nazis. Simon was in his early 20s when he took aim at German fighter planes.
He said he had no fear when he first entered the war in 1942.
“You’re young and eager. You’re not scared,” Simon said.
But the big German anti-aircraft guns boomed from below. On missions during daylight hours over railroads, factories and other Nazi targets, he was a target for the enemy on the ground.
“Then I saw the flak. And I was scared.”
A north Oklahoma City resident since he was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in 1946, Simon said he can still recall those first bombing raids as he sat in the gunner’s seat in the glass turret. It was his job to try to keep the German fighter planes at bay, swiveling a machine gun as fighters came from all sides.
“Trying to shoot down another airplane in the air is really hard to do,” Simon said.
Simon said on his first bombing raids on a B-17, the more experienced crew members prepared him for the hostile skies.
“They told me when you see the flak you’re safe. It’s when you don’t see it that you’re done.”
One of the legendary aircraft, this one with a special link to another historic B-17, is coming to Oklahoma City. This one was restored and used to portray the Memphis Belle in the 1990 movie of the same name. It will land at Wiley Post Airport and be available for the public to see on the ground or in the air.
Those interested can fly on the plane for $450 each from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and June 15 at the airport, 5915 Phillip J. Rhoads Ave. Tours of the plane will be available as well when it is on the ground.
The B-17 coming to Oklahoma City was one of 13,000 built during World War II. The original Memphis Belle is now at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. The replica is one of only nine that are still flying today.
This B-17 never flew on bombing missions; instead it was used for years fighting forest fires in the Pacific Northwest after the war ended, said Scott Maher, spokesman for the nonprofit Liberty Foundation. The plane is on a nationwide tour to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the last bombing mission of the real Memphis Belle. It was restored by a previous owner before it was used in the movie and is making 50 stops this year in cities throughout the country, Maher said.
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