NORMAN — As the B-17 Flying Fortress at Max Westheimer Airport roars to life, the two dog tags around Joe Jones' neck glint in the sunlight from the aircraft's waist gunner window. One of the tags is his, worn during his time as a Green Beret in Vietnam. The other once belonged to a man who knew this type of aircraft all too well.
This particular B-17, named “Aluminum Overcast,” is a restored World War II bomber taking an annual flight tour by the Experimental Aircraft Association out of Oshkosh, Wis. The group offers rides on the bomber, with a particular focus on giving veterans a chance to experience history.
For Jones, this trip is a chance of a lifetime — not just to fly on a historic aircraft, but to connect with the life of a family member he never had the chance to meet.
In 1944 Jones' uncle, Gerald Taylor, was aboard a badly damaged B-17 limping back toward friendly territory. Taylor, the bombardier, had just completed his fifth successful mission in an attack on German-held Poland. But the aircraft had taken heavy damage during the raid.
It became clear to the crew that their bomber wasn't going to make it back. Their only option would be to ditch the aircraft in the freezing-cold sea.
“The crew of another B-17 with the group reported that they saw 10 chutes,” Jones said, “so they all made it out of the airplane.”
Yet only one of the crew's bodies was recovered.
Taylor wasn't the only member of Jones' family who had made sacrifices during the war. Gerald Taylor's brother was a pilot. He flew paratroopers over France during D-Day, and though he was seriously injured by anti-aircraft fire, returned wounded men onboard the aircraft to their base in England. Joe's wife, Nancy, the daughter of a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, is no stranger to the conflict either.
It's loud, bumpy and hot. But it'll give you an idea of what those boys had to deal with. And remember, there's nobody on the ground trying to kill us.”
Crew chief, ‘Aluminum Overcast'