Remembering WWII: Special event allows Veterans to fly again
In 1954 SSgt Paul Sersland was traveling from Los Angeles to Birmingham, Ala. to make repairs on a B-25 bomber. Over the Grand Canyon the plane began to experience problems and Sersland talked with the Lord and told him he didn't need to fly anymore if he got him through the ordeal. That was the last time Sersland flew in an airplane until May 13 when he had an opportunity to fly in a B-17 Flying Fortress. Sersland is a WWII veteran and was a waist gunner on a B-17 bomber. He was a member of the 303rd Bomb Group and the 360th Bomb Squadron stationed at RAF Molesworth. The 303rd was better know as the Hell's Angels. The Hell's Angels was one of the first B-17 units in England. They were the first group to complete 25 combat missions in June, 1943, going on to complete 364 combat missions more than any other group. Sersland completed a total of 35 combat missions during his time as a waist gunner.
Sersland enlisted in the Army Air Core as a cadet when he was 18 years old. He volunteered to serve as a crew member on a B-17. When he got to the barracks he noticed many of the bunks were empty. He asked why are these bunks empty did they go home? The airman who gave him the tour replied "they finished their mission but it depends on what you call home". This made him nervous, seven out of the 12 planes that were assigned to Sersland's unit went down.
Sersland said the B-17 was the best plane during WWII. It could take punishment, carry a large payload and bring you back alive. When asked what his scariest experience was Sersland told of the time when his crew was flying a combat mission and their number one engine got hit and was vibrating violently. The crew tried to feather the prop, but they were unsuccessful. The right aileron was blown off and gas was coming out of the right wing. The oil pressure on the plane continued to drop and the plane had to fall out of formation. When a plane dropped out of formation it was vulnerable to enemy attack. Somehow, the pilot was able to land the plane and the crew was able to survive. Sersland and another crew member are the only living survivors of the B-17 crew that Sersland served with during the war.
Sersland and his step-son, Jerry Cottrell got to go on the flight together. They sat in the radio control area. Sersland said on some missions he had to man both waist guns. Recently, Sersland and his family had the opportunity to return to England and take a tour of RAF Molesworth.
The flight lasted approximately 30 minutes. Passengers were able to walk through the aircraft and take a look at all of the crew positions. This short flight gave only a sample of what it was like to fly on a B-17 during the war. After the flight Sersland kissed the ground.
This flight was made possible by the Liberty Foundation. The Liberty Foundation's B-17 "Memphis Belle" is one of only 13 B-17's that still fly today. The B-17 dubbed the "Flying Fortress" as a result of her defensive fire power saw action in every theater of operation during WWII. The majority of all WWII B-17's were operated by the Eighth Airforce in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England deep into enemy territory. There were 12,732 B-17's produced between 1935 and 1945, of these 4,735 were lost in combat. Following WWII, the B-17 saw combat in three more wars, B-17's saw service in Korea, Israel used them in the war of 1948 and they were even used during Vietnam.
"Memphis Belle" was built toward the end of the war and never saw any combat. It is painted in the colors and nose art of the original historic "Memphis Belle" B-17 that flew countless missions with the 91st bomb group of the mighty Eighth Airforce, and was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions.
The Liberty Foundation's B-17 has an interesting postwar history. Sold Surplus to National Metals Co. of Phoenix, Ariz. for the sum of $2,687.00 and then sold to Fast Way Air of Long Beach, Calif. 44-83546 became N3703G on the US civil register. In 1960 she was converted to a water bomber and operated as Tanker 78 until the late 1970s. N3703G was purchased by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation (MARC) in 1982. MARC, was started by David Tallichet, a wartime B-17 pilot with the 100th bomb group. He and his staff restored the B-17G to resemble a B-17F model. The restoration included reinstallation of power turrets, early tail gunners compartment, early Sperry dorsal turret recovered from a south Pacific wreck and adding a 91st BG paint scheme
In 1989, N3703G was hired for use in the filming of the Memphis Belle movie in England. In July 1989 she crossed the Atlantic with another B-17 to participate in the filming of the movie. Since returning to the U.S. N3703G has continued in the paint scheme of the "Memphis Belle"
The Liberty Foundation's B-17 provides visitors the opportunity to take a step back in time and gain respect for the men and women who gave so much to protect our freedoms. At each stop, flight "missions" are available in the Memphis Belle, which allow people to take flights in this historic aircraft. During flight operations, there will be a designated, secure area for those who would like to watch the aircraft flights at no charge. For enthusiasts that choose to take a flight experience on this legendary aircraft, these participants receive a pre-flight safety briefing containing the historical significance of the aircraft and a spectacular scenic air tour around the city. During the flight, passengers enjoy the unique opportunity of moving about the aircraft to the different combat crew positions to see the viewpoint that thousands of our heroes saw in combat more than 60 years ago.
World War II was the single greatest challenge to freedom in the 20th Century. Through the 46 months of war, more than 300,000 American soldiers, sailors and aviators died defending the beliefs that they held dear, with many more sacrificing in other ways. These men became our heroes through their struggles and came home to a grateful nation. Over the half century since, those heroes became our husbands, uncles, fathers and grandfathers; in many cases their stories were never shared with their families. Now with the popularity of movies like "Pearl Harbor" and the Steven Ambrose book "The Wild Blue", families are seeking to learn more about our veterans. They realize that these stories of courage and valor need to be preserved for future generations. Estimates place the number of World War II veterans dying each day at more than 1,500. With each death, another story of courage, honor and sacrifice is lost forever. This aircraft represents that legacy of courage and valor."
The Liberty Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit flying museum and funds generated merely help offset these high costs. Only the public's interest and other generous donations keep this historic aircraft flying and from being silenced permanently in a museum for years to come.
The flying event took place at the South Valley Regional Airport.