P-51s And Their Crews Honored In Ohio
by ANN Correspondent Scott Wagner
Amazing weather and an enthusiastic crowd greeted "The Gathering
of Mustangs and Legends," held over the weekend at Rickenbacker
International Airport in Columbus, OH.
This year's rendition of GOML yielded an official count of 75
P-51's, and dozens of pilots, ground crew members, mechanics, Women
Airforce Service Pilots and others involved with the Mustang over
the years. At press time, official attendance numbers were still
unavailable, but estimates from the announcers stand suggested the
possibility that there could have been as many as 100,000
attendees, and license plates in the parking lots confirmed
visitors from across the country.
The Legends participated in numerous autograph sessions, and the
media were treated to exclusive panel discussions, where pilots
regaled those in attendance with tales from their days flying the
Mustang. ANN sat in on one of these panels, and will be reporting
on it in the days to come.
Originally known as Lockbourne Army Air Base, the airfield was
built during World War II as a training base for B-17s and assault
gliders. After the war, the famed Tuskegee Airmen took up residence
at the base until 1949, when they were reassigned, the base was
deactivated, and control of the airfield was transferred to the
Ohio Air National Guard. The base was reactivated during the Korean
War, and remained active throughout the Vietnam War. In 1974, the
base was renamed Rickenbacker Air Force Base, in honor of WWI ace
and Columbus native Eddie Rickenbacker. In 1980, the base was
returned to the Ohio Air National Guard, and remains an active base
for Air National Guard, Army National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve and
Navy/Marine Reserve units. The airport area has also been
redeveloped into a major logistics hub, with UPS, FedEx and other
freight haulers operating out of the airport, along with numerous
trucking warehouses surrounding it.
GOML offered a rare opportunity to speak with the brave pilots
who flew the Mustang in combat almost 65 years ago. These men, who
were barely out of high school at the time, were handed the keys to
the most technologically advanced vehicles of their day. They were
given a tough assignment…to go out and save the world. They
did just that, and they did it with skill and honor that is
unrivaled. Sadly, the WWII generation is leaving us at an
astonishing pace, and we don't have much time left to absorb the
history these men and woman can teach us.
Joe Peterburs was 19 when he was assigned to the 55th Fighter
Squadron, flying P-51's from Kings Cliff, England. He flew 49
combat missions, and amassed 267 hours of combat flying. He is
credited with five aircraft destroyed on the ground, and damaging a
FW-190 in combat. He also has the distinction of shooting down a
Me-262 piloted by Walter Shuck, one of Germany's top aces.
He retired in 1979 as a Colonel, with 36 years of military
service and over 4000 hours of flight time. His decorations include
The Legion of Merit, The Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak
Leaf Cluster (OLC), the Bronze Star with one OLC, The Purple Heart
with one OLC, the Air Medal with seven OLCs, the POW Medal and 32
other medals and decorations.
When asked about the celebration of his service and the Mustang,
Colonel Peterburs replied "Of course, it's awesome. We're in the
winter of our lives. Something like this needed to be done so folks
can hear the stories from the horse's mouth. It's much more
interesting to hear the stories in person rather than in writing or
Fast Forward 65 years
to a current Air Force pilot. Major Mike Baker has been flying the
enormous C-5 Galaxy for the 445th Airlift Wing, based at
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio for two years, and
flew C-141's prior to that. He's logged time in the famed "Hanoi
Taxi," which was retired from his unit in May 2006, and now resides
at the National Museum of the Air Force, also in Dayton.
"It's awesome. I look around and see the people who paved the
way for us in aviation and in military history. It's truly an honor
to be here representing the Air Force. To see the sacrifice they,
and those who aren't here anymore, made. It's humbling. This show
is also a great way to show people the great capability of the
Department of Defense, by presenting a multi-service, and
multi-generational demonstration of America's capabilities.
In the air, the show featured a mix of civilian and military
flying. Featured acts included the Red Baron Pizza Squadron, the
Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, Michael Goulian, and Patty Wagstaff. In
addition to her normal routine in the Extra 300S, Wagstaff also
flew a P-51 in tribute to the WASPs.
On the louder side, the USAF brought an F-15, an F-16, and the
always amazing F-22 Raptor. Each participated in a "Heritage
Flight" with one to three Mustangs, always allowing the senior
airframe to take the lead. The Thunderbirds rounded out the
kerosene-burning portion of the show. A number of formation flights
were also staged. A collection of rarities took to the skies, and
treated the history buffs among us to the sight of a P-40 Warhawk,
a P-47 Thunderbolt, a P-38 Lightening, and one of the rarest of all
sightings, the Bell P-63 King Cobra all flying together. Another
formation featured B-17's, B-25's and a Lancaster being escorted in
the skies of Columbus by their "Little Friends", as they were so
aptly named by crews in the skies over war-time Europe.
Following the airshow, nearly two dozen Mustangs launched for a
formation flight. Standing on the flightline and listening to those
12 cylinder Merlins come to life, you could imagine what it must
have been like watching wave after wave of fighters launching for
an escort mission from England in 1944. The sound of the engines
running in harmony was a warbird and history buff's dream, as they
disappeared into the distance to form up for two passes over the
show. When they retuned, they had formed the shape of a giant "51"
that flew across the field, directly over show center.
Shortly thereafter, a four-ship formation flew overhead,
performing the familiar "Missing Man" formation. As the "Missing
Man" headed west, one could only reflect on the thousands of brave
airmen who never made it back, and those who remain missing to this
day. The 2007 Gathering of Mustangs and Legends was a fitting
tribute to these men, and the airplane that helped assure victory
for the Allies. The men will be gone soon, but their stories and
their machinery will live on forever.