The vintage plane travels the country with a crew from the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force Aviation Museum and will be open to visitors Saturday and Sunday before departing on its next mission, a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.
Earl Morrow, a 93-year-old Hartford resident who piloted B-17s in World War II, is spending the week giving airport visitors a more thorough experience of the bomber.
“They see the airplanes, but they don’t know what the boys who flew in them went through, what they know,” said Morrow, who was a pilot for American Airlines for 30 years after the war. “They go through the plane, and they want to know what is what like to run one.”
Morrow, who was wearing a crisp long-sleeved shirt, khaki pants and a ballcap that said “U.S. Army Air Corps,” was more than happy to tell visitors about the plane, including details of his 17th flight, when he and his crew were shot down and sent to a German prisoner of war camp.
“We were there six months, and they made us leave the camp during a blizzard, because the Russians were coming and they didn’t want to get caught,” Morrow told a group of tourists standing near the plane Thursday morning. “A lot of guys couldn’t make it. I tried to collapse in the snow, but someone came over, hit me a couple times and got me up.”
He wound up in a camp in Nuremberg, Germany, which was later liberated by Gen. George Patton.
Morrow had wanted to join the military after Pearl Harbor, but his father was on the draft board and insisted he go to college. When he turned 21, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
Even some of the veteran members of the plane’s crew were mesmerized on Thursday by Morrow’s stories.
Morrow’s daughter, Jessica Brand, who splits her time between Hartford and Indiana, kept her father hydrated and fed and tried to get him to sit down on occasion.
“But there are people here, I want to talk to them,” he said at one point.
“It’s not like they’re going to fire you,” she said.
Kristin Purcell, the plane’s loadmaster, said it has been a pleasure having Morrow around.
“He’s having a great time,” she said, sitting at the souvenir booth Thursday. “He just going up to people and asking if they have any questions.”
For a few minutes, Morrow stood still, looking at a copy of a photo of him and his crew.
“I had a good bunch of boys,” he said, picking them out by name and talking a bit about each one.
Thirteen years ago, Morrow, bombardier Sam Lisica and navigator Jerry Silverman gathered for an interview with Hudson Falls teacher Matt Rozell.
Lisica and Silverman have since died.
“My father is the last one left,” Brand said. “And as far as we can tell, he is the last one left from his high school graduating class.”
Morrow was a Boy Scout with Hartford Troop 40 and the valedictorian of the Hartford Class of 1939. He’s planning to be around to tell his stories for at least a few more years, he said.
“My father made it to 96, and I want to get past him. Then I am going to try to get past 100,” he said.
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The interior of the World War II B-17 bomber "Sentimental Journey" is seen from the front gunner's seat Monday, July 21, 2014.
Spectators watch as the World War II B-17 bomber "Sentimental Journey" pulls into the Warren County airport Monday, July 21, 2014.