Duluth, MN - On Saturday evening, the American Legion Post 71 in West Duluth was abuzz with Northlanders, City Council members, and local veterans—spanning the gap from World War II to the present day.
Reason one: raise money for the Commemorative Air Force restoration project of a 1942 PBY Catalina Bomber—a World War II era float plane that served in both the Pacific and Atlantic theatre as a search, rescue and reconnaissance patrol bomber.
"The PBY Catalina crew was the crew that spotted not only the Bismarck in the Atlantic, but also the Japanese fleet as they were steaming toward Midway," said Commemorative Air Force member Warren Johnson. As the silent auction and dinner fundraiser continued, however, it became clear that Northlanders were gathered together for another reason—to share stories and gain insight from veterans whose experiences overseas helped shape the region.
"Wayne Johnson flew P 49 Warhawks, and he was with us this evening. And he's in his 90's—not that many more opportunities to sit with someone of that age, and share their stories, and get an idea of just what it was like for them," said Commemorative Air Force member Peter Prudden.
City Council President Dan Hartman said the dedication that the Northland has to honoring our veterans is what makes our region unique: "We as a community, I think, are incredibly unique because we have three local museums in our area. We have the Commemorative Air Force—which is our fundraiser for tonight. We have Veteran's Memorial Hall, which is part of the St. Louis County Historical Society. But also, we have the Richard I Bong Heritage Center in Superior. So, in our region we have three great local museums, and that's pretty rare to have. Most don't have any."
According to Northland resident Jody Roberts, the lessons we can learn from our veterans are important lessons for the next generation: "I have grandparents that served in World War II, and I want my daughter to understand how important the veterans are to this country, and to this community."
...as for the BPY Catalina? That, too, serves an educational—and memorial—purpose.
"That will go on the air show circuit to promote education, and the history, and [as] a tribute to the veterans that flew them," said Prudden. The silent auction went on to raise over $1,000 for the restoration project. Restoration of the BPY Catalina is scheduled for completion by 2014—just in time for fourth fest—where it will be flown over the Duluth harbor, and land in the bay.