Saturday, December 17, 2016

Man finds grandfather's World War II bomber at nose art exhibit

OSHKOSH, Wisconsin —

A Waukesha County man discovers a piece of U.S. military history is also a missing piece of his family tree.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've always tried to find a plane that my grandfather flew," said Bill Tromblay, whose grandfather was a bomber pilot during World War II.

Tromblay is a pilot and airplane mechanic from Mukwonago, with aviation in his bloodline.

His grandfather, Lt. Clement Tromblay, of Milwaukee, piloted bomber missions during World War II, including one later immortalized in the film "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

"What's great about this exhibit is that these were true combat airplanes," Bill Tromblay said.

So when Tromblay heard that the EAA Museum in Oshkosh was featuring an exhibit of nose art -- the paintings on World War II-era bombers -- he had a hunch.

"I knew there was a chance that my grandfather's plane, or a plane that he flew, was here. So we went through this as fast as we could, and I couldn't find it," Tromblay said.

There's a reason that Tromblay didn't see the panel from his grandfather's plane right away. The museum realized that some of the artwork on these wartime bombers was intended for more mature audiences.

"Went back in the last room, and there it was," Bill Tromblay said.

Behind a canvas curtain, in a space reserved for nose art featuring images that are more revealing than others, was the panel from Double Trouble, Grandpa Clement's B-24.

"Double Trouble was that aluminum color," Bill's father, Jim Tromblay, said.

Jim Tromblay explained that Grandpa Clement didn't paint the two female figures, wearing nothing but red shoes and bow ties, but he piloted that aircraft and commanded the crew on critical missions.

"My reaction was, whoa, there it is," Jim Tromblay said.

At first glance, Jim was in awe, but he said it was Bill for whom the moment meant the most.

"Bill's reaction was, by himself, and he started to cry, because all of a sudden here's… His grandpa passed away. He never met his grandpa," Jim Tromblay said.

Grandpa Clement never got to know the grandson who would inherit his love of flying.

Instead, all Bill Tromblay had were old photos and stories until he stood before that piece of his grandfather's plane.

"I had tears in my eyes because it was, finally, here it is. This exists. It's this tangible piece of a plane that my grandfather flew. And now I can stand there, and I can see it, and I can touch it, and I know that it exists," Bill Tromblay said.

This holiday season, Bill Tromblay thinks of it as a gift -- decades-old paint on a tattered piece of metal, breathing new life into the close personal bond with the grandfather he never knew.

"It's like finding the treasure at the end of the journey," Bill Tromblay said.

Even though his grandfather's most famous mission was fictionalized in the movie, Bill Tromblay said the nose art exhibit is a reminder of the real people who fought and flew missions throughout World War II.

The exhibit continues through August at the EAA Museum.

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