“It’s a tribute to the airfield and the men who were stationed there. This part of why we won the war.”
– B-29 Memorial Committee Chairman Bev Komarek of the B-29 Memorial Plaza
The venerable B-29s and the crews that flew them helped win World War II and forever reshaped Great Bend.
Great Bend Municipal Airport was originally established in 1942 as an Army Air Force superfortress training base. Today, the B-29 Memorial Plaza sits at the entrance to the airport, dedicated to everyone involved in building, flying and providing support for the Boeing bomber.
But, the plaza has deteriorated since its 2000 dedication, said B-29 Memorial Committee Chairman Bev Komarek. The arches showed signs wear, the finish on the informative bronze plaques had worn and couldn’t be read, and there were other signs of age.
It deserved to be restored.
“It’s a tribute to the airfield and the men who were stationed there,” Komarek said. “This part of why we won the war.”
Now, it is almost as good as new, thanks to a nearly $40,000 joint restoration effort between the committee and the City of Great Bend. The goal was to have all the work done for the September Great Bend Air Fest.
What was done
Komarek said the arches have been sandblasted and repainted, the plaques have been cleaned and recoated and the information kiosk has been refurbished. These were finished this week.
“We still have some more work to do out there,” she said. But, it will all be completed in time for the air fest.
“To me, this memorial plaza doesn’t just to be spruced up when we have an air show,” Komarek said. “It needs to look good all the time.”
It is the culmination of a lot of work from veterans and others. “I feel an obligation to the men who raised the money. Most of them are gone now. We all need to honor them.”
But, it means more. Since its dedication, the plaza has become a popular attraction and a magnate for veterans.
“This project was definitely necessary to extend the life of the community’s investment,” said airport Manager Martin Miller. “We now have a restored memorial plaza, and the means and knowledge to maintain its condition indefinitely.”
The B-29 plaza sits on the original site of the airfield headquarters. “It’s fitting that this memorial will greet the public during Airfest 2015 in September,” Miller said.
Things will come full circle during the fest. FiFi, the world’s only flying B-29, will arrive here to headline the Sept. 18-20 warbird tribute.
A time line
The idea for the memorial was born in 1998. It was first dedicated in 2000 and rededicated in 2004 when a scale model B-29 sculpture was hung in the center.
But, the years have taken a toll. So, last fall, talks began on how to restore it.
The committee, with funds from the initial $350,000 raised for the project, proposed partnering with the city 50/50 for repairs and preservation training.
The City Council approved participation in January.
The committee requested proposals from experts to determine the scope and costs. The only acceptable bid came from Jensen Conservation Services of Omaha, Neb.
“It’s a nice a memorial,” said Rob Jensen of Jensen Conservation Services. “(Tom) Brokaw was probably right, that was the greatest generation.”
About the airport
The base included three 8,000-foot paved runways, taxiways, aircraft park aprons, aircraft storage hangars, and several support facilities, including administrative buildings, barracks and automobile access roads.
Early in 1944, the 58th Bomb Wing took off from the runways. After the war, the airport was transferred to the city.
There were also B-29 bases at Pratt, Walker (near Hays) and Smoky Hill Army Airfield (near Salina).
Great Bend was chosen for the memorial due to the number of original base structures still existing, and it is typical of other World War II airfields. In addition, the City of Great Bend agreed to donate the land and help maintain the memorial.
Visitors are welcome to view the memorial 365 days a year. There is no admission charge.