Riding in a B-25 Mitchell bomber is something Jack Merten can now cross off his bucket list.
The Great Bend veteran who served in the Seabees during the Korean War* caught a ride on a B-52 Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Great Bend AirFest. Sunday is the final day of the three-day event, going on from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Great Bend Municipal Airport. Admission is $5.
All veterans were honored in a parade Saturday evening. It was followed by a flyover and a ceremony in remembrance of Prisoners Of War and those Missing In Action (POW/MIA).
Great Bend’s airport was a B-29 training base during World War II, and the Barton County Historical Society is showing a slide show of photos from that era. Karen Neuforth from the historical society said four bomb groups trained on the B-29s here and then headed overseas:
• The 444th went to Charra, India, and flew supply missions over the Himalayas. “They would later transfer to Tinian in the Mariana Islands,” Neuforth said. “They hit the Japanese home islands.” A crew from the 444th was the first to engage B-29s in aerial combat with the Japanese.
• The 498th went to Saipan.
• The 19th Bombardment Group was assigned to Guam.
• The last group out of Great Bend was the 333rd. “They got there just in time for the war to end,” Neuforth said. The B-29s were then used to ferry allied POWs back home.
Another local attraction at the AirFest is the collection of military ground vehicles from the Great Bend Army Air Field Museum. Kevin Lockwood said his museum doesn’t really have a permanent location, although there is a building in town where vehicles are restored. Anyone wanting more information can check out the exhibit today at the airport or send him an email at email@example.com.
The Commemorative Air Force flew in to the airport with several warbirds from the World War II era, including the B-25 and “Fifi,” the only B-29 still flying. Another plane, an A26-B named “Lady Liberty,” flew missions in France and Germany during the war, said CAF member Gary Trice.
The public can still purchase rides in airplanes and helicopters Sunday at the AirFest.
On Saturday, 9-year-old Macey Hameier from Ellsworth went on her first helicopter ride and described it as “fun.”
“It was not noisy, like it is on the ground,” she said. “You could hear everything clearly. It was cool going over the fields and the cars in the parking lot.
* Editor's note - This story was revised on Sept. 23, 2015, to correct Jack Merten's service information. He served in the SeaBees in the Korean War, stationed on Adak in the Aleutians and then on Guam.