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Aviation events in 2020 honor World War II heroes

A series of events in 2020 stretching from Washington, D.C., to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, will draw attention to World War II veterans and allies who defeated the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Two events—on either side of the United States—will bookend tributes to the service personnel who bravely battled and returned or gave their lives on the battlefields.

“This is the last time in America’s history that we will be able to personally thank those veterans who served in World War II that are now known as 'The Greatest Generation,'” said Mike Ginter, a member of the Arsenal of Democracy Executive Planning Committee that is coordinating a flyover of the nation’s capital. “Think about it—an 18-year-old who served in 1945 when the war ended would be 93 today,” and scores are approaching the centenarian mark.

Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945, and Japan followed on Sept. 2, 1945. World War II played a major role in reshaping the world we live in after combat ended in the European and Pacific theatres, he noted. “It laid the foundation for NATO, and the rise of Germany and Japan into close trading partners with the United States” and brought decades of prosperity to the United States. “It’s very important for the country to take a moment, and to think about that, and to remember this important part of our national history. Who knows what could have happened if we lost?” 

The Arsenal of Democracy Flyover of Washington, D.C., will take place on Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 2020, to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The flyover is part of a five-day slate of educational and commemorative activities in and around the nation’s capital. An aerial show of force will consist of more than 100 vintage warbirds of various types flying over the National Mall in 28 separate, historically sequenced formations. The care, maintenance, and restoration of these historical aircraft are privately funded, Ginter reminded.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher, now 100 years old, orchestrated a show of force at the end of World War II when 525 Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers flew over the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. He plans to attend events on June 6, 2019, commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day. Photo by David Tulis.

In Hawaii, the Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum will commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific theatre with five days of educational programs and ceremonies culminating Sept. 2, 2020. 

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher is the honorary air boss for the Washington, D.C., aerial display, and he brings valuable experience to the table. The now-100-year-old pilot led a massive formation of 525 B–29 Superfortresses that overflew the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay as Japan officially surrendered to Allied forces on Sept. 2, 1945.

He said his briefing will command pilots to “get in line and stay in line” when the skies fill with fighters, bombers, escorts, and other significant Warbirds.

At Vaucher’s command, the first wave of aircraft will take to the sky in a formation of Boeing Stearman PT–17 Kaydets, Fairchild PT–19 Cornells, North American T–6 Texans, Stinson L–5 Sentinels, Piper L–4 Grasshoppers, and others. The training and liaison aircraft were the first flown by World War II pilots, “so we are putting them first in the flyover. The fast-movers will follow chronologically,” said Ginter, a T–6 pilot.

Additional waves of aircraft will perform beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Curtiss P–40 Warhawks, North American B–25 Mitchell bombers, Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, Consolidated PBY Catalinas, and other medium-range aircraft will be followed by long-range fighters and bombers including five Boeing B–17 Flying Fortresses, five of the original D-Day Douglas C–47 Skytrains, four Grumman TBF Avengers, and the only two flying Boeing B–29 Superfortresses—Doc and Fifi. A missing man formation will honor all those who lost their lives in battle.

Memories from the Super Fortress

Ginter, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy, predicted aviators would appreciate seeing the two remaining airworthy Avro Lancaster four-engine bombers, two of the three flying wooden twin-engine de Havilland Mosquitos in North America, and the only Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, a carrier-based torpedo scout bomber.

The Washington, D.C. event will coincide with a ceremony for veterans at the National World War II Memorial, hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the dedication of a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who acted as the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe and later became president of the United States.

The Arsenal of Democracy Executive Committee and the Hawaii Commemoration Committee announced that the Bob Hope Legacy, supported by the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, will be the presenting sponsor of the bookend events. Hope was a beloved entertainer known for a commitment to perform a comedy act and a variety show for military troops. The performances often took him to military bases positioned close to active battlefronts.

Retired Sen. Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth are honorary co-chairs of the commemoration. The Kansas politician served during World War II as a combat infantry officer. He was severely injured during a Po Valley, Italy, assault on a German machine gun nest on a day that he said, “changed my life.” Dole was trying to rescue a radio officer when he was struck by enemy fire. The 95-year-old former Senate majority leader was widely praised for a December funeral tribute to former President George H.W. Bush, a fellow war hero.

Organizers said their hope is that the two aerial events “will serve as reminders to all that freedom is precious and must be preserved.”

Vought F4U Corsairs and Grumman F6F Hellcats fly in formation past the <em>USS Missouri</em> during surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. Photo No. 80-G-421130 courtesy of the National Archives.

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