When warbirds fill the skies over Hawaii to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of World War II’s end, the journey of one aircraft across time and distance to participate will represent a special salute to the Greatest Generation’s defenders of freedom from its owner, himself a Navy veteran.
The airplane is Old Glory, a North American B–25 Mitchell bomber that took off from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, on July 30 on a flight to Naval Base San Diego in California, where it was lifted by crane onto the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex for transport to Pearl Harbor with 13 other World War II-era aircraft for commemoration events scheduled between August 29 and September 2. The aircraft will fly in three Legacy of Peace Aerial Parades consisting of a flight around Oahu on August 29, a flight “Connecting the Military Bases” on August 30, and a “Fly Over the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pearl Harbor to Waikiki” mission as part of the commemoration ceremony on September 2.
“While most of the events planned for the commemoration were modified, cancelled or moved to virtual viewing, the flyovers may be enjoyed by both residents and the veterans in attendance, many of whom were present as some of these aircraft flew over the deck of the Missouri on September 2, 1945 as the Instrument of Surrender that ended WWII was signed,” the commemoration organization said in an August 11 news release. (In a related development, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum announced that it would close from August 27 until September 9 to comply with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s stay-at-home order to fight the coronavirus pandemic.)
Old Glory is owned by U.S. Navy veteran and warbird collector David Prescott, founder of the Prescott Foundation, whose lifelong passion for aviation has found expression as a pilot and flight instructor. Prescott, along with foundation representative Laura DiRado, joined Old Glory’s pilots Syd Jones, Paul Reidy, and Syd Jones’ wife KT Budde-Jones, for the weeklong sea voyage to Hawaii.
The Honolulu stay-at-home order made the aerial components of the commemoration event more important for honoring the World War II veterans who are still living, said Prescott, whose aircraft has been conducting publicity flights since arriving in Hawaii.
The B–25, in which Prescott is working on his type rating, saw service as an Army Air Force bomber with the 12th Air Force in Italy during World War II and continued as a military aircraft until 1957, when it found a variety of civilian uses including service as a fire bomber and tanker in the United States.
“After transitioning several times between retired and returned to service, as well as name changes including Dream Lover and Spirit of Tulsa, on September 16, 1995 she took her first flight as Old Glory. In August of 2019, she was purchased by David Prescott” for inclusion in his museum collection at The Hangar at 743 at New York’s Albany International Airport, according to Prescott’s organization’s website. Old Glory had been undergoing maintenance and receiving an ADS-B installation in Florida before setting out for San Diego, Prescott said.
As a twin-engine medium bomber, thousands of B–25s played roles in a variety of campaigns during the war—its historic and most famous escapade being the April 18, 1942, Doolittle Raid on Tokyo by 16 B–25s launched from the deck of the USS Hornet.
DiRado boarded the USS Essex before Old Glory arrived in San Diego and blogged about witnessing the intricate aircraft-loading process that began by towing the airplane—the last of the 14 warbirds making the crossing aboard the USS Essex—the short distance from the base’s runway to the pier along a spectator-lined route.
“There was much to do and a great deal of uncertainty,” she wrote. “It also wasn’t evident whether or not Old Glory’s massive wingspan would clear the gate and guard shack at the pier’s entrance, or if she could navigate the sharp 90 degree turn towards the aft end of the ship where the great crane awaited her arrival.”
All went well as DiRado focused on thinking positive thoughts, she wrote in narrating the four-story lift of the approximately 20,000-pound airplane that culminated in the crane’s long arm “setting her on the stern of the ship. Behind her the American flag flutters excitedly in the breeze, acknowledging this great warbird whose name and artwork bears its own likeness.”
The likeness of the American flag is not the only art Old Glory bears: Painted on the pilot’s side bomb bay door is the logo of Toys for Tots, a nonprofit organization run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve to distribute Christmas toys to needy children.
Prescott, a strong supporter of the organization, said he inquired about the possibility of delivering a pallet or two of toys to Hawaii along with Old Glory and was delighted to win approval for shipping 31 pallets of toys.
The delivery should bring smiles to many young faces—an especially gratifying bonus with Hawaii experiencing particularly difficult logistical and economic hardships from the pandemic, he said.