You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “Freedom isn’t free.” In DeSoto County this week is a testament to the high cost of freedom, while at the same time honoring the veterans that served and sacrificed to pay that price.
Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20, a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress named “Ye Olde Pub” will be made available for public viewing at the Olive Branch Airport, 8000 Terminal Drive.
Those interested in taking a flight on the functioning bomber may also do so at a cost of $475. The ground tour is free of charge.
The B-17 was an important part of the Allies victory over Germany and the Axis powers in World War II, said Liberty Foundation pilot John Hess.
“I don’t think it could have been won without this airplane because they made them in such great numbers and they were so effective in what they did,” Hess said. “They are just loved by all of the veterans and historians as being probably one of the marvels. It was the heavy bomber, that and the B-24 were the heavy bombers of World War II. They could carry up to 1,200 pounds of bombs and go great distances.”
A group of 10 made up a B-17 crew during the war. Hess followed that statistic by reciting a more sobering percentage about the plane in active mission service.
“When these men went up in this airplane, there was an 80 percent chance they would not return,” Hess said. “For others, it was a 50 percent chance of return.”
“Ye Olde Pub” is 75 years old, but travels the country for stops on its nationwide tour for the Liberty Foundation, which is a non-profit historical society that also flies P-51 planes on similar tours. A number of years ago, it brought a replica “Memphis Belle” aircraft on a similar tour.
The $475 cost for a non-Liberty Foundation member to fly the “Pub” for a half-hour may seem a bit steep, but Hess said it takes about $6,000 to operate the plane for one hour.
“We have a full-time mechanic that stays with it for the week and does the inspections and all of the work with it,” Hess said. “We’re able to fly it on the weekends.”
Hess and Jim Lawrence were the pilots on board “Ye Olde Pub,” which Monday afternoon offered local media, including the DeSoto Times-Tribune, a quick flight in the vicinity of the airport to allow reporters a taste of what it was like to fly in the aircraft.
Those who fly this weekend will be able to see more than just the area around their seat.
“We’re buckled in for takeoffs and landings,” Hess explained. “Once you’re airborne, you’re able to go through the airplane and be able to check out all of the crew positions.”
It’s the history and the importance of the plane to America’s victory in the battle against the Axis threat that Hess said the foundation hopes to promote by its visit.
“What we really want to do is honor our veterans,” Hess said. “That’s the most important thing, to honor the veterans that flew these and serviced them, the crews and all the people that did anything in World War II. We are losing more World War II guys and we know it’s limited time to thank them.”
While “Ye Olde Pub” is the same plane that fought in the war, this particular aircraft was never involved in combat since it was built shortly before the war’s end. It is painted in the same scheme of the original “Ye Olde Pub” that flew with the 379th Bomb Group.
The original plane went on a bombing mission into Germany, a mission that resulted in heavy damage and half the crew dead or wounded, but a plane that was escorted to safety by a German pilot.
The Air Force would classify the mission as “top secret” and the story would not be revealed for years. Its story is now related in a book titled “A Higher Call,” by Adam Makos.
“Ye Olde Pub” came to Olive Branch from Louisville, Kentucky and will be headed to Atlanta, Georgia after its weekend stop.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.