MURRAY — From his position as an ensign aboard a U.S. Navy LST ship in World War II, Eugene Waggoner would watch American bomber planes head east across the English Channel toward France and Germany.
At the end of the war, he watched them take off from Japan after Allied forces had defeated the Axis of Adolph Hitler’s Germany, as well as Italy and Japan, the nation most responsible for the United States’ involvement in the war after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
However, he never once flew in a military plane. In a little more than a week, that will change.
Waggoner has been selected to be among area veterans to have seats aboard a vintage B-25 Mitchell bomber as part of a visit to Barkley Regional Airport in Paducah. It will mark the first time since 1982 that the Murray resident has flown in a plane of any kind.
“I retired from Union Carbide (at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant west of Paducah) in 1982 after 30 years and my last seven years there (as a manager), I made several trips around the country. I’d pretty much had it with company trips,” Waggoner said Tuesday morning, explaining how he has much different feelings when it comes to flying the B-25 Mitchell next week.
“My daughter had seen an article (in another publication) that talked about this getting ready to happen and she asked me if I’d be interested and I told her yes. This will be a new type of flying experience, so I’m looking forward to it.
“All of my riding (back in World War II) was on the sea. Now, there were times where I would’ve liked to have been in a military plane, especially when the war was over and I was ready to come home. Oh, I wish I could’ve flown home, but I had to ride another LST home. That took about two months, to get home from Japan.”
The B-25 Mitchell that will come to Barkley Regional is named The Show Me as it is based in St. Louis, Missouri. It is part of the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, which provides vintage planes for similar events throughout the country.
An online description from the Commemorative Air Force said that the plane that will come to Barkley Regional was delivered to the United States Army Air Force in January 1945, about half a year from the end of the war. It was retired and put into storage in 1958 in Arizona. It is believed the plane served as a trainer during that period.
The Missouri Wing took possession of the plane in 1982 when it also received its “Show Me” description.
Waggoner will be aboard one of three flights that will carry area veterans. Those are limited to 10 passengers.
“I don’t know what this is going to be like, but I’ve been told that where the bombs would have been —the bomb bay area, we’ll call it — is where they have put the seats in,” he said, remembering back to the beaches of Normandy when he would help guide an LST that would deliver Allied troops for the invasion that turned the tide of the war in its European Theater. The first troops went ashore on June 6, 1944. About a year later, Germany was defeated, with Hitler committing suicide, his dreams for world domination having been crushed.
“I told my daughter that, yes, I’d like to ride in a B-25 bomber. I used to see them flying over us when I was in the English Channel; my LST helped with 27 landings on Normandy during D Day. During our trips, you could see these bombers — B-25s, B-17s and B-24s — so I’d see them flying across the channel and would wonder if they would make it back safely. That was my only connection to them, seeing them up there when I was down on the ship. But it’s a beautiful plane.”
Waggoner has also learned that one of his fellow passengers for the flight next Friday, June 18, is a survivor of Pearl Harbor. He said he is looking forward to meeting this person.
“I don’t know where he is from yet, but I’m going to find out,” he said. “I’ll turn 99 in a month and he’s 100. Get that, a 100-year old survivor of Pearl Harbor! Yes, I am definitely looking forward to talking with him and seeing what all he saw and experienced.”