Green River Star -

By David Martin
Publisher 

Visiting aircraft stirs memories

The B-17 bomber Sentimental Journey is parked outside the General Aviation terminal at the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Friday. The bomber's stop at the airport is part of a larger summer tour. Star photo by David Martin

 

A shining relic from the United States' involvement in World War II was on display at the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, conjuring images and memories of a bygone era.

The B-17 Flying Fortress known as Sentimental Journey, an aircraft from the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum, made a stop at the airport as part of the museum's summer Flying Legends of Victory Tour. The bomber was designed for unescorted bombing missions over Europe during World War II. The plane is one of eight B-17s still flying.

For many of the residents, the aircraft is a lovingly restored piece of military equipment from the deadliest conflict of the 20th century. It's a sleek reminder of an event that occurred long before many were born. For a dwindling few however, Sentimental Journey gave them a chance to experience their own sentimental journey into the past.

Deer Trail Assisted Living brought several veterans to the airport for a chance look at the bomber, a group which included a 96-year-old World War II veteran who had flown missions on a B-17.

Vern Peterson was drafted into the war when he was 19, serving throughout the entirety of the war. He flew 35 missions on B-17 and B-24 bombers while fighting in Europe.

Peterson said his missions took him over Germany, bombing targets deep in enemy territory.

Peterson served as a radio man and tail gunner. As radio man, he was positioned directly behind the aircraft's pilot and copilot.

During those missions, Peterson was injured by a piece of flak entering his leg as German antiaircraft guns fired at his bomber. That wouldn't be the most harrowing experience he had during the war.

Peterson said he flew one mission he was certain he wouldn't return from.

During a mission in a B-24, Peterson said the aircraft was taking heavy fire during its bombing run.

While Peterson had resigned himself to being killed over German skies, the aircraft's pilot fought hard to ensure the crew wouldn't die, flying the bomber back to base and bringing everyone home.

"He was damn good, he got us back," Peterson said.

More than 70 years after the end of the war, Peterson feels pride well up within him when he looks at Sentimental Journey.

"I'm glad to see one like that all in one piece," he said with a smile. "We won the war, that makes me feel good."

Another era, another war

For another veteran, Sentimental Journey reminded him of his days as a paratrooper at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Dallas Galley, an 83-year-old resident, said he joined the Army when he was 17. His family was poor and remembers telling his crying mother that he wouldn't be broke after enlisting.

Galley became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, getting sent behind enemy lines to destroy enemy supplies and fight back to friendly territory. Galley remembers riding in the flying troop carriers and having to take a running leap from the side of the plane to parachute to the ground. He said 50-60 planes would fly in formation, with 70-80 troops inside each aircraft. Lines of parachuting troops would fill the sky as they jumped out.

Galley's service would be cut short after breaking his back. He spent two years at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center following his injury, being told he would never walk again.

Standing near Sentimental Journey, Galley proved those doctors wrong. Following his service in the Army, he started a construction company in Colorado and later moved to Wyoming. While he never served on a B-17 like Sentimental Journey, Galley said he enjoys seeing the historical aircraft and reminiscing about his own time in the Army.

"It's fantastic," he said about the aircraft's visit. "Every time a plane comes out, I go out to watch it."

 

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