Spirits soar as vets fly with WWII warbirds

On Friday, Chrisanthon, 86, of Ocean City flew in a B-24, the type of Army Air Force airplane he was trained in as a bombadier during World War II.

“This was on his bucket list,” said Chrisanthon’s daughter-in-law, Monica, 55, after he stepped off the bomber when it landed at Monmouth Executive Airport, here.

“You don’t know how much this means to him,” said Chrisanthon’s wife, Nikki, 86. “My husband is going to be talking about this for the rest of his life.”

The Collings Foundation, a Massachusetts-based, non-profit organization, provided the free flight as it moved its 22nd annual Wings of Freedom Tour from Cape May County Airport to Monmouth Executive.

This living-history, World War II aviation exhibit continues at Monmouth Executive through Monday with three restored planes on display and flights – the B-24 Liberator; the B-17 Flying Fortress, also a bomber; and P-51C Mustang, an escort fighter to the bombers known as their “little friend.”

A small group awaited the airplanes’ arrival, before the show formally kicked off Friday at 2 p.m.

“I decided to come and see the plane, I’m interested in the big one, the Fortress,” said Eric Olsen, 69, an Army veteran who lives in Toms River.

Olsen has been to other air shows – “I like to see the old planes, see what it’s about,” he said.

Tom Caruso and his wife, Lisa, also were there early – Tom, 52, is a history buff; Lisa, 56, whose late father, Steve Roffis, was a World War II flight engineer on a B-29 bomber.

“I have all his awards, medals, scrapbooks,” said Tom Caruso of Manalapan, speaking of the father-in-law who died before he met his wife.

“It’s interesting to me, but he is more the history buff,” Lisa Caruso said.

“I specifically like aviation,” Tom Caruso said.

At about 1:35 p.m., the Mustang suddenly appeared out of the south, turned in flight and landed.

“Isn’t that a pretty thing?” said Marilyn Ehrle, 71, of Manchester. “It gave me goose bumps, to think these men went through so much for us.”

Following the Mustang in was the Liberator and, finally, the Fortress, all on the ground for the 2 p.m. start of the show.

“It brings back a lot of memories, my God,” said George Lilieholm, 88, a Lumberton resident who served as a flight engineer on both a B-17 and B-24.

The Wings of Freedom Tour, according to the Collings Foundation, has two goals, to honor World War II veterans and educate visitors, especially younger people, about American history and heritage.

“The Collings Foundation people are wonderful,” said Monica Chrisanthon, who lives in Media, Pa., noting how it arranges free rides for World War II vets. “There’s so few of them left.”

In the past, Chrisanthon would not let his family treat him to a paid ride on the B-24, this one the last in the world that is fully restored and still flying. At Wings of Freedom, 30-minute rides on the bombers are $425, while P51-C flights are $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,200 for an hour with time at the controls.

“He wouldn’t let us treat him to a ride,” Monica Chrisanthon said. “He thought it was too much (money).”

As a bombadier, Chrisanthon would have sat in the “right up in the nose,” he said.

“Today, I sat in the flight deck area, right behind the pilots,” he said.

Nick Chrisanthon, who carried his World War II dog tags with him, said, with a big smile, the approximately 45-minute flight was “great.”

Herb Sorkin, 86, who lives in Long Branch and Clifton, flew bombing missions on a B-24 in the European theater during World War II. He was hoping to get a ride compliments of the Collings Foundation later Friday or on Tuesday as Wings of Freedom moves to Bridgeport, Conn.

“A beautiful day,” Sorkin said. “Guys like me, this age, to be able to get around, to see the plane again.”

Sorkin added he enjoyed connecting with other World War II veterans.

“I’m a little overwhelmed,” Tom Caruso said. “They’ve been restored immaculately.”

“You really get a sense of what they went through when you walk inside (the bombers),” Lisa Caruso said.

And Chrisanthon still has that bucket list.

“The next is Greece,” said Monica Chrisanthon, explaining her in-laws would like to travel to Greece, where their parents were from, one more time.

 

-dailyrecord.com

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