WWII veterans share harrowing tales of flights in B-29 bombers

By Brenda Flanagan

FIFI’s one of only two B-29s still flying out of almost 4,000 Superfortress bombers designed by Boeing and built for action in World War II. The antique bomber will spend the next few days at Trenton Airport, where two B-29 vets reminisced with reporters this Memorial Day. Staff Sergeant Joe Wing of Raritan served as flight engineer aboard a B-29 that escorted the Enola Gay as she dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

“I cried to myself seeing that bomb drop because that one bomb created more damage and killed more people than some of our flights where we dropped hundreds of thousands of bombs. It burnt people alive. I was only 19 years old at the time,” Wing said.

Wing — his real name — is almost 93. He joined 98-year-old former B-29 pilot Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher of Bridgewater who actually flew the first B-29 to roll off Boeing’s Wichita production line. He says the four-engine bomber was huge.

“It practically took up the whole hangar,” he said.” “I said, ‘Holy Moses! I’m going to have to fly that damn thing?'”

He says B-29s were advanced, complicated and tricky to fly — even dangerous. Vaucher flew almost 30 combat missions.

“They made a lot of publicity about the fact that I got 1,000 hours and was still alive,” Vaucher said.

Designed to fly at around 30,000 feet, the B-29s couldn’t reliably hit their targets from that height due to jet stream interference, Wing says. So commanders ordered crews to fly below 10,000 feet where they took relentless anti-aircraft fire.

“We had holes from anti-aircraft. Sometimes there might be 10, 15 holes and other times a couple hundred holes throughout the plane,” Wing said.

FIFI’s a rescued B-29, discovered abandoned in an airfield, and rebuilt as a labor of love. She’s preserved and flown by the Commemorative Air Force. The plane’s 72-years-old, based in Texas and now makes the rounds of airfields as an airborne witness to the sacrifice and courage of vets like Wing and Vaucher, especially on Memorial Day.

“I think of comrades who didn’t come back almost 360 days a year, not just Memorial Day. Those that didn’t come back lost two lives, the life they were living and the life they would’ve lived,” said Vaucher.

Global politics evolve and few World War II veterans remain. But mobile working museums like FIFI will keep alive the memories and educate the next generation about those who flew the B-29s.