Honor & Remembrance: The Commemorative Air Force B-24 Liberator


The story of Louis Zamperini, recounted in the book Unbroken and the movie of the same name which opens this week, is one of perseverance, faith and survival against seemingly insurmountable odds in World War II. And while Zamperini’s story is an incredible one his is not the only story from that era; there were many other who suffered, who were captured and who survived. Honoring those veterans is not something which should have a specific timeframe or window but often it seems that is the case.

With the movie premiering on Christmas Day the Commemorative Air Force, a volunteer organization focused on preserving military aviation history, brought out its B-24 Liberator early in the week. This is the same type of plane Zamperini was in when it went down and he was captured as a PoW and it is one of only two of the type still flying today. The CAF’s mission is to honor both the veterans of the era and the aviation history. On Monday the B-24 was pressed into service to fly a group around, to give a glimpse into what that part of history was like.

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Diamond Lil looking good before our short flight
On the flight deck somewhere over Texas in the Commemorative Air Force B-24 Liberator
On the flight deck somewhere over Texas in the Commemorative Air Force B-24 Liberator

Karnig Thomasian is a WWII veteran who joined us for the trip. His B-29 bomber went down over Burma and he bailed out, eventually landing in a rice paddy and then captured by the Japanese. Thomasian served as a PoW for six months. Unsurprisingly he has strong memories of the events, noting that the will to survive is not something which is taught; it is not tied to intelligence or smarts. Survival is something innate to a person.

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Ninety year old WWII veteran Karnig Thomasian takes a go at manning the machine gun. It is harder than you’d think with the winds.

That there are any operational aircraft from the World War Two era is a great testament to the work the Commemorative Air Force does and a great honor to that era in the history of the United States and the aviation world in general. And flying in Diamond Lil was a spectacular experience. You don’t just hear the engines spool up; you feel it. And then we were off.

Sticking your head out of the window while in flight, grabbing on to the machine gun and trying to keep it steady while buffeted by winds, or slipping into the sling at the rear and keeping an eye out for enemy aircraft which might be following were all great moments. Recognizing that the plane is actually more comfortably appointed today than it was 70 years ago when it flew in service, and that these men often flew missions of 15 hours at a time in the cramped, loud, sparse conditions adds another level of awe and respect to the history involved.

Yes, those are the cables to the control surfaces, exposed inside the plane. We were reminded to not touch them during the flight.
Yes, those are the cables to the control surfaces, exposed inside the plane. We were reminded to not touch them during the flight.

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And it is a reminder of what we can look forward to during this holiday season other than just the commercial nature of these days. We must remember our history, honor it and be better people the next time around.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

8 Comments

  1. The American airmen who flew in bombers in World War II deserve all the respect and honor that can be given. With the exception of the much smaller submarine service, it was the most dangerous place to be during the war. As you say, it is loud in those planes and most bomber pilots who lived into their 70s and 80s suffered hearing loss because of their service.

  2. Republic airfield in Long Island does C-47 flights during memorial day and labor day, nothing more incredible than being in a plane that saw so much.

  3. I can’t agree more, we must remember. We may forget details of conflict but we will and must never forget our resolve to live and to protect what we hold (or should hold) dear.

    Two grandfathers, two different wars.
    My maternal Grandfather, an Italian immigrant, flew in Kingfisher planes in the Pacific. My mother is able to proudly wear his Distinguished Flying Cross pin. What an experience to land a plane in the sea and to have it hoisted up onto the ship’s deck.

    My paternal Grandfather was from a different era, he was in Army Air Corps training in San Antonio in 1917 and preparing to go to WWI flying a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. Those planes had such a terrible track record that he saw many crash in training, we have a piece of a broken propeller from a crash he saw.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. True pioneers and patriots led the way to enjoyment of air travel for us today!

  4. Your readers might not know that this is the only B-24 still flying anywhere in the world — ex maybe one other. I was therefore amazed to see your flight from my office yesterday. Just amazed. (B-17s are comparatively common, and there’re fewer than a dozen of those that still fly.)

    So thanks for the “back story” here!

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