George, a 23-year-old second lieutenant in the Air Force, and the five other men in his unit had just finished bombing a munitions depot in Germany in 1945. It was the first time he had ever seen such a fighting jet, the soon-to-be 92-year-old said during a recent afternoon interview at his home.
“I saw the Me 262 coming toward us. ... I felt pretty defenseless,” George said, adding he “hoped we wouldn't get shot down.” The German jet was flying at 600 miles per hour and it was hard for George and his crew, who were flying in their Martin Marauder twin-engine medium bomber about 400 mph, to train their guns on it long enough to shoot.
“We had a malfunction — our bomb bays didn't close (after they bombed the munitions depot) and it slowed us down,” George said. He said the German jet had much greater firepower, with a large 20 mm cannon, compared to the six .50-caliber machine guns in the Martin Marauder in which George was flying.
It was George's first and only time to encounter such a fighter jet, and it happened on his 30th mission in May 1945, he said. George flew in 31 bombing missions all over Germany during his service days.
After his discharge from the service, he worked at a variety of careers and owned a flight school in Oklahoma for one year. George and his wife Evelyn, who have been married for 67 years, moved to Tyler in 1985.
Visitors are invited to take ground tours, get close-up looks at the planes and take rides in some of them for a charge. The nationwide tour is in its 24th year and visits an average of 110 cities in more than 35 states annually. Since its start, tens of millions of people have seen the B-17, B-24 and P-51 on display, according to a news release from the Collings Foundation, which is bringing the show to Tyler.
The B-17 and B-24 were the backbone of the American effort during the war from 1942 to 1945 and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission, according to the news release.
Despite the risks of anti-aircraft fire, attacking enemy fighters and the harrowing environment of sub-zero temperatures, many B-17s and B-24s safely brought their crews home. The P-51 Mustang was affectionately known as the bombers “Little Friend,” saving countless American crews from enemy fighters, according to the foundation.
After the war, many aircraft were scrapped for their raw aluminum to rebuild a nation in post-war prosperity and very few were spared, according to the release. The rarity of the B-17, B-24 and P-51 and their importance to telling the story of World War II is why the foundation continues to fly and display the aircraft nationwide, according to the news release.