CARLSBAD — Some of the most iconic aircraft from World War II and the men who flew in them will be visiting McClellan Palomar Airport as part of the “Wings of Freedom” tour starting April 27. One of those men is San Diego resident Ed Davidson, a pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress that was shot down in the war.
“We were young,” Davidson said. “I was about 20-years-old. I got shot down on my 7th combat mission over Bordeaux, France. We were attacked by a swarm of Messerschmitt 109s and they shot down my airplane, and I think four others from the squadron that day.”
He and four other crew members bailed out of the burning bomber over the Bay of Biscay, where they spent almost five hours in a life raft before a French flying boat landed on the water near them.
To their surprise, Davidson explained, a couple of Germans emerged from the plane, and pointing pistols at the five airmen said, “For you, the war is over.”
“Just like the movies,” Davidson said.
Davidson remembers the very day he was shot down — Jan. 5, 1944.
When the Collings Foundation returns to Palomar Airport April 27, Davidson anticipates being there, along with other World War II veterans and American ex-POWs, to tour the planes and talk about their experiences during the war and their time flying in these iconic planes.
“It’s great. Anytime there’s a B-17 in San Diego, I’m out there to look at it,” Davidson said. “I just love flying.” Davidson said his love of flying came at an early age; working on a farm since he was 12 in New York State, he had saved $75 by the time he graduated high school in 1941. Because he couldn’t afford college, he took that money and “blew it all on flying lessons,” he said.
He had amassed about 20 hours of flight time before the attack on Pearl Harbor happened, he explained. After that, he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program.
Seeing the airplanes, and hearing the stories about the men who flew them give generations the chance to learn about that specific time.
“It’s amazing how many people come up to find out the true story of what happened to their dad, or to their granddad or brother during the war,” Davidson said. “Because when we got back to the States, so many of us never talked about it all; I didn’t really until into the mid-90s when I started talking to people about this,” he said.
Alan Cutsinger, volunteer coordinator with the Collings Foundation, said that over the weekend retired Maj. Robert Sternfels, who piloted a B-24 in the Ploesti mission and co-authored a book about the mission over Romania to blow up Hitler’s oil fields, will be on hand to talk about it and the horrific losses they sustained.
“There were over 13 million American men in uniform in every theater of the world; the entire country was joined together and we defeated totalitarian governments that had a mindset of taking over the world.
“And the people of this country really pulled together in that time, and the World War II generation is called the ‘Greatest Generation,’ and personally, I think there’s a very good reason for that,” he said.
“When I see men in their late 80s and into their 90s that come out with their families, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve really spoken to their families or shared their experiences with them; or their families really have an opportunity to see the aircraft that they served on, and dad or granddad starts to open up and telling them things that they never knew, and they walk away with a huge understanding and even more of a respect for their father, or grandfather or great-grandfather.”
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit educational foundation that was founded in 1979, as a way to support living history events. Visit collingsfoundation.org for more information.
Wings of Freedom Tour
Where: Western Flight – McClellan Palomar Airport, 2210 Palomar Airport Road.
When: April 27 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; April 28 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 29 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 30 9 a.m. to noon.