On Aug. 8, 1944, German forces hit an American B-17 bomber with rounds of heavy artillery in the skies over France, tearing the plane in half and killing the crew of nine airmen.
More than 60 years later, the Commemorative Air Force Aircraft Museum at Mesa’s Falcon Field remembers the victims of the downed “Chow Hound” in a special exhibit, part of a Veterans Day event Sunday.
“For the people that didn’t come back, there are people thinking about them,” said museum docent Tom Nicoud. “Their return is important to us.”
Based in Bassingbourn, England, the bomber was part of the 322nd Squadron of the 91st Bombing Group during World War II, the same group as the famed “Memphis Belle.” After the crash, six of the crew’s bodies were recovered from the site, but much of the plane’s wreckage and remains of the other three airmen were buried deep underground by a French farmer who owned the land.
The bodies of flight engineer Sgt. Henry Kortebein, co-pilot Lt. David Nelson and Sgt. Blake Treece, were not recovered until the crash site was excavated in 2004.
The remains were returned to U.S. soil in 2006 and buried at Arlington National Cemetery in August of that year.
“This is the story about the last three guys and their return home after 62 years,” said Nicoud. “The theme is, ‘we don’t forget.’”
“People ask why all the fuss about bringing them back,” Nicoud added. “Because this is home.”
Pieces of wreckage from the “Chow Hound” will be on display at the Commemorative Air Force exhibit along with photos of the recently interned crew members. A replica model of the bomber and a full-scale mock-up of the B-17’s tail also were created as part of the memorial. In addition to viewing the exhibit, visitors can also tour a working B-17 and other war planes from all eras housed in the museum’s massive hanger. Sunday’s annual open house features a ceremony honoring veterans at 11 a.m.
A presentation of colors will be followed by a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and a flyover by World War II-era aircraft. The special ceremony honoring the crew of the “Chow Hound” begins at 1 p.m.
Tickets are free for children 5 and younger, $3 for ages 6 to 13, and $7 for those 14 and older. Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Commemorative Air Force boasts a worldwide membership of roughly 10,000 and is dedicated to restoring airplanes and keeping the memories of veterans and their families fresh and alive, according to Nicoud.
“It’s an opportunity to bring into focus what you’ve heard about and seen in movies,” said Nicoud. “This is the real thing.”