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WWII veterans see planes, tell stories

When the planes land, the World War II veterans arrive.

And they tell stories. About their last trip in a bomber. About the friends and crew members that died during the war. About the war wounds. The friends. The memories.

"I'm very, very excited to see this plane again," said McKinley Sizemore, 84, of Keyesport. "It's absolutely great they have these here. There aren't many of them left. I think they are leaving just as fast as (World War II veterans) are."

Sizemore, an Army veteran, was a gunner and a radio operator in the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber during the early part of 1945. He flew 45 missions with the 500 Bomb Squadron out of the Philippines, he said.

"All of my crew was killed but me," he said. "In my outfit, nine out of every 10 was killed during missions."

He was touring the three World War II vintage bombers on display at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport as part of the 18th annual Wings of Freedom Tour. The planes arrived in Mascoutah on Thursday and are scheduled to remain on display until noon Saturday.

The B-17 Flying Fortress "Nine O Nine," the B-24 Liberator "Witchcraft" and the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber will be open for tours while at MidAmerica.

More than 4,000 people are expected to tour the planes while they are in Mascoutah and Jim Jara of Troy got his three sons through the B-24 Liberator "Witchcraft" before the crowds got heavy Thursday afternoon.

"Kids love planes and they really love the military war planes," Jara said. "They really liked the guns. You can get up in there and move them around. They loved it."

Alex Jara, 5, held his hands up as if he was holding a turret gun and spun in a circle, making machine gun noises.

"I'd be the shooter up in there," he said. "I like the guns."

His oldest brother, Christian, 9, agreed.

"They are cool," he said. "Especially the guns."

Flights in the bombers are available. A 30-minute ride in the B-17 or the B-24 costs $425 per person. A flight in the B-25 costs $400 in the front fuselage and $325 in the waist gun section of the plane.

For more information about flights, or to make reservations, call the Collings Foundation at 800-568-8924. The planes cost an average of $4,000 an hour to operate and maintain.

Craig O'Mara, of Fairview Heights, piloted the B-25 Mitchell "Tondelayo" into MidAmerica. He has been flying the plane for five days from site to site with the other two heavy bombers. When he's not flying the vintage planes, he is a captain for a commercial 747.

"It's a lot more fun," he said of flying the bombers. "But the reason we do this is because of my father-in-law. The real point is to honor the freedoms we have, because without these veterans, we wouldn't be able to do this."

O'Mara's father-in-law, Robert Owens, 80, of Collinsville, served in the Navy aboard an amphibious craft that took troops from ships to beaches during World War II.

"It's great that they do this and keep these in such great condition," Owens said of the bombers. "These planes really look great." DASH:

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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