A great gift for Father's Day: Flight in WWII warplane for veteran
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Bill Sommers will fly aboard a vintage World War II-era bomber with his brother, Robert, and their father, Joe, a veteran of bomber runs in World War II and Korea, when the Wings of Freedom tour arrives in Port Angeles on Monday. -- Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
A line of World War II vintage aircraft sits at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles as part of a previous Wings of Freedom tour stop. Featured planes are, from left, a P-51 Mustang, a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-24 Liberator.

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — It would be difficult to top the gift that Bill Sommers has in store for his dad this Father's Day.

Sommers today will surprise his 80-year-old father, Joe, with news that they will fly aboard a World War II-era bomber when the Wings of Freedom tour touches down in Port Angeles on Monday.

“I still haven't told my dad,” said Bill Sommers, who agreed to be interviewed for a story that would appear in today's editions.

“That's a Father's Day thing.”

The Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom tour is a celebration of an earlier era of aviation.

A B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and P-51 Mustang are scheduled to land at William R. Fairchild International Airport at noon Monday to kick off a three-day heritage stop.

Visitors can tour the inside of the planes at the airport's east general aviation ramp. The cost for a tour is $12 for adults or $6 for kids younger than 12.

World War II veterans can tour the planes for free.

Joe Sommers flew in both the B-17 and B-24 while serving in the Navy during the Korean War.

Bill remembers his father telling stories about eating sandwiches in the bomb bay.

“He flew [in a B-17] from Newfoundland to Greenland on a materials flight,” said Bill Sommers, sales manager at Hartnagel Building Supply in Port Angeles.

“They just offered it when he was in the Navy, and he said he wanted to do it just to have the experience. He said he's been on B-24s a number of times.”

Sixty years have passed since the Korean War, and Joe Sommers has longed to get back inside a heavy bomber.

He has toured the planes in past Wings of Freedom stops in Port Angeles, but like most people, he couldn't afford the $425 for a half-hour flight aboard a B-17 or B-24.

Port Angeles stop coordinator Alan Barnard, who met Bill Sommers through a shared interest in motorcycles and the American Legion, offered Bill and his father a complimentary flight on either a B-17 or B-24.

“He told me he was the coordinator, and he said: 'I'd like to take you and your dad up. I'd like to get you guys in an airplane,'” said Bill Sommers, 55.

Bill deferred his spot to his brother, Robert, 48, who had worked on a B-17 heritage project in Everett.

Barnard ultimately offered all three Sommers a flight aboard a heavy bomber Monday.

“It's a big deal,” Bill said.

“I guess from my end — I thought about this a few days ago — I'm no more than a little kid who looks up to his dad, because I've got young boys.

“I'm still that kid looking up to my dad, just as much as my kids look up to their dad.”

This week's tour stop is the sixth time that Wings of Freedom has landed in Port Angeles since 2004.

The 24-year-old Wings of Freedom stops at an average of 110 cities every year.

The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit organization that presents living history exhibits for people to experience their history and heritage through direct participation.

“While the airplanes are magnificent in and of themselves, they're basically vehicles to acknowledge the sacrifices and the service of our servicemen and -women who have served, particularly back in World War II and the Korean War theater, where these particular aircraft served,” Barnard told the three Clallam County commissioners after they declared this week as Wings of Freedom Week last Tuesday.

“They serve as a vehicle to acknowledge their service and to educate the young people that freedom is not free.”

Scheduled hours of the ground tours and display are from noon to 5 p.m. Monday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday.

The 30-minute flights are scheduled before and after the ground tour times.

Phone 800-568-8924 for a flight.

“I try not to get too jacked up about anything, but this is just a big deal,” said Bill Sommers, adding that he is “stoked” about the flight.

“I know it's going to be a big deal for my dad, especially, because for all these years, he said he wished he could go up, and now he gets to go up.”


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 15. 2013 5:44PM
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