BRIDGEWATER, NJ - To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day at the end of World War II, the Arsenal of Democracy, in conjunction with the WWII 75th Commemoration Committee is planning a flyover over the National Mall in Washington D.C. – and Bridgewater’s own Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher is scheduled to be the honorary air boss.
This will be his second flyover, as he served as the mission commander for the Show of Force Flyover of 525 B-29s over the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the USS Battleship Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
“It’s kind of an awesome task, but a lot of fun,” Vaucher said. “To be asked to be the honorary air boss was quite moving.”
Unfortunately, the flyover scheduled for May 8 has now been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, it is set for September 2020 instead.
“They are going to have ceremonies in Washington, on the ground, which I will go to,” he said. “I will be an honorary air boss for the whole thing.”
Vaucher said the committee handling the event reached out to him a couple years ago to be part.
“They have been planning this for a long time, and it takes a monumental amount of work,” he said. “They wanted to get 100 World War II restored combat airplanes.”
Vaucher said they are all privately owned airplanes, and most are ones that people have purchased half wrecked.
“They have rebuilt them and they have everything from the smallest airplanes used for observational purposes and ground forces for artillery up to the B29, which I represent, the biggest airplane in the Air Force,” he said.
Vaucher said they have two big B29s flying, one out of Dallas and one out of Wichita, Kansas.
“The one from Wichita, it is fantastic that it is happening, they took parts from several B29s, and brought them in and made an airplane out of them,” he said. “It is hard to believe anyone could do this, it takes a lot of work and money.”
With the hope that it will be held, Vaucher said, it will be the biggest flyover of military WWII airplanes ever.
“It is quite exciting,” he said. “More importantly, it is going to celebrate a tremendous anniversary.”
Vaucher himself pioneered the development of the B29 plane, all the early air work.
“The B29 was a quantum leap over anything that had been built before it in complexity and in size,” he said.
Vaucher served as a pilot and commander in the Army Air Corp from 1940 to 1946. He flew as an observer pilot in the first B17 dusk-to-dawn flight in 1941, and introduced the first radar equipped U.S. Bomber into combat in April 1942, flying upwards of 1,000 hours of combat patrols to protect the Panama Canal.
Vaucher also piloted the first B29 Superfortress Heavy Bomber accepted from Boeing, delivering the aircraft to the United States Air Corp. 40th Bombardment Group in Kansas in 1943, then piloted the first B29 at 38,000 feet that same year.
In 1945, he was the mission commander to Yokohama, the largest and most destructive single in-trail assembly of B29s over a target in 1945.
In total, over 46 months, Vaucher flew a total of 117 combat patrol, bombing, mining and photography missions in Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Galapagos, India, China and Tinian. His military awards include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals, eight Battle Stars and 13 War Time Commendations and Citations.
Vaucher was discharged from active duty in June 1946, and remained in the reserves until 1962. He later served as a member of the New Jersey Department of Transportation Aviation Advisory Board.
In 2013, Vaucher was inducted into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame, and, in 2014, was accepted as an eligible nominee for enshrinement into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Vaucher has been a Bridgewater resident for more than 60 years.
“I came to the township right after the war in 1945,” he said. “I bought my house in 1950.”
“I was a young fella, and the Foothill Civic Association was there, and they got their hands on me and soon promoted me to a prominent operational job,” he added. “I have experienced all kinds of things in this township.”
Vaucher has been instrumental in many open space concerns in the township, helping to preserve land around Bridgewater, including the Wemple property off Steele Gap Road, which was officially turned over to the township for open space in March.
According to a report from the Arsenal of Democracy Executive Planning Committee, which is planning the event, because of the coronavirus, they have rescheduled the flyover and a victory gala for the week of Sept. 20, which happens to align with the annual National Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement, to be held in Ohio Sept. 26.
The victory gala, according to a release, will be held at the Signature Flight Support’s historic Hangar 7 at Ronald Reagan National Airport Sept. 24, and the flight over the National Mall will be held Sept. 25, in conjunction with a ceremony at the National World War II Memorial. The release said there will also be an aerospace workforce and STEM-related event, and static displays of many aircraft.
In addition, instead of the flyover on May 8, the Arsenal of Democracy, in conjunction with the WWII 75th Commemoration Ceremony, will release a video tribute, called “Victory in Europe – VE Day 75 Years Later,” which will broadcast at 11:30 a.m. eastern, when the flyover was originally scheduled to begin its tribute over the National Mall.
The video will include interviews with WWII veterans, historical battle footage and current day footage of aircraft involved in WWII European theater battles. It is made possible, in part, by the support and participation of the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation and the Friends of the National World War II Memorial.
“This video was created by some very important people in the world of documentaries,” Vaucher said. “There will be a lot of recognition on the date.”