MONTVILLE, NJ – Three Montville Township veterans were treated to a flight on a B17 bomber visiting northern NJ, as part of its tour along the east coast with the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The plane, owned by the EAA, is named the Aluminum Overcast. During World War II, when the planes were used, they were called “Flying Fortresses.” The plane held a crew of 10, including the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and gunners.
The flight on Sept. 21 also held 10, but included Montville’s Joseph Quade, Hjalmar Johansson and Gerry Gemian, all WWII veterans and members of VFW Post 5481.
Quade was a paratrooper with the 17th Airborne Division in Europe. (Read more about him here.) Johansson was a nose-gunner in a B24 bomber airplane which was shot down, and he was a POW for six months. (Read Johansson’s story here.) Gemian served in the central Pacific as a radio operator in the 101st Signal Battalion. (Read Gemian’s story here.)
As the vets loaded into the plane at Essex County Airport, they teased Johansson, “stay in the plane this time, Hjalmar!” because of Johansson’s harrowing experience of having to parachute out of the B24 when it was shot down.
Quade said he was interested in the experience because he had never been in a fire plane. He said he had flown on C47s but never a B17. Spouses and members of the media were invited along for the ride. Quade liked the flight and called it “interesting.”
Johansson came back enthused from the 20-minute ride over Oak Ridge.
“It brought back a lot of memories from my youth, especially the sound,” he said. “It’s nice that they did this for us old WWII vets.”
Also along for the ride was the sister of flight instructor and EAA Chapter 73 member Crosby “Bing” Kearsley. Irene Kearsley Billips, now 94, worked as a riveter during the war on the wings of torpedo bombers, at the Eastern Aircraft plant in Tarrytown, NY. Stephen Bolcar, a resident of Boonton who recently turned 100 years old, also flew in the plane.
The B17 continued to fly with passengers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and could be heard overhead across the township, when the Aviation Hall of Fame’s Wings and Wheels event was held. Other WWII planes and vintage cars were on exhibit at the airport.