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Spirit of America

Honoring service: Local veterans join dozens of others from S.C. on flight to see National World War II Memorial

 

April 01, 2012 4:00 am  •  By RICHARD WALKER, T&D Staff Writer

Honoring service:

Local veterans join dozens of others from S.C. on flight to see National World War II Memorial

This is Honor Flight

 

It was a day of the yellow noses. When one flashed by, your heart raced quicker, your palms became sweaty. You wished you were a million miles away from the lumbering tin can surrounded by the black clouds of flak — and yellow noses.

Lou Fowler was a waist gunner in a B-24 during World War II. He saw them. He watched as they chewed his plane to pieces.

Serving as a prisoner of war for more than a year, Fowler will never forget the yellow noses of the German Focke Wolfe 190s. Or the day he first saw the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“You are about to embark on one of the most memorable occasions of your life,” Fowler said as he addressed World War II veterans and their families. “Your monument, your monument to you, is the most awesome you will see.”

During last month’s pre-flight conference in Columbia, veterans and family members were prepped for their trip aboard Honor Flight of South Carolina.

“Let me tell you who you are,” coordinator Ron Saxton said. “This is your day. This flight is about you.”

Honor Flight is a national effort to pay tribute to the men and women of World War II by flying as many as possible to Washington to see the memorial honoring their sacrifices.

The National World War II Memorial opened to the public in 2004. With many of the honorees of the memorial physically unable to make the journey unassisted, a solution was sought.

On that first flight from Ohio in 2005, 12 veterans were flown on six small planes to Washington. And Honor Flight was born.

In South Carolina, Honor Flight was begun by Columbia resident Bill Dukes, whose father was a World War II veteran. The next flight on April 11 is sponsored by South Carolina’s electric cooperatives.

Since 2008, more than 2,000 veterans in South Carolina have been flown to Washington to see the memorial. Across the nation, more than 81,000 veterans have been paid tribute through an Honor Flight.

Of the 100 veterans leaving Columbia on the next flight, at least nine are from The T&D Region, including Leo Browder of Elloree.

Browder earned his Honor Flight trip in the Pacific, where he was a crew member of an LST, a ship designed to move men and equipment.

At Guadalcanal, Browder watched 13 Japanese Zeroes splash after being shot down by American P-38 fighter planes. Then his ship took a hit from shore batteries, and some shrapnel sliced his arm.

“I’m sort of looking forward to it,” Browder said of the Honor Flight. “I have a friend, he’s already gone. He said, ‘You’ll enjoy it.’ It’s just a real joy to be going to see it.”

Browder said his LST got men in and out of some of the hottest battles of the Pacific, the Philippines included. His crew was preparing for an assault directly on Japan when news came that the Japanese had surrendered.

Half a world away, Fowler had been forced to bail out of his burning B-24 Liberator after anti-aircraft shells forced it out of formation. After dropping several thousand feet, the stricken bomber was below the flak.

“Then the German fighters came in,” Fowler said. “Our number two engine is on fire, we’re out of formation, we’re going down.”

For a German pilot to paint his plane’s nose cone yellow, he must first shoot down 50 planes, Fowler said. You might see one or two yellow noses in a fight. Maybe none.

“They were the best, that meant they were the top guns,” Fowler said. “If you saw a yellow nose, you knew you were up against a top gun.”

On March 19, 1944 the sky over Austria was full of yellow noses.

As Fowler struggled with his parachute buckle, the dying bomber lurched over, sending the Columbia resident into the sky 16,000 feet above the ground.

Losing consciousness from a lack of oxygen, Fowler woke up to discover a sympathetic family had hidden him from the Germans. He was later captured, however, and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp.

During the last days, he and three others escaped to avoid possible execution. They made their way west, where they ran into the 104th Timberwolves.

Today, Fowler compares his emotions upon seeing the memorial to that of his seeing the American infantry unit in April 1945.

“It is the most beautiful memorial,” Fowler said. “That is your memorial. Thank God he blessed America.”

Contact the writer: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 803-533-5516.

ETV Special: Back to the Battlefield

 

A WWII veteran from South Carolina returns to Omaha Beach 64 years after the D-Day invasion in the special documentary, Back to the Battlefield: A D-Day Veteran Returns to Omaha Beach,  August 5 at 8 p.m. on ETV. 

War Memories Kept Alive

 

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