Wings of Freedom Tour comes to the North Shore

WHEELING — They came for the ultimate joy ride, a half-hour flight July 18 aboard a World War II Consolidated B-24 Liberator.

One passenger from Wisconsin received the flight as a Father’s Day gift. Two North Shore men paid $450 to the Collings Foundation simply for the experience.

The Wings of Freedom Tour, which rumbled North Shore skies for three days near the Wheeling-based Chicago Executive Airport, caused grounded folks to stare at the soaring vintage war crafts July 18 through July 20.

Three planes were advertised on vintage-looking posters. They were the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 Liberator (affectionately called “The Flying Coffin”) and the P-51 Mustang.

Motorists slowed at the sight of the planes, which dominated a Milwaukee Avenue Tower Drive runway access. Walk-through tours ($12 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under) offered first-hand living history.

For those fortunate to fly in the planes, the majority of their $450 donation to the Collings Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit entity, was tax deductible.

For the July 18 flight, which took off at about 5:40 p.m., three men bonded over a mutual love of World War II military history.

Matthew King of Evanston and Ron Brown of Wheeling are pals who work at Glenview Glenbrook Hospital as radiology technicians. Mark Koth of Winneconne, Wisc., who received the ride as a Father’s Day gift, made memories with King and Brown aboard the B-24 Liberator.

“I have a great appreciation for the men who served in these planes during World War II and (who) let us be free today by their service and their sacrifice,” said King, who admitted he was nervous about the height through an open window. But fear quickly passed.

The plane route hugged the Lake Michigan shoreline, offering a view of Chicago kissed by azure waters.

“It was an amazing thing what these guys did,” King said, of World War II soldiers.

“I can’t imagine being up in such a basically, primitive plane, getting shot at…”

King was grateful to the Collings Foundation, “that they’ve been able to restore these planes.”

Ron Brown is concerned many Americans or newer immigrants lack an understanding of the ultimate sacrifice or risk.

“I just have a great respect for those who have served, before and currently, that we have our freedom because of all of these people who flew in these planes and that are currently in active duty,” Brown said.

“Freedom is not free and somebody has to pay a price for it.”

Mark Koth’s family waited on the ground. His wife Julie, daughter Kelly and Kelly’s boyfriend Dave McAdow were beaming when he deplaned.

“They knew I was always interested in the B-24 and what my dad did in the war,” said Koth, whose father Lloyd Koth flew on the B-24 while serving in the World War II U.S. Air Force.

“My dad passed away in 2007 and he’s the classic greatest generation, they didn’t talk a lot about it,” said Koth, who started to choke up recalling his father.

“I wish he were here today to ask a few more questions of,” Koth said.

“As time goes by, that’s kind of a sore spot for me that I didn’t ask enough questions at the time.”

Koth was grateful the July 18 flight connected him to his father who had completed 36 combat missions over occupied Europe and Germany.

The three joined other passengers who boarded the plane from under the belly of the craft. Each had to shimmy up a narrow metal runway to perhaps sit on a bench that held four people.

This sort of seating was nothing like what one would find aboard a first-class American domestic plane.

Once airborne, it was okay to move about the cabin. If you chose, you could see what it was like to shoot military (obviously unarmed) weaponry.

After about 20 minutes flying to Chicago, it was then back to Wheeling.

“It’s excellent, it’s rare, it’s unique and everyone gets out with smiles ear to ear,” said John Fudala of Northbrook, a volunteer associated with the tour.

“Sometimes it takes four of us to get a vet in and out and for them, it’s especially a wonderful experience,” Fudala said.

Both King and Brown, who took cell phone photos of each other inflight, shared a message.

“If it wasn’t for all of the people who served in World War II in particular, we would be conquered,” Brown said.

“I’d just like to say thank you very much for your service to our country,” said King, to all soldiers.

“I really appreciate all of the sacrifices that were done to keep us free today,” said King, who has loved military history since childhood.

0 Comments

Modal