ASHWAUBENON - A piece of World War II history landed at Austin Straubel International Airport Monday. It's the B-17 'Flying Fortress' bomber, owned by the EAA, and it's one of only 13 still flying.
It tells the stories of war – and in the case of Jim Sorenson, he's got one heck of a story.
Sorenson, 88, started his military service as a B-17 waist gunner in 1944 at the age of 19. In September 1944, Sorenson was on his eighth mission. The target: a German refinery south of Berlin.
"We just closed the bomb bay door – we got a direct hit," said Sorenson. "There's only one way you can go – that's down."
With only one operable engine after the other three were disabled by flak, Sorenson and the tail and ball turret gunners bailed out; he says the other six crew members were still in the plane when it went into a spin.
"(A German soldier) was taking us over to the small town and he called our attention to smoke way off in the distance – heavy black smoke – he said, 'Das ist your Machine; Alles kaputt!'" recalled the retired Green Bay Preble High School science teacher. "From that, we knew all the rest of the crew had been killed."
Sorenson and the other two crew members were eventually sent to a Prisoner of War camp in Poland.
Part of the 100th bomb group, Sorenson said it was a risk all its airmen faced.
"Very heavy losses," said Sorenson of his bomb group, sometimes known as the ‘Bloody Hundredth.' "I was one of them."
Despite the risk, Sorenson says the B-17 still holds a special place in his heart.
"When they start those engines up, it's a sound all its own," said Sorenson. "There's nothing like it."
Sorenson and a handful of other area World War II veterans and the media got the chance ride in the B-17 'Aluminum Overcast' Monday.
The Experimental Aircraft Association-owned plane will call Jet Air Group's facilities at Austin Straubel home for the next two days.
"It took us about 4 years to actually get this to happen," explained Jet Air CEO Al Timmerman.
Timmerman says hosting the B-17 is one of the best ways to show respect and gratitude for veterans like Sorenson.
"This may be the last chance he'll have to get a ride on one," Timmerman said. "So, we just thought with that history and the age of these gentlemen, it's time that we get them here and do something that's for them."
This isn't the first time since the war Sorenson's flown in a B-17 – that happened just a couple years ago; but don't think he didn't relish the chance to get back on one.
Paid tours and flights are available to the public Tuesday and Wednesday. More information can be found here.
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