NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. (WHTM) – William is a precocious 4-year-old from Harrisburg who was dressed in a bomber jacket. He was singing to himself and anyone in earshot Wednesday.
“Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” William crooned, reciting the Air Force theme song.
For William and a handful of older onlookers at the Capital City Airport, the blue yonder was quite wild over Harrisburg. Presidential pilots were practicing with Air Force One – minus Mr. Obama – but that plane wasn’t the star of these skies.
World War II airplanes flew in and out offering tours. The aircraft are vintage.
There was also a classic on the tarmac.
“Most people think I’m about 65,” Ray Souders said proudly as he took off his cap revealing a good shock of hair. “I’ve still got my hair.”
Souders, a lifelong New Cumberland resident, is 94 and about to fly in a B-24 bomber.
He’s been in one before.
Souders was in the 445th bomber group during World War II. He was a flight engineer and flew 26 missions over Germany.
“In combat, I went up on the top turret (manned a machine gun), but on a regular mission I sat between the pilot and co-pilot at all times.”
B-24s did not have reclining seats, movies or beverage service.
“They’re up there with no oxygen, no heat,” marveled Joyce Wojciehowski, Ray’s daughter who is excited to take the flight with her dad. “It’s basically a tin can. They had no bathrooms and they were on an 8- to 10-hour flight.”
Before takeoff, Ray took a tour of the plane. It’s cramped, but he nimbly squeezed through the narrow passageways.
It’s clear that he remembers being on a B-24. He stops and points to an opening.
“If you had to jump out, that’s where you jump out as the bomb bay doors open.”
Ray still has and still fits into his government-issued flight suit.
He also has a photo of his 10-man crew and a theory as to why he’s the last living member.
“I’m the only one who didn’t drink and didn’t smoke,” Ray said. He adds that he still exercises twice a week.
So is he excited about flying in a B-24 for the first time since 1945?
“It’s not like when you’re on your first date and you’re all excited,” Ray says. His wife passed away a few years ago.
I thank him for his time and wish him well on his flight.
He interjects, “I intend to live until I’m 105.”
He’s not kidding.
If he does, this moment when he takes off in B-24 will be one of the more memorable.