By Tony Cagala
“10th Raid: May 12, 1944, Lutzendorf, Germany (near Leipsig)
Target was synthetic oil plant. Flak was intense and pretty accurate. We almost got it on the way home, same as on our first Berlin raid. Our bombs made a good pattern and when we left the target smoke was already 10 to 12 thousand feet up suggesting large fires. (Rode ball-turet).”
This was just one page in the daily journal of S/Sgt. Andy Furimsky, my great-uncle, who flew in the ball-turret position of a B-17 bomber nicknamed the “Superstitious Aloysius” of the 91st bomb group during World War II.
What he and his crewmen were doing was extraordinary, yet the tone in which he writes about his experiences is simple; the sentences he writes are matter-of-fact.
When I had the opportunity to take to the skies in a B-17 that visited Ramona Airport during the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour, I kept in mind my great-uncle’s journal. But nothing about that flight seemed simple or matter-of-fact. In a word — it was fascinating.
Nine other passengers, ranging in age from 18 to 70, readied to board the flight. But before loading in we received a safety briefing from Collings Foundation volunteer Alan Cutsinger. The briefing was succinct and to the point, amounting to this: Don’t lean against the exit doors, don’t step on the bomb bay doors or you will fall out of the airplane.
With that said, each of us exchanged a bemused glance and then willfully climbed into the plane looking around in excitment. Six of us sat in the waist of the plane on seat cushions mounted to the floor, facing inward, our backs against the fuselage. The others made their way clumsily through the narrow passageways to the radio room and farther up the plane.
And then the four 1,200-horsepower engines fired up. The plane roared to life and began to taxi to the runway. Once our pilot Frank Hale and co-pilot Karl Reis received clearance from the tower, the engines revved to full power, the plane began to rattle and shake, and then we were off. Without benefit of a view, it was hard to discern when the plane actually lifted off the ground. But when Cutsinger came through the plane he gave us a sign that we were free to move about the plane. We were greeted by an astonishing view of Ramona 1,500 feet below.
Ramona, from the air, appears as wide open as it does from the ground with only the sage green hills and tanned brown valleys interrupting a seemingly limitless horizon.
At a cruising of 250 mph at an altitude of 3,800 feet, it wasn’t hard to imagine German fighter planes swarming in. One passenger reflected on the young men, most just 18- to 19-years-old, flying in this behemoth of machinery under incredible conditions, performing their duties, all in the name of freedom.
My great-uncle survived the war. All seven of his brothers survived the war, too, and returned home. Andy went on to live in Chicago, Ill.; he got married and had four children.
The Collings Foundation’s aim is to keep the memories of these airmen and their planes alive as they tour airports across the country. Cutsinger said their visit to Ramona was a success and that they hope to return next year.
For more information on the Collings Foundation, visit www.collingsfoundation.org.