Edited from an article by Caitlyn Bruszewki for GlobalAir
While much of the vintage military aviation world was focused upon Europe during the buildup to the 75th Anniversary Celebrations of the D-Day Invasion in Normandy, France, there were of course many other efforts across North America helping to pay tribute to our WWII heroes. One such event took place at the former Bowman Field, now Bowman Regional Airport, in Louisville, Kentucky during the week of June 3 – 7.
The Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, based at Smartt Field (St.Charles County Airport) near St.Louis, Missouri, brought their North American B-25J Mitchell to Bowman Field. Nicknamed Show Me, the B-25 gave a number of U.S. WWII veterans complimentary rides, also known as honor flights, as part of Operation Gratitude.
Twenty veterans, from all military branches, went up, five at a time, in Show Me for a flight across the majestic rolling hills in the Bluegrass State. One of those passengers, a U.S. Navy veteran named Norma Lewis, admitted that she spent most of her flight with her hands clenched…. not out of fear, mind you, but rather from exhilaration! Lewis beamed while recounting her flight in Show Me. “The engine is like a thousand violins in my ears,” she noted before pausing. “The feeling of being in the air is just… wow!”
At 97 years-young, as she will be sure to remind you, Norma has lived a purposeful life. She joined the Navy in 1943, while just 21, wanting to contribute to the war effort. She became a Naval Intelligence Officer, and spent much of the war stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, taking part in the mission to track and sink German U-Boats.
Lewis left the Navy after a three and a half year stint. In the 1960s, she moved to Louisville, becoming a sign language interpreter, a skill she picked up around the age of 10, having been raised by her deaf aunt and uncle in Connecticut. In 1977, Mass of the Air, a televised weekly religious program on the local news station WHAS, began broadcasting, and Norma Lewis volunteered to help out as an interpreter. She has been with the station now for 40 years!
It is clear that Norma Lewis and the other WWII veterans who took a ride in Show Me were happy for the recognition, and for the chance to do something reminiscent of their wartime service. This particular event was presented by the Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter during the week of June 3-7 as part of their effort to recognize the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
Jeff Thoke, chairman of the board of Honor Flight Bluegrass, said: “I am thankful to be able to put on such a truly special event for these veterans.”
Honor Flight Bluegrass received a $75,000 grant from the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund, administered by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, to fully sponsor the honor flights aboard Show Me.
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