Howard Bragg relives military service with special flight on B-24 bomber

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Vevay’s Howard Bragg is a World War II veteran, having served in the Pacific Theater on New Guinea before also serving in Japan at the end of the war.

The Air Force veteran flew 28 combat missions during his time assigned to a B-24 bomber as a gunner; and after returning to civilian life, his memories of war and of the plane that he flew on began to fade.

That is, until last month.

“My oldest son, Randy, called me from up in Indianapolis and said, ‘Hey dad. Did you know that there’s a B-24 bomber and it just landed at the airport?'”, Howard Bragg said. “He took it upon himself to go out and see it, and he got to meet the crew.”

In speaking with the crew, Randy Bragg told them that his dad had actually flown on a B-24 during World War II – and the crew members immediately asked if there was any way they could talk with Howard.

The next day, Howard and his wife, Reva, went to the Mount Comfort Airport near Indianapolis to see a plane that he had spent his military service flying on.

It brought back floods of memories.

“I’ll tell you, I saw that thing and I said, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get aboard,'” Howard Bragg grinned. “They told me that they had to go to Evansville, and they asked me if I wanted to go with them, and I said ‘yes!’. Reva thought it looked a little too old for me to fly on, but I went anyway.”

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Although the trip from Indianapolis to Evansville is a short one, the journey of the B-24 to get here was much longer.

Howard Bragg said that the men who had restored and flown the plane had originally found it in India -as that country had purchased six old B-24s from the United States to convert them into firefighting planes.

“They had grounded this one, so a group of fellas from up in Massachusetts bought in from them and had it shipped in parts back to the United States,” Howard Bragg explained. “They’ve spent 10 years putting that thing back together again. It was in perfect condition.”

Howard Bragg said the rebuilt plane, sitting on the runway at the airport, looked just like it did the last time he saw one at the end of World War II.

“I couldn’t wait to get on it,” he smiled. “When I got on, everything was the same: The 50-caliber machine guns were all in perfect condition. The bottom site. Everything just looked perfect.”

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Taking advantage of the offer to once again fly on a B-24, Howard Bragg said all sorts of memories came back to him as the group prepared to take off.

“They fired up those big engines. They’re 1,200-horsepower per engine,” Howard Bragg said. “You know, when that thing started, I felt like I was back in 1944 again.”

Howard Bragg said that as the plane was rolling down the runway, Reva Bragg was watching from the airport.

“She said, ‘Oh Howard, I didn’t think that old thing was going to lift off,'” Howard recalled. “But I told her I knew it was going to go because we didn’t have a bomb load on it like we did in the war.”

Howard Bragg said that the trip was a wonderful one, as the crew took the plane out over Illinois and Kentucky before finally landing in Evansville.

“It looked so nice, I’ve been used to flying at night and over the ocean and jungle when I was on one before. Being able to see everything – it was a beautiful day.” Howard Bragg said. “They let me stand up right next to the pilot and co-pilot. They were so nice.”

Howard said that when the group landed in Evansville, the airport had been told that a B-24 was going to land there, and there was a large crowd on hand to see the aircraft.

“As we unloaded, I was walking down along the fence towards the terminal, and one old gentleman standing there said, ‘Hey buddy! Did you fly that big bird in here?’ I fibbed to him and said ‘I sure did!'”

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During the war, the B-24 bomber was the main bomber in the U.S. arsenal. The men who saved the plane found a plate with a serial number, and discovered that the plane had been assembled at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit in 1942. It was the most-produced bomber in World War II.

Howard Bragg said that generally the B-24 carried a crew of 10 soldiers: the pilot; co-pilot; bombardier; navigator; and six soldiers to man the guns.

When he got to New Guinea, Howard Bragg said that the airstrip hadn’t even been constructed yet; but once it was he served with the 13th Air Force for over a year at the base.

On the B-24, Howard Bragg served as the top turret gunner In the photo that accompanies this story, it’s the clear bubble on the top of the aircraft).

“They officially called me a ‘radio gunner’, but I didn’t know anything about radios,” Howard laughed.

The crew let Howard Bragg sit in his top turret post as the plane took off from Indianapolis.

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As enjoyable as the flight was, there was also a down side.

“I had a lot of fun on the trip, but the only thing was, it brought back a lot of memories.” Howard Bragg said quietly. Memories that I’d almost forgot about, and it’s been hard to forget them again.”

Howard Bragg was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the Air Force.

“It was really nice to be in one and fly over farmland and houses and things,” Howard Bragg said. “Because before we flew over water and places of war. It was nice to look out and see beautiful things this time.”

- Pat Lanman