Everybody wanted to see the four World War II aircraft, but for a little while on Sunday, June 17, 91-year-old Larry Van Peursem of Brewer attracted a lot of attention at Bangor International Airport.
The weekend’s festivities actually focused on the last reunion of the 5th Armored Division, the hard-fighting outfit with which Galen Cole fought during World War II. Cole arranged for the Texas Flying Legends Museum, based at Ellington Field in Houston, to send five World War II planes to BIA for a Father’s Day open house and air show.
Plans called for a B-25J Mitchell, a P-51D Mustang, a P-40K, an F-4U Corsair, and a Japanese A6-M2 Zero to arrive at BIA in time for an 11 a.m. static display outside airport maintenance on Maine Avenue. The Zero did not appear, but hundreds of people checked out the other aircraft, their paint schemes and metal gleaming in the late spring sunlight.
Among the people walking among the planes that day was Elizabeth Stevens of Bangor. “My father (Leslie Keith) used to bring us when I was a child” living in Lincoln “to see the airplanes come and go” at BIA, she said. Her father now lives elsewhere; he could not attend the June 17 show.
“We would get our lunch at McDonald’s and park by the fence and watch the planes,” she said. “My father was in the service. He would talk about the airport when it was Dow Air Force Base.
“Where it was Father’s Day, it seemed appropriate to come out” for the Texas Flying Legends air show, Stevens said. “I wanted to do it for the [memory of the] good times.”
While walking around the B-25J Mitchell nicknamed “Betty’s Dream,” Stevens noticed an elderly man (Van Peursem) in a Red Sox jacket standing by the plane’s menacingly painted nose. Different people were stopping to shake his hand; and Stevens, who did not know Van Peursem, chatted with him and posed for photographs.
Stevens and Larry Van Peursem spoke quietly as shutters snapped. Afterwards, Van Peursem explained that he had come to BIA to see the World War II aircraft, especially the B-25. Known as the “Mitchell,” the twin-engined and twin-tailed bomber was the type flown by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle and other Army aviators from the carrier USS Hornet to bomb Japanese targets in April 1942.
An Army Air Force pilot during WWII, Van Peursem ferried new B-25s from a factory near Baltimore to Army air fields around the country. “Then I’d come back to get another plane,” he said.
Van Peursem also flew “The Hump” while piloting B-24 Liberator bombers converted to transports. The Hump was the aerial supply line that Allied air forces established from India to China to supply Allied forces there; flying across the Himalayas, Allied pilots encountered horrid weather, blinding snowstorms, and snow-covered mountains that snagged many a plane.
According to Van Peursem, the B-24 transport “had fuel tanks where the bombs would be. It was a huge [fuel] tank in there. Sometimes we’d say, ‘They’re putting too much fuel in there.’” After taking off from an airfield in eastern India, he would pilot a plane and its high-octane cargo over the Himalayas and land in China to offload the fuel.
His surname earned Van Peursem the nickname of “Flying Dutchman”; he chuckled at the memory. Van Peursem said that he flew “until the war ended.”
People kept shaking his hand and speaking with him until BIA officials asked the crowd to move behind a security barrier about 1:25 p.m., June 17. Estimating that “it probably was 50 years ago” since he last flew in a B-25 Mitchell, Van Peursem was tapped along with two other WWII veterans to fly in “Betty’s Dream” during the BIA air show.
He was the first veteran up the crew-hatch ladder about 1:40 p.m. Minutes later, all four “warbirds” started their engines, and “Betty’s Dream” taxied far along the BIA apron before turning onto the runway and taking off with Van Peursem aboard.
Flying individually and in formation, the planes thrilled onlookers, and a final fly-over drew applause. After the planes landed and returned to the general aviation ramp, the B-25J’s passengers disembarked.