Meridian Star

Local News

November 11, 2012

A different kind of veteran

MERIDIAN —     On Veterans Day the nation honors those men and women who have served in the country's armed forces.

    It wasn't only nation's veterans that have seen action, however. There are the fighting machines — not made of flesh and blood but of metal and plexiglass — that have also served in the nation's wars and conflicts.

    Thursday afternoon at Key Field in Meridian, one such example of America's fighting machines was parked pristinely on the tarmac next to Meridian Aviation.

    It was a completely restored B-25 Mitchell attack bomber that belongs to the Texas Flying Legends Museum in Houston. The warplane was making a lunch stop in Meridian on its way to Columbia, S.C. for Veterans Day ceremonies. The crew, pilots Freddy Caraveo and Doug Rozendaal, were joined by another pilot, Warren Pietsch and Tyson Voelkel, president of Texas Flying Legends Museum.

    Voelkel said the Texas Flying Legends Museum is dedicated to honoring past generations and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow through active display of WWII warbirds.

    "Highlighting the drivers behind America’s success, our programs serve to remind us of the values and freedoms that make our country great and to challenge visitors to give back to their local communities," Voelkel said. "We are proud to do our part to ensure that America remains the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’"

    Named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, pioneer of American military aviation, the B-25 Mitchell was manufactured by North American Aviation and saw service in every theater of WWII.

    Just when the B-25 bomber was considered the most modern aviation technology, Maj. Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn, an engineer in Australia, removed the bombardier-navigator from his greenhouse compartment in the nose of a B-25 and found he could install eight forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns in the aircraft. Gunn also experimented with great success with installing a 75 mm cannon in the nose to attack Japanese shipping. The attack bombers were devastating in this role. Thus was born the low-level B-25 strafer.

    This B-25 carried the nose art of Betty's Dream from the "Air Apaches" as noted prominently on the tail by the huge Indian head insignia. Capt. Charles E. “Pop” Rice, Jr. became operations officer of the 499th Squadron and was assigned to Betty’s Dream in June of 1945. Co-piloted by Victor Tatelman, it escorted two “Betty” bombers carrying the Japanese peace envoys to Ie Shima on Aug. 19, 1945, and again on the return mission from the conference in Manila with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff. By the time World War II ended, Betty’s Dream carried 22 mission symbols and two silhouettes representing sunken Japanese ships.

    Rozendaal began his professional flying career in the right seat of a DC-3 hauling freight. With more than 30 years of flying experience Rozendaal holds an Airline Transport pilot rating in numerous WWII transports and bombers as well as corporate jets. He also flies many of the significant Allied Fighters of WWII.

    Rozendaal says he has flown the B-25 for 20 years. He says it has it's little habits every pilot has to become accustomed to but overall it is a sweet plane to fly.

    Asked if at times during flights to show locations if his mind wanders to the time when the warbird was in its prime, Rozendaal smiles.

    "Yeah, I've imagined during flights that we are part of a squadron and how that would be," he says. "I bet it was something to see and be a part of."

    Betty's Dream is not a joy riding warbird as many that are restored become. Voelkel says this bird was restored with its original feathers and talons.

    "The turrets all work, all the gauges are where they should be. This plane could go to war now," Voelkel says. "It is part of that dedication to history we wanted to keep with this plane."

    Indeed, Voelkel says this is a historically accurate, flying example of what men from that era took to war and ultimate victory. He says fighting machines such as this represent the values and spirit that made the United States what it is today.

    What the machine also represents is just one of many vital tools used by America's fighting men and women to defeat those who would rule over a free loving democracy, he said.

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