Reporting Doug Dunbar
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Most reunion stories involve long-lost friends or family members, but this one is about a man and his airplane. The last time that C.B. Perdue was close to a B-17 bomber, he was bailing out of one from 20,000 feet over northern Germany during World War II. But now, 67 years later, he is airborne again in his beloved plane.
“Looks familiar,” he said. “Sure does.”
Climbing on board the Collings Foundation B-17, nicknamed the 909, Perdue is instantly transported to April 7, 1945. That day, he was just 20 years old and flying on his 25th military mission. “We were on a mission to bomb an airfield north of Hamburg, in a little town called Kaltenkirchen,” he recalled. “I was in the nose of the airplane, flying in place of the bombardier.”
All of the gun turrets were manned during what was supposed to be a milk run — an easy mission — but out of nowhere, a German fighter attacked the plane. “He came up to the rear of us and shot the tail of the B-17 off, scored a direct hit on the tail,” Perdue said. In a matter of seconds, that milk run became a run for their lives.
Through an escape hatch, Perdue and four others on the nine-person crew managed to get out. That hatch is the only thing that allowed Perdue to survive. “This is where,” Perdue started, tearing up while looking over the plane, “I jumped out.”
Perdue still has the jacket that he was wearing when he bailed out in 1945. The letters “USA” are handwritten on the front — scribbled by a German soldier to identify Perdue as a prisoner of war. After his capture, Perdue was taken to Hamburg for interrogation, then to Stalag 1 in Barth, where he was held until liberation.
That was the last time that Perdue flew a B-17 — until now.
For the first time since his bailout, the 87-year-old American war hero roared skyward in a B-17, traveling from Dallas Love Field to Waco. That gave him just enough time to man the nose turret once again, share stories with his great-grandsons and reflect on a proud service to his country — which included a number of medals, including the Purple Heart. It was a plane ride 67 years in the making. “It means a lot to me,” Perdue said. “In a way, it saved my life. Even though we got shot down, I got back.”
“After flying 25 of those missions,” Perdue said, wiping away tears, “I made it home.”
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