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4/28/2014 10:57:00 AM Story and video: It's a bird ... it's a plane ... it's a World War II veteran
George Hubbard of Nokomis, Ill. was a tech sergeant who served as a flight engineer/gunner stationed in Italy near the end of World War II. He turned 20 his first day in Italy in 1944 and will be 90 this year. On Saturday, April 26, 2014, he rode in a TBM Avenger for the first time, while his son and two of his granddaughters rode in T-6 airplanes, at Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, Ill. The four war birds flew in formation, with an airplane carrying a photographer tagging along.
World War II veteran George Hubbard holds a photo of members of the 464th Bomb Group before going up for a flight in a World War II-era warbird Saturday at Illinois Valley Regional Airport, Peru. Hubbard, who was stationed in Italy, flew in 37 missions during the war as a pin-puller on a B-24 bomber. Find more photos in the photo purchase section at newstrib.com. NewsTribune photos/Chris Yucas
Three generations of the Hubbard family, including World War II veteran George Hubbard of Nokomis, fly in formation over Peru in World War II-era planes Saturday thanks to help from pilot members of EAA Warbirds of America. The group was joined by other enthusiasts at the Peru airport creating an unofficial mini-convention.
George Hubbard doesn’t talk very often about the six months and eight days he served in combat with the U.S. Air Forces during World War II, but on Saturday at Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, the memories flowed freely from his lips.
Thanks to a favor from a friend of the family, Hubbard, along with his son Andy Hubbard of Ottawa and granddaughters Gina Boernan and Ashley Hubbard, had the opportunity to ride in a World War II era plane. George went up in a TBM Avenger for the first time in his nearly 90 years, and his progeny rode in T-6 airplanes. The four war birds were flown together in formation.
Standing on an airfield dotted with 70-year-old airplanes, the veteran from Nokomis opened a black photo album commemorating his war days.
Hubbard laughed at a photo of himself as a 19-year-old recruit, placed next to one taken only two years later.
“You grow up in a hurry,” he said.
Hubbard turned 20 on his first day in Italy.
Turning to a photo of two planes in flight, he recalled the date: April 10, 1945.
“I’m in this airplane,” he said, pointing at the one on the right. Then, indicating the vehicle on the left: “This is the lead airplane.”
The next photo shows that lead airplane a few moments later, after it was hit.
Only one of the 10 crew members survived that flight, Hubbard recounted, and that was because he was thrown from the vehicle. Three of those who died were two missions away from finishing their tour. Two of them were scheduled to go home after that mission. The other four wouldn’t have had much time left in combat, either, had they survived the April 10 flight.
“The war was over the eighth of May,” Hubbard said.
During his brief time in combat, Hubbard went on 37 missions and earned five major battle stars.
“I’m proudest of that,” he said. “Just being in the right place at the right time.”
Hubbard was a tech sergeant who served as a flight engineer/gunner with the 464th bomb group, 778th bomb squadron. His 10-member crew was “very fortunate,” he said. “No Purple Hearts; no injuries.”
The veteran has photos of the 14-by-14-foot tent he shared with five other soldiers.
“You had to (get along),” he said. “You thought the world of them, as much as your brothers.”
He has attended reunions over the years, but Boernan, one of the granddaughters who took a flight with him Saturday, said she doesn’t remember him ever talking about the war as she was growing up. She assumed from his collection of memorabilia that her grandfather had been assigned to pull the pins on the bombs.
“He has every one of the pins … with the date and the location that they were dropped in the war,” she said. “They’re just little — almost like a bobby pin.”
In fact, George’s job as a flight engineer/gunner had been to check the airplane before takeoff and then assume one of the six seats reserved for gunners on the B-24 bomber.
“When they’d fly in formation they were taking off every 20 seconds or so,” he said.
Boernan said she has some of her grandfather’s artifacts from the war, including his aviator sunglasses and a canteen.
“I used to play with them,” she said. “Now I have them in a fireproof safe.”
Tim Gillian of Forest Park, the family friend who happens to own a TBM Avenger he flies as a hobby, said the airplane was the largest piston-engine aircraft manufactured during World War II and uses 85-110 gallons of gas per hour. This particular aircraft still carries battle scars from the last days of the war.
The hobby pilot called the TBM Avenger “a joy to fly.”
“We’re just trying to keep the spirit of World War II aviation alive,” he said. “It’s really for the kids out here, to let them see how it all happened.”
Saturday’s flight was special, however.
“It was a great honor to fly a World War II vet,” Gillian told George Hubbard after the flight.
As for George, he said it was “very charitable” of the pilots to afford him the opportunity, and summed up his time in the service humbly: