We tracked throughout departure Saturday, the 14th, the historic tornadoes in the Midwest. They seemed ahead of schedule but like most big storms, back stages also are ugly. On Sunday, we awakened to snow and forecast ceilings under 300 feet. That’s about four wingspans, not to mention illegal without an IFR clearance, which we chose to forego due to icing and turbulence. So we spent Sunday exploring the museums and sites of Great Falls, Montana.
In our structured, scheduled world, an unexpected “day off” can be an exceptional experience. Our crew adapted nicely, especially when we learned that we would be welcome at the hangar ceremony honoring Cpl. Antonio Burnside.
For those of you who have not witnessed the return of a fallen soldier, the ceremony moves one in many emotional directions. Cpl. Burnside’s return from Afghanistan, where he was killed in a firefight, had the added element of Blackfeet Indian tradition. Due to windy, cold weather, the casket was removed from the charter aircraft inside a hangar with approximately 150 members of the Blackfeet Nation and several Army personnel present. The Council Chief made remarks and offered prayers in two languages, and dancers and singers in full dress paid tribute. Cpl. Burnside’s grandfather lead prayers and songs, then announced that he was relocating to the reservation from his home in Canada to help the family in its transition. He then introduced Cpl. Burnside’s wife and four children. Given the history of Indian treatment, the pure patriotism of those present was nothing less than remarkable. An extended motorcade accompanied Cpl. Burnside to Conrad, Montana for burial mid-week. Just another example of sacred experiences one can have when delayed during a cross-country adventure.
While the weather forecast was much improved for Monday, the 16th, one must be skeptical in the lee of such a tremendous storm. Microsystems of residual low pressure and moisture can ruin your day. We departed in beautiful snow and 31-degrees, but as we approached the Little Big Horn, a planned waypoint, visibility deteriorated in a hurry, as it did for George Armstrong Custer on the afternoon of the historic battle when Indian horses kicked up quite a dust cloud. We turned to the west for the improved visibility it offered and worked our way gradually to South Dakota where we found a stratified layer of clouds about 2,000 feet above the ground and visibility that seemed to extend to Dayton. Following a fuel stop in Omaha, we continued on the final leg to Grimes Field near Dayton where the B-25s had assembled to begin formal activities the following day. Some of you may have tracked our progress. The winds had been howling all day and as we made our approach to Grimes, we prepared for wind shear. We came in high with extra power, floated like a ten-ton kite, and landed on the 4,000-foot runway. A joyful crowd witnessed a landing at sunset of Mitchell 20, “Grumpy,” the B-25 traveling the greatest distance.
Overnight, we were promoted to “Raider 5” for the sequenced takeoffs at sunrise. As we fired up and made our way to the takeoff point in a long line of Mitchells, I felt grateful for the sound and performance of our engines. Several Mitchells sounded rough and others were coughing flames.
A large crowd gathered at Grimes Field for a sight not replicated since WW II. Once in the air, we sought and received permission to pass abeam Wright Patterson Air Base and land at Wright Field. On the ground at Wright Field, home of the Museum of the United States Air Force, we waited for no. 20 to land, then taxied to a line-up for display. Before shutting down all 20 Mitchells performed simultaneous “run ups” to takeoff power; this, for a recording. The 40 Wright Cyclone engines were deafening.
So those are a few thoughts regarding the outbound segment. Next, I will write about the Doolittle Raider Reunion and the trip home.