Bob Hynes has a lot in common with some of the exhibits at the Yankee Air Museum.  He’s maybe a bit long in the tooth these days, but well-maintained and raring to go.

Bob, you’ll recall as fondly as us, is the veteran Detroit broadcaster and current anchor of WYUR Morning Show with Bob Hynes 6:00 to 9:00 a.m.  Back in the day he was a Channel 7 morning show host, perhaps best known for his gutsy street reporting of  Detroit’s 1967 riots at a time when the other stations were merely attending press conferences.  Hynes’s contributions helped set the high water mark for Detroit news reporting and propelled WXYZ-TV to the top of the news game for nearly a quarter century.

True to his fighting spirit, Hynes is now Director of Public Relations for the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport.  The museum, establish in 1981 by a group of enthusiasts eager to  preserve the glamour of southeastern Michigan's aviation history, including the acquisition of one of the original U.S. Army Air Forces hangars.  Willow Run Airport is an ideal site for the museum.  Built by the Ford Motor Company in 1941 to serve as an airfield for their B-24 Bomber plant, the B-24 being the first aircraft to be built using Ford's automotive mass production techniques, a leading technological innovation of the time. Ford Motor Company built 8,685 B-24s from 1942 until the end of World War II. At its peak, the Willow Run plant employed over 42,000 people and produced one B-24 every 59 minutes.

On Wednesday, Oct 1, the Visionalist crew was thrilled and honored to be on board the YAM’s fully-restored B-17G ‘Yankee Lady’,  the finest example of this type of aircraft still flying in the world today. The Boeing B-17, nicknamed the "Flying Fortress", was a long range heavy bomber given the task of destroying enemy war facilities through precision strategic bombardment.  As if a flight on this magnificent plane wasn’t enough of a thrill, also accompanying us were five veterans of World War II; most of whom had flown missions in this type of aircraft, and at least a couple who had not been on board one since the war ended.  Burt Miner, for example, is a veteran of thirty bombing runs over France and Germany in his 3 ½ years in the 8th Airborne.  Like fellow Air Force veterans Fred Reichel and Fred Nunnold, an eighty-seven-year-old tail gunner, the opportunity to once again hear the four massive Boeing engines rev to speed was an experience that elicited both cries of joy and the inevitable return of memories, some good, some not.  Fred Reichel flew three tough missions and was shot down over Austria, surviving by good fortune and tough spirit, but spent the bulk of the War as a POW.  Along with George Lietzau and Robert Stachel  these men will be honored in :Detroit: Our Greatest Generation’, a documentary being produced by Keith Famie of Visionalist Productions.

“We’re losing these heroes at an alarming rate,” Bob Hynes points out. “Schools today don’t seem too concern with teaching the sacrifices that these men made, and that’s a crying shame.  These men, all in their eighties now, are really living legends.  That’s why we treat them so well here at the Yankee Air Museum.  When we take them for a spin in the Yankee Lady—the grande dame of the museum—we make sure to honor them with a medal and a heart-felt thanks for their years of service…”

That’s not to say that Hynes is above a little good natured ribbing.  As they boarded the beautifully restored aircraft, Hynes—a pro funny-man who’s worked with Dom DeLuise among others—made sure that the seniors knew that there were air-sickness bags available should it become necessary, but if they needed mouth-to-mouth “…you’re on your own!”

Neither airbags nor kisses were necessary as the old airmen buckled in and the aircraft, under the loving guidance of pilot Gene Wedekemper the big old bird lumbered into the air once again, burning a wallet-busting  fifty gallons of high-octane fuel per engine per hour, but offering a priceless experience to the veterans and those fortunate enough to record the experience. 

A further highlight of the afternoon was the particularly sentimental gesture made by Executive Producer Keith Famie and his daughter Alicia.  Keith’s father, Al Famie, was a World War II bombardier stationed in the Aleutian Islands, and a veteran of many bombing runs such as those completed by the men on board the ‘Yankee Lady’.  The elder Famie passed away several years ago, but in a special container created by Alicia in memory of her grandfather, his ashes were carried on board the plane as a final journey for this late, lamented warrior.  He was seen off in a style befitting a fallen soldier, and safe to say, there was not a dry eye in the cabin.

As icing to the cake, Jack Roush took up his restored P-51 Mustang, the ‘Old Crow’ and flew alongside the ‘Yankee Lady’ as an escort.  As for pilot Roush, of course, his  ‘sideline’ occupation is owner of Roush Racing, currently fielding five cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series six cars in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and three trucks in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The thrill of seeing the P-51 up close, in the air, was the equal of the B-17 experience.  That’s because the World War II mission of the Mustang was as a long-range single-seat fighter aircraft used as a bomber escort in raids over Germany, helping ensure Allied air superiority.  Many of our on-board veterans attested to having their lives saved by the quick reaction and fighting spirit of these Mustang pilots nearly seventy years ago.

Clearly the day meant the world to these old warriors, and the respect shown them by everyone at the Yankee Air Museum was enough to restore faith in the sense that America, at least in this instance, is fully cognizant of the debt that’s owed them.

Their mission is accomplished.  Ours is to make sure that they receive their due while they remain with us.





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