Seventy years ago, young men from America's "Greatest Generation" strapped themselves into aircraft and fought and died for principles they believed in. These men, who often were too young to vote or legally drink, now are in their late 80s and 90s. The time to hear their incredible stories and to say "thank you" is running out.
Sept. 27 at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, the remaining crew members who flew in the Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers are to gather one last time with each other and the aircraft they flew. The reunion is set for 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
The gathering was inspired by museum member and warbird owner Charlie Cartledge. Cartledge, who grew up on Middle Bass Island and now lives in Orrville, spent the past 14 years restoring a Grumman TBM Avenger and displays this operational aircraft in the Liberty Aviation Museum.
TBM gunner Del Vernon with his Avenger, 1944.
During the course of his project, Cartledge met and become friends with several veterans who had served in the Avengers. Many of these vets since have died.
Shortly after the arrival of Cartledge's TBM, another veteran of these aircraft came forward and reached out. These men used to meet in annual reunions, but as their ranks thinned due to illness and death, they have not met for several years.
"Why not reunite these remaining veterans with the aircraft they flew?" Cartledge asked. "As young men of 19 and 20 they made history. One of the pilots crash landed in Tokyo Bay, was fished out of the hostile waters by a U.S. Navy submarine, was patched up and crash landed into the deck of his aircraft carrier only three weeks later.
"Another of the pilots torpedoed one of Japan's super battleships, thus participating in the historic demise of the battleship as supreme battlewagon and the rise of the aircraft carrier as the ultimate weapon."
TBM Avenger owner-operators within the region are willing and able to fly their aircraft in to Port Clinton for this reunion with the men who flew them into battle 70 years ago. These passionate aviation and history enthusiasts are not seeking any payment, only reimbursement for their fuel and lodging expenses, which can be as much as $2,000 per aircraft. According to Cartledge, "the reality is that if you invite three aircraft owners in, and one gets socked in with bad weather, and the other has a mechanical issue, then you only get one aircraft. That's just the nature of general aviation, so you plan to have five aircraft, and hope to have three make it in for the event."
The TBM Avenger gathering and reunion is an opportunity to meet these extraordinary men, hear their stories and experience the sights, sounds and flight of the aircraft they flew.
To underwrite the costs and expenses to host the gathering of veterans and aircraft, the Liberty Aviation Museum and Lake Erie Warbirds are seeking sponsors to honor the memory and spirit of these heroes. For more information about becoming a sponsor, or to purchase tickets, contact the Liberty Aviation Museum at (419) 732-0234 or visit the website at www.libertyaviationmuseum.org.