WWII vets get up close with B-25 ahead of Duluth Airshow

Bob Ballou recalled being on pass following the Liberation of Paris by the allied forces in the summer of 1944. A woman plucked his service cap from his head along a Champs-?lys?es that was clotted with revelers.

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Mark Schuler with the Commemorative Air Force talks with World War II veterans Bob Watts of Canyon and Bob Ballou of Duluth as they tour the B-25 bomber on display at the Duluth International Airport on Friday morning. The men were supposed to take a flight on the craft but it was called off because of low clouds. Bob King /

Bob Ballou recalled being on pass following the Liberation of Paris by the allied forces in the summer of 1944. A woman plucked his service cap from his head along a Champs-Élysées that was clotted with revelers.

"The streets were loaded with Parisians and they were full of exuberance because they were no longer occupied," said the 92-year-old lifelong Duluthian. "And there I am out of uniform."

On the eve of the Duluth Airshow, Ballou and fellow World War II veteran Bob Watts were treated to a private inspection of the B-25 bomber that will be among the airplanes featured in the two-day show that begins today at the Duluth International Airport.

Their ticket - service in WWII - found them face-to-face with a nostalgia that neither man had ever known up-close. Ballou only ever flew in a transport plane and Watts, 93, rode the waves all the way into North Africa on his way to the European theater.

For Watts, it was yet another brush with history.


"I shook hands with John F. Kennedy when he was canvassing in Dallas," Watts said. "This was before he was president."

The plane that made the Doolittle Raid on Japan a little more than four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 7, 1941, could carry 3,000 pounds worth of bombs and features 13 .50-caliber guns protruding from its nose, tail, turret and "cheeks."

"That's a lot of strafing power," said Col. John Fester of the Commemorative Air Force, the B-25's co-pilot and a member of the volunteer crew that flew into Duluth from St. Charles, Mo.

The Disabled American Veterans are sponsoring the appearance of the B-25, named Show Me! A training aircraft, Show Me! never left the states, but it's one of fewer than 40 B-25s left in the world. This weekend, the plane will be used to draw out veterans in need of assistance.

"We have a mission and that mission is to reach out to veterans who need help," said Lynn May, spokeswoman for the DAV, who noted that airshows invariably bring out veterans in need of assistance. One airshow, she said, brought 93 leads. While she doesn't expect to hit that number this weekend, any will do.

"There's always somebody," she said.

In climbing aboard the B-25, Ballou served notice of his continued fitness even 70-plus years after the war.

Encompassed within the shell of heavily-riveted aluminum and 20-gauge steel are tight quarters that smell like oil and hydraulics and feature crawl spaces above the bomb bay through which only beanpole soldiers could maneuver.


"They say the average soldier then was 5-foot-6, 140 pounds," Fester said.

"I was 140, but I was 5-8," Ballou said. "I'm about 3 inches shorter now ... Gravity, you know."

A low-slung ceiling of clouds kept Ballou and Watts from being able to get up in the air with the B-25, but Watts, too, was happy to climb aboard, saying, "I didn't come up here to go fishing."

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