'Miss Mitchell' serves a new mission
GRANITE FALLS -- For the last 17 years, a World War II-era bomber has continued to fly missions.
It flies from a base in South St. Paul to communities across Minnesota and beyond.
The "Miss Mitchell'' continues to fly today to honor the men and women who built and served on these aircraft in World War II, according to the volunteers who brought it Saturday to the Granite Falls Municipal Airport.
"Beautiful,'' is how Owen Larson described its landing. He drove from his home on Eagle Lake near Willmar for the chance to see the B-25 bomber and talk with the volunteers with the Commemorative Air Force. The volunteers restore and fly a fleet of World War II aircraft.
Larson served in the Marine Corps after World War II, and said he knew of the sacrifices that many had made aboard these bombers during World War.
Arvid Erickson of Granite Falls had seen many of those sacrifices made while he served with the 407th Medical Corps in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945. Erickson said he often saw the bombers on their runs, and has lots of memories of the planes and those who served on them, some of them tragic.
One still etched in his memory is the B-25 that crash landed into an ammo dump on New Guinea, just 100 yards from where he stood.
Erickson spent the afternoon Saturday touring the plane and talking to the volunteers, and said he didn't leave until he watched it take off to return to its base.
The "Miss Mitchell" is a restored replica of a B-25 bomber that flew with the 310th Bomb Group, 380 Squadron out of bases in North Africa and Corsica, Italy, from 1943 to 1945.
It flew more than 140 combat missions without a crew fatality.
It required a 12-year restoration effort to put the aircraft back in the air, and ever since 1993 it has been part of the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.
Now, there's rarely a weekend when it doesn't take to the air, according to Kurt Koukkari, one of the pilots who brought the craft to Granite Falls on Saturday.
Koukkari said the plane attracts people of all ages, and he's witnessed many poignant moments as veterans and their families tour it. He's watched veterans who have served on B-25s. Some shed tears, some stay silent, and yet others feel able to tell the stories of their service, he said.
One of the most memorable moments for him came when he flew the plane to Milwaukee, Wis. He assisted the granddaughter of a man who had been a tail gunner on a B-25. Tail gunners had the job of squeezing themselves into a cramped space and firing a 50-caliber machine gun at enemy planes that invariably made that gunner their first target.
The woman took a couple of steps up a ladder, peered in and started crying, now more than ever understanding what her grandfather had been through, said Koukkari.