New Century AirCenter was teeming with history during last weekend’s Commemorative Air Force Heart of America Wing Air Expo.
Hundreds of visitors strolled the north end of the airfield where dozens of vintage WWII aircraft were on display, including “FIFI,” the only flyable B-29 Superfortress in existence.
Also in attendance were several WWII veterans who visited with attendees, signed autographs and shared their experiences.
Ray Everhart, originally from North Carolina and now a resident of Overland Park, served his country as a pilot in WWII, Korea, Bay of Pigs and other campaigns.
He said he was pleased to see the number of people that turned out for the event which also included a big band concert.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the gathering.
Everhart said he primarily piloted C-54s but also spent time flying B-29s and other aircraft.
Everhart’s daughter, Sheila Everhart Yaeger, said her father – who was close friends with astronaut Gus Grissom and who witnessed pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound in 1947 – was once shot down over Sicily during WWII after dropping a cargo full of troops.
Everhart was hiding in a barn with other pilots and soldiers who had been caught behind enemy lines when a German tank came through and blew up every building except the one they were hiding in.
The next day British troops brought the soldiers to England.
“It really was a God thing,” Yaeger said.
Everhart then returned stateside and became a training pilot before leaving for the Asian Pacific.
His was one of the first planes on the ground when Japan had agreed to, but not yet signed, the peace treaty.
“There were Japanese soldiers lined up with guns on the tarmac, and he (Everhart) was afraid that they hadn’t gotten the memo that there was peace,” Yaeger said.
Everhart then flew a Japanese leader to a ship where the peace treaty was being signed.
After signing the treaty, the disgraced Japanese Leader committed hari kari on Everhart’s plane.
Everhart eventually retired from service as a lieutenant colonel.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is a national organization of civilians who restore and fly vintage aircraft.
The main attraction on the airfield was FIFI, a restored B-29 that is billed as the last remaining flyable Superfortress.
The B-29 was a technologically advanced bomber and one of the largest aircraft used during WWII.
The Enola Gay – which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August, 1945 – is considered the most famous of the B-29s.
That bombing raid, followed by Bockscar (another B-29) dropping an atomic bomb on Nagasaki days later, helped bring about the end of WWII.
For more information, visit kcghostsquadron.org.