The Liberty Gazette
June 19, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The Commemorative Air Force took note of Mark Frederick, the highly skilled airplane guy we’ve been telling you about when once upon a time the piston rings in the B-25 "Devil Dog" were put in upside down, and nobody knew what was wrong with the airplane. Mark knew, and now as Chief Maintenance Officer and pilot of that B-25 he travels the country doing air shows, which allows him to meet lots of interesting people.
Mark: I was at Dyess Air Force Base for an air show. It was really hot. I was wiping off oil when over my shoulder I see a guy walking over with a cane coming straight at me. He reaches out and touches "Devil Dog" – like a tombstone. I came to learn that this man had been interred by the enemy in World War II at about the age of 10 or 12. His dad would send him out with white wash telling him to paint the rocks a certain way. He remembers looking up every time these blue B-25s flew over but didn’t learn until years later when one of the pilots who had flown them returned and explained that the rocks gave course, direction and distance to the targets. Aborigines found out where enemies were and helped the American pilots. Then he said to me, "These blue airplanes saved my life."
Linda: Nobody warned him about the stories he’d hear. While standing in front of the airplane at Oshkosh last year, a man came up and said, "I used to fly these things." When Mark asked, "How’d that go," the man shook his head, "It didn’t end well. We hit the water about a mile and a half from the beach." This was the co-pilot and he and the pilot survived but not the rest of the crew. He declined Mark’s offer of a ride; the memory was harsh.
Then there was the man who was shot down so many times over the water that the military had him come teach how to ditch B-25s. And the time in Ohio at the 100 year anniversary of the Wright Brothers, when an elderly man accompanied by his son approached "Devil Dog" with great purpose. A nearby fellow crewmember pulled out a camera and started recording: this guy had been on the island of Corsica in World War II. "He’d flown all the B-25s," says Mark, "and the one with the cannon in front was his favorite."
Mark has this kind of "sixth sense" about the WWII era, the airplanes and their pilots, which brings a unique depth to meeting the few veterans left. It’s more than gratitude. "They’d lost a lot of bombardiers," says Mark as he reflects on his visit with the old pilot in Ohio. "A World War II re-enactor reached out to him, helping him re-live some life-changing moments, and his son was there hearing it for the first time."
Don’t even try to get that lump out of your throat.
Mike: Of course Mark is taking the B-25 to Oshkosh next month for the world’s largest fly-in. But this year, on the way, he’s hoping to convince the crew, and other warbirds, to join in the AirVenture Cup race. "Yes," says Mark, "I’m trying to race a B-25. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that."