By Doug Ireland
---- — LONDONDERRY — It was an emotional homecoming of sorts yesterday for many World War II and Korean War era veterans at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.
The veterans, in their 80s and 90s, came to see the Wings of Freedom Tour — a display of vintage aircraft that brought back memories, both good and bad, of their years of military service.
For 96-year-old Clarence Blaisdell of Londonderry, it was a chance to see a B-17 bomber similar to the one he flew in during World War II. Blaisdell served in Guadalcanal and New Guinea.
“It brought back memories,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty at times. I don’t like to talk about it.”
Blaisdell also got an opportunity Monday — just before the three-day tour opened — to fly in a B-24 Liberator bomber from Worcester to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
While it was tough for Blaisdell, who uses a walker, and many other veterans to climb into aircraft they once boarded with ease, they said it was worth the effort.
“It was quite a trip,” Blaisdell said. “It was great to get back up there.”
He was with a group of veterans and other members of the Silverthorne Adult Day Center in Salem. They included Korean War veteran John Voter, WW II veteran Levi Shaw and USO hostess Laura Troy. They are all from Salem.
Blaisdell, wearing his WW II cap, made a new friend during the tour, Bill Maloney of Atkinson.
Maloney, 61, was excited about getting a chance to see the three military aircraft on display. But he was even more excited to meet Blaisdell. They immediately bonded.
“The best part is meeting guys like you,” Maloney told him. “Thank you for your service, sir.”
Maloney came out to find out more about the B-24 Liberator — a bomber his 89-year-old uncle, Mitchell Ramonas, served on before it was shot down over Germany on March 24, 1944.
Ramonas and eight crew members survived, but the pilot was killed upon impact. Ramonas, a ball turret gunner who now lives in Massachusetts, and his crewmates were held as prisoners of war until after the war ended a year later. He is now the only living member of the 10-person crew.
Maloney showed photographs of his uncle and his plane, asking Blaisdell about his war experience and details about the aircraft. Maloney had hoped to bring his uncle along, but did not.
“Emotionally, it might be difficult for him,” he said.
Other local veterans who came to reminisce included Dana Cunningham, 91, of Derry. Seeing the aircraft brought a smile to his face. He was modest about his WW II service.
“It was just like another job,” he said.
The tour, which ends today, was expected to draw several hundred visitors, according to interim museum director Wendell Berthelsen. The event was organized by the Collings Foundation.