It’s a sacrifice Americans said they would never forget. And last week, more than 68 years since a group of young United States servicemen in a B-17E Flying Fortress crash-landed in a primitive New Guinea swamp, a group of the air crew’s surviving relatives and supporters welcomed home the fallen aircraft to honor the heroes of World War II.
A formation flyover by a vintage P-51 Mustang and P-40 Warhawk over the Long Beach Harbor launched a ceremony to unveil the recovered bomber, nicknamed Swamp Ghost and known among aircraft historians as the Holy Grail of military aviation. A flag presentation by the US Air Force Honor Guard and remarks from those involved in recovery efforts highlighted the event, held in the parking lot of The Reef restaurant where the plane’s remarkably intact front fuselage was on display.
First spotted by an Australian Air Force crew in 1972, the incredibly difficult efforts to salvage and export the plane were initiated by the late Specialty Restaurants Corp. founder, World War II veteran and antique aircraft collector David Tallichet in the mid-1980s.
John Tallichet, president and CEO of Specialty Restaurants Corp., spoke of his father’s life work. “My father was a young B-17 pilot flying out of England with the Bloody 100th Bomb Group during World War II. He never lost his passion for aviation or love of his combat aircraft, the venerable Flying Fortress. Sadly, my father could not be here to witness his dream fulfilled. However, my family is honored to continue his vision of preserving this invaluable relic of aviation history for the benefit of future generations.”
In 1996, aircraft recovery efforts were carried forward by Aero Archaeology founder and aircraft recovery enthusiast Alfred Hagen, who has located seven missing World War II aircraft and returned more than a dozen missing in action airmen to the US for burial with full military honors. “Much of my work has been to honor those whom we have come to know as the ‘Greatest Generation’ and we look back on their accomplishments for inspiration,“ said Hagen.
Unfortunately, the aircraft’s last four surviving crew members died shortly before Swamp Ghost returned to the US, one of bombardier Richard Oliver’s last wishes. His death last year denied him the privilege of seeing his warbird return home, but his widow Linda Oliver attended the ceremony in honor of her late husband and fellow crew members. A handful of other air crew family members were also present.
Swamp Ghost will be restored, possibly to flying condition, for permanent display at an aviation history museum.