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  • April 27, 2016SAVANNAH, Ga. – B-17 Flying Fortress Restoration, the definitive account of how a dedicated band of volunteers devoted six years to restoring a World War II-vintage Boeing B-17 bomber, is scheduled to be published July 20. Author Jerome J. McLaughlin combines a lively narrative with first-person accounts by many of the 150 volunteers who doggedly pursued the task of restoring the aging warbird to the condition it was in when it rolled off the production line in California in 1945. Today, the restored City of Savannah B-17 occupies a place of honor in the Combat Gallery at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, a Savannah suburb.McLaughlin, a retired federal executive, had no aviation experience when he was asked to serve as project manager for the restoration effort. Instead, he was chosen for his management skills and his love of history, particularly World War II history. His first book, D-Day + 60 Years, recounts the story of his uncle, Lt. Joseph Sullivan, who was killed on D-Day when the C-47 he was navigating was shot down over Normandy while dropping paratroopers.“I began preparing to become the project manager for the City of Savannah restoration when I was about 10 years old,” McLaughlin recalls. “I was an avid reader and developed a strong interest in military history, especially military aviation with an emphasis on World War II. Perhaps the driving force in my interest was my uncle, who was KIA on D-Day. The mystery surrounding the circumstances of my uncle’s death was a constant subject on family occasions as I was growing up.” When he reached military age, McLaughlin passed on a teacher’s deferment and served in the military. Many of his peers went out of their way to avoid service, but he was proud of his decision. When he and his wife, Denise retired, they joined their best friend, Jim Grismer, in Savannah. “One of the first things Jim mentioned was that he and I needed to find out if we could get involved with the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum,” McLaughlin says. “We went out to Pooler for an interview and were hired as volunteers to work in the archives. As a World War II student and former history teacher, I had found a new home. My emotional connection to the museum’s mission of honoring the Eighth Air Force and its veterans, particularly during World War II, was engrained in me from Day one. I remember the first time I walked into the Combat Gallery. My reaction was, ‘There should be a B-17 in here.’ Little did I know.”After being appointed project manager for the B-17 restoration effort, McLaughlin compensated for a lack of technical expertise by assembling a team of volunteers and dividing them into three work crews. Each team was supervised by a military veteran skilled in aircraft maintenance and repair. Weaving together the volunteers’ individual narratives, the book traces the restoration project from the airplane’s arrival in pieces on the back of several tractor-trailers on Jan. 15, 2009, to the final dedication ceremony marking its completion on Jan. 5, 2015. The author devotes 300 pages and more than 100 photographs to the project. McLaughlin wrote the book to honor the City of Savannah volunteers who restored the B-17 as a lasting tribute to the thousands of World War II veterans who fought valiantly, to those who never returned, and to the thousands more who supported the airmen. The Eighth Air Force lost more airmen in World War II than the entire U.S. Marine Corps. Some 26,000 were killed and 47,000 wounded during the war. The restored airplane and the book also pay homage to the original City of Savannah B-17 bomber and the residents of Savannah who raised funds to build the airplane and train its flight crew. The original City of Savannah B-17 was the 5,000 aircraft to be processed through Hunter Army Airfield during World War II. The City of Savannah volunteers spent 12 months cleaning 25 years of accumulated crud from the current airplane’s interior and exterior surfaces before painstakingly restoring its aluminum skin, its operating systems, armament and even its nose art. The workers brought a wide range of skills to the task—they were airframe and power plant mechanics, painters, aeronautical engineers, electrical engineers, electricians, carpenters, radio technicians, business people and administrators, even a former physics professor with a Ph.D. and 30 years of flying experience. Many reported for volunteer duty after working their day jobs at Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, LMI Aerospace, Inc., or the 165th Airlift Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard. Others were retired and eager to make a long-term commitment to restore the vintage warbird. While all of the volunteers were aviation enthusiasts, others saw it as a deeply personal cause. The father of one volunteer was interned in Switzerland after his B-17 crashed while returning from a mission to Berlin. He escaped internment by skiing down a mountain in the dead of night, evading enemy forces, and joining up with Gen. George Patton’s advancing army. The family of a second volunteer suffered the loss of three sons, one in the tail turret of a B-17, and the imprisonment of three more in German and Japanese POW camps. The father of a third volunteer flew 58 missions as a bombardier. The restored City of Savannah B-17 on display today was built in May of 1945, too late to play an effective role in the war. By the time it rolled out of the hangar, the war in Europe was over, so it spent the next 30 years engaged in peaceful pursuits. It mapped the Canadian arctic, helped draw the Distant Early Warning Line, and served as a slurry bomber fighting forest fires. In 1984, it was acquired by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which tucked it away alongside the retired space shuttle Enterprise in a storage hangar in Chantilly, Va. And there it spent the next 25 years. The airplane, […]

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