Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

October 28, 2013

World War II veteran relives life on a B-17

VALDOSTA — The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber was crucial to the Allied war effort, particularly in the European Theater where its range allowed strikes deep into German territory. Today, only about a dozen of these legendary planes survive in airworthy condition.

The Liberty Foundation owns and operates one such specimen. While it never saw action in World War II, it has survived to fly a variety of missions since the war. The foundation made its plane available for tours and flights this past weekend at the Thomasville Regional Airport

On April 3, 1945, a B-17G with the serial number 44-83546 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force just 27 days before the surrender of Germany, ending the war in Europe. For the remainder of the war, the plane was in and out of storage at various bases in the U.S. and later served in transport roles both at home and abroad.

In April 1959, the plane was dropped from the military’s inventory when it was sold for $2,600. It was converted to a water bomber in 1960 and would serve in that role for the next two decades. In 1982, it was purchased by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation where it received a full restoration.

In 1989, the plane was used in the film “The Memphis Belle,” which portrayed the first heavy bomber crew in World War II to complete 25 missions. Since filming, the plane has kept its Memphis Belle paint scheme and tours the country allowing visitors to view and even experience first-hand a flight aboard a piece of living history.

One such visitor is 91-year-old former Valdosta City School Superintendent James F. Goolsby. With a little help from the ground crew, Goolsby enters the small hatch in the side of the bomber. The last time he stepped through such a hatch was after he piloted his B-17 from Framlingham, England, to Bradley Field, Conn., on July 2, 1945.

Having never been close to a plane before volunteering for service, 1st Lt. James F. Goolsby flew a total of 23 missions during the war and received the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster after leading bombing missions in 1945 into Oldenburg, Neumunster, and Burg, Germany where he encountered enemy fighter attacks and ground fire.

Following the war, Goolsby had no interest in flying, saying he “always kept one foot on the ground for the next 20 years.” Eventually his postwar career would find him serving as the principal of Thomasville County High School from 1962-67, superintendent of Valdosta City Schools from 1967-77, and a stint as interim headmaster at Brookwood School in Thomasville for one year.

Despite having the experience of completing nearly two dozen missions in a B-17, Saturday’s flight was a first in one respect for Goolsby. Strapping into a jump seat in the mid-section of the plane marks the first time he had flown in the bomber from any position other than the pilot’s seat.

The plane’s four engines cough to life, one by one, and begin to idle as the oil warms. After several minutes and getting the OK from the ground crew, the brakes are released and the plane begins to taxi to the runway. Once at the runway, the engines rev with brakes on for a final check. The engines roar and the plane shudders as the brakes strain against the pull of the four 1200 horsepower engines.

Wind from the propwash and smoke from the exhaust rushes into the fuselage through the two open windows in the mid-section of the plane where the waist gunners were positioned.

The past 68 years seem to vanish as Lt. Goolsby pumps his fists in excitement at the sound.

The brakes are released and the plane accelerates down the runway. Moments later the shuddering aluminum relic from another era is transformed into a graceful flying machine as it lifts from the runway, and takes to the sky over Thomasville.

Seatbelts are unfastened and passengers move about the plane experiencing the flight from the various positions throughout the plane. There’s the hatch above the radio operator’s position where you can stick your head out above the plane’s fuselage and feel the cold wind in your face as you take in the nearly 360-degree view. Or you can squeeze through the bomb-bay onto the pilot’s deck where you can get a close view of the engines out of each window before descending on hands and knees below to access the bombardier and navigator seats in the nose of the plane.

Sitting in the bombardier’s seat, hunched over the bombsight, surrounded by the plexiglass nose at the very leading edge of the plane, imparts a near sense of weightlessness as the ground passes beneath and nothing but blue sky stretches out above you down to the horizon.

Back near the rear of the plane, Goolsby is steadied by crewman Mike Woodward as he stands smiling looking at the passing landscape through the starboard waist gunner’s position. The cold wind whips through the compartment as memories that Goolsby describes as both “pleasant and rough” are brought back to mind.

The flight comes to an end, and with the lightest touch, the old warbird comes back for a perfect landing. Back on the ground, Goolsby, surrounded by family and friends, remarks on the experience by saying, “I didn’t know it would make me shed tears, but so be it.”

Make that mission number 24 completed for this heroic veteran.

Text Only
Local News
  • EOM July 2014.jpg Sgt. Jonathan Yeargin Honored as July 2014 Employee of the Month

    Valdosta Mayor John Gayle and Fire Chief Freddie Broome honored Jonathan Yeargin as the July 2014 Employee of the Month at the July 10 City Council meeting.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Clay Griner.jpeg Griner wins Lowndes commission runoff

    A long nine-week runoff election between Clay Griner and G. Norman Bennett came to an end Tuesday night with Griner beating Bennett by 1,060 votes, with approximately 70 provisional ballots left to count.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140722-Runoff_Voting003.jpg State Senate District 8 too close to call

    The race for State Senate District 8 appeared too close to call as of The Times print deadline late Tuesday night.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Senate Georgia_Stew.jpg Perdue defeats Kingston in Georgia Senate runoff

    Businessman David Perdue has defeated longtime Rep. Jack Kingston in the Republican runoff for Georgia’s U.S. Senate nomination, setting up a matchup against Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn that will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final years of the Obama administration.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • County OKs $1.6 million for water-treatment equipment

    By a divided vote, the Lowndes County Commission approved spending $1,638,000 to purchase two pieces of equipment to improve the county’s water quality as per an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

    July 23, 2014

  • Baytree Animal Hospital LB copy.JPG Animal hospital named Business of the Week

    Baytree Animal Hospital was named Leading Business of the Week by the  Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce for July 14.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gavel-courtroom.jpg Water treatment plant discussed

    The Lowndes County Board of Commissioners discussed purchasing two pieces of equipment for the Alapaha Water Treatment Plant and the Spring Creek System for a total of $1,638,000 during its Monday work session and is expected to vote on the issue tonight.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • education.jpg Charter school petition denied

    Both the Valdosta City and Lowndes County school boards unanimously denied the joint charter petition from Scintilla Charter Academy during their respective meetings Monday evening.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • echols_alapapa.jpg WWALS gets grant from river network

    The Willacoochee, Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Little River Systems Watershed Coalition, Inc. (WWALS) received a $500 Alapaha Water Trail Grant from the Georgia River Network

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140718-ARJim2.jpg Teacher at home anywhere in the world

    Variety is the spice of life. South Georgia is home to a diverse group of people, each with a unique life story. One man with glorious tales of travel and selfless volunteer work is Jim Kokoruda.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

Top News

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results