NEW ORLEANS -- It was a gathering of heroes, men in their nineties who fought for freedom in their teens and twenties during World War Two.
Only 11 of the 5000 original members made their 23rd reunion in New Orleans.
"A lot of time was passed since we were over there, I'll tell you,” grinned 92-year-old Brigadier General Floyd Trogdon, who was Squadron Navigator. “They don't look the same, but they still got their brains."
They flew B-24 bombers in the 449th Bomb Group, the Flying Horsemen. Based in Italy, they bombed heavily defended enemy targets across Europe. Over 100 planes were shot down, nearly four hundred crewmen died, 363 became prisoners of war.
"Our most memorable mission was on Friday the 13th, our 13th mission, and our fuel lines were hit," recalled 92-year-old Dale Martz, who was a First Lieutenant and co-pilot. "We made it back to the Adriatic and before we started over the water, we all parachuted out and the Yugoslav partisans picked us up."
Gunner Bill Hamill brought the thick gloves he wore to combat extreme cold at high altitude.
"I was a ball turret man, and we all had heated suits like this here," Hamill, now 92, said as he tried the well-worn gloves on one more time.
Bombardier Vernon Petersen, now 98, said he concentrated on duty, not danger.
"It was your job to hit that target,” Petersen said. “And if you hit it you were satisfied, and that was it period. Now we want to get home."
95-year-old Radioman Bud Rosch remembers being shot down in the plane named Lady In The Dark.
"She went down on Dec. 28, 1944 with all of us in her. We all had to bail out and one guy got killed,” Rosch said.
They don't know how many more of these events the veterans will be able to attend. but the second generation, the sons and daughters, are continuing the mission to make sure members of the 449th are not forgotten, nor the importance of World War Two.
"We made all the difference in the world," General Trogdon succinctly summed it up.
(© 2016 WWL)