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Replica WWII bomber joins military artifacts

One of the most important bombing missions in American militaryhistory is now represented in Brookhaven’s Military MemorialMuseum, thanks to the charitable heart of a local model maker.

Brookhaven Academy teacher and Brookhaven RC Club member GregWhittier presented the elderly veterans who run the museum with aone-fifth scale model of the North American B-25 Mitchell, anAmerican medium bomber used extensively in World War II and thefirst aircraft to strike back against Japan in early 1942. Whittierhad been building the model airplane off-and-on for 10 years beforedeciding to donate it to the museum Friday.

“I figure if I donate it, it will last way longer than it wouldotherwise,” he told veterans. “The ones I fly don’t last verylong.”

Whittier said he spent approximately 100 hours preparing themodel to hang in the museum.

The model was built from scratch from fabricated wooden andfiberglass parts by following a blue print, he said. Purchasing asimilar model would cost at least $1,000, he said.

But Whittier decided to donate the model to the museum sovisitors could see an accurate representation of the airplane thathelped turned the tide of World War II.

The B-25 Mitchell was the plane used in the famous DoolittleRaid in April 1942, in which a group of more than 70 United StatesArmy Air Force pilots and crewman, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle,flew 16 of the planes from the U.S.S. Hornet to bomb Tokyo,exacting the country’s first revenge for the attack on PearlHarbor. The Doolittle Raid has been depicted in films like “30Seconds Over Tokyo” and the more recent “Pearl Harbor.”

“If they hadn’t done anything else with the B-25, the bombing ofTokyo meant a great deal to this country,” said retired Air Forcepilot Johnny Perkins, who once flew a surviving B-25 in the late1960s. “People have forgotten, but we were down. We were retreatingin the Pacific … we hadn’t won anything in a long time. Pullingoff this raid was a great morale boost to the country.”

Perkins said he had the thrill of flying the B-25 Mitchell,named after Gen. Billy Mitchell – the father of the Air Force -approximately 10 times while stationed in Wyoming in the late1960s. Perkins said he and other Air Force pilots borrowed theaircraft from the Wyoming Air National Guard and flew it around thestate in order to meet hourly requirements for flight pay.

“Our Connies (Lockheed Constellation) were grounded, and wedidn’t have a plane to fly for our flight pay,” Perkins said. “Weborrowed it from the guard bureau and we flew it a lot – four hoursfor 50-60 pilots, that was a lot of flying. The B-25 was easy tofly. You could turn away, look the other way, and the plane was inthe same place when you went back.”

Former state Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett also took one turn at thecontrols of a B-25 many years ago while serving as a U.S. Navyflight surgeon. He was working with the Air Force, he said, and hada chance to accompany Air Force pilots in a series of flights inthe historic war bird.

“It’s a tremendous machine,” Barnett said. “It was a greatairplane, no doubt about it. It was a very stable airplane. It waswell manufactured, well engineered and had all the power itneeded.”

Whittier said he first selected the B-25 as a project because hewas inspired by movies and books from his childhood, mostly “30Seconds Over Tokyo.” Donating the model airplane to the museummakes it even more significant, he said.

“It’s a way for me to honor the people who allowed us to be heretoday doing what we’re doing,” Whittier said. “We tend to forgetthe sacrifice so many people made to give us what we have.”

Museum Chairman Paul Jackson, Sr., said the model B-25 bringsanother personal touch to the small museum.

“We may not be the biggest museum in the state, but we’re themost personal,” he said. “Some of our pilots were involved in thatparticular plane.”

Jackson said he would love nothing more than for his veterans tohave the opportunity to explain the B-25 to Lincoln County’s schoolchildren. The museum’s veterans’ biggest concern, he said, is thatso few history teachers bring their students to the museum for atour.

“We regret the fact there’s not any more interest from theschools,” Jackson said. “They can learn from this model – that itwas one of the major bombers used in World War II in both Europeand the Pacific. I think it’s a big asset to the museum, and Gregdid a good job on it.”

Interested people may see the model B-25 – and the rest of theMilitary Memorial Museum – every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.to 3 p.m. Any classes or groups seeking more information on themuseum may contact Jackson at 601-833-3227.