WWII bomber swoops into Allegheny County Airport

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Fifi, the last B-29 Superfortress still flying, thundered onto the tarmac at the Allegheny County Airport on Wednesday and 88-year-old Edmund Grzywinski of Harrison was waiting to greet her.

He was a gunner on one just like her, "Good Deal," that saw him through 28 missions in the Pacific in World War II.

"On their last mission they kissed the ground," said Mr. Grzywinski's son, Bob.

Fifi -- her engines growling, her fuselage bristling with .50-caliber machine guns -- is in town with a collection of other vintage airplanes, including a P-51 Mustang, as part of the annual AirPower History Tour across the United States.

The big bomber -- which will be in town through the weekend -- has been here several times before, and each visit attracts a cadre of old flyboys clearly remembering their youth and the epic island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific war.

So it was for Mr. Grzywinski, who was the subject of a story in the Post-Gazette three years ago when his son engineered a surprise reunion for him with Alvin Kundert of Minnesota, another member of the "Good Deal" crew.

His memory has faded a bit since then, and his son does most of the talking for him now. But asked what position he flew in the 10-man crew, there was no hesitation.

"Right gunner," he said.

Mr. Grzywinski has been to the airport for Fifi's previous visits, the last one in 2008. On Saturday, he'll return with a bus-load of veteran friends for an hourlong ride. The cost for rides ranges from nearly $600 for a gunner's seat to almost $1,600 for the bombardier seat, amounts organizers with the nonprofit Commemorative Air Force say are necessary to cover the $750,000 annual cost to keep the plane functioning, not to mention the $10,000 an hour it takes to fly.

"Nobody is getting rich," said Kim Pardon, CAF spokeswoman.

But the money was not an issue for the Grzywinskis.

"One way or another, he's going to be on it," said Bob, who lives in Ohio Township. "He wouldn't miss this."

Veterans like Mr. Grzywinski are dwindling as the World War II generation reaches its final years. There are fewer of them at each show, such as the P-51 pilot Ms. Pardon met when the tour stopped in Baltimore last week.

"That's why it's important to keep these planes flying," she said. "They're part of history."

The Superfortress began service in 1944 and saw heavy action in the Pacific, escorted by P-51s on bombing runs to Japan. It could fly higher and longer than any other bomber, and its machine guns were controlled by a primitive computer system rather than the manual controls of the more-famous B-17.

"This was state-of-the-art back then," Ms. Pardon said.

Although Fifi came off the assembly line too late to join the war, she's a time machine for veterans of World War II and the Korean War, where B-29s also saw service.

Mr. Grzywinski was 17 when he enlisted in 1943. His "Good Deal" flew out of Tinian under the control of Cmdr. Jack Carland of Midland, Beaver County, on bombing missions over Japan, and he and his crew were part of the longest mission of the war.

In July 1945, "Good Deal" and two other planes left Tinian, stopped at Iwo Jima and flew on to occupied Rashin, Korea, where they dropped mines by parachute into the harbor to disrupt Japanese shipping. The plane was shot up over the target, with one round shattering the glass above Cmdr. Carland's head. The crew made it back intact after 25 hours.

Mr. Grzywinski's unit, the 504th Bombardment Group, faced anti-aircraft fire or Japanese fighters on every mission.

"You got so scared sometimes that you couldn't think straight," he said in 2010 at the reunion with Mr. Kundert.

He also recalled one mission in late July 1945 when the crew dropped leaflets over Hiroshima, warning the residents to get out because something terrible was going to happen.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay -- another B-29 -- dropped the atom bomb.


Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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