Tailgunner takes B-17 flight after 65 years

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Apalachicola, FL: This past Sunday Kenneth Tucker was invited to take the flight by the pilot of the Liberty Belle, Ray Fowler. At first Ken declined, “I’ve done my 35.” But the pilot insisted, “If you won’t go up I’m not going up.”

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Briefing: Pilot, Ray Fowler, goes over procedures with anxious participants. That’s Ken in the black WWII cap giving pilot Ray some last minute advice.

Flight: Ken reported that, upon take off, it felt like yesterday when he had flown his last mission out of Amendola, Italy with the 15th AF. For a brief moment his thoughts turned to his crew, all long gone but fondly remembered. As he took a seat in the radio room he recalled how all the gunners used to gather there and sit on the floor. He delighted in the reactions of his present day crew who all seemed thrilled to be on board one of the most admired and revered of all warbirds.  They ran around, like a barrel of monkeys, peering out the windows of all the gunner’s positions.  Most made it up to the nose for a clear view from the navigator’s and bombardier’s positions. Others stood in the flight engineer’s position and observed the pilots in action as well as enjoying a great view. What a thrill it was when the bomb-bay doors opened briefly and some members of the crew appeared horrified by the gapping opening leaving nothing between themselves and the ground.

Debriefing: Ken reported a smooth take off and landing. The success of the mission was obvious by the grins and comments from the crew such as  “awesome” ,”unbelievable”, “unforgettable” and “I want to go again!”

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Event: Dr. Cleve Randolph Jr. (on left) sponsored the event in honor of his father, Cleve Randolph Sr. who was a Navy pilot in WWII. Randolph Sr. was instrumental in the development of the Apalachicola Air Field during WWII when it functioned as a heavy bomber training site. He also worked all of his life to keep the small airport operational. Ken is in the middle with Al Mirabella, Jr. on right. Al helped spearhead the event. Ken got a lift in a WWII jeep from the Camp Gordon Johnson WWII Museum in Carrabelle. Driving is Tony Minichiello who was instrumental in arranging a book signing for Ken during the event.

Ken’s book: Last Roll Call – The Adventure of a B-17 Tailgunner: Published in November of 2009 the book is not about decorated heroes with tales of valor. Rather it is Ken’s tribute to his crew and their beloved B-17. The book is carried in several warbird museums and flies on the Yankee Lady circuit. It will by flying with the Liberty Belle circuit next season. Ken’s book is popular in history classes throughout Bay County and is being studied as a biography in an AP English class. The book is selling well on the internet and in local independent book stores. For more information visit www.lastrollcall.net.

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