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Comrades in flight

November 11, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Ivan "Jack" Holland was a typical hometown boy in the early 1940s - married with one child and holding down a job driving a truck.

Then he was drafted.

Holland was sent to England where he served as a tail gunner on a B-17 plane. He flew 34 bombing missions over Nazi Germany. When he came home in 1945, he didn't talk much about his war experiences. He didn't want to.

"There were some good times but there were things I didn't want to remember," Holland said. "I'd think about the planes that were shot down, blown up in midair - I lost many comrades."

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This weekend, Holland, now 81, will hear a lot about those days but now he says he is looking forward to it.

Although they haven't seen each other in 59 years, the eight members of Holland's B-17 crew are ready for a reunion.

All nine men and their families are gathering this weekend at the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Holland said the reunion was orchestrated by a neighbor of Gus Neal, the pilot of Blythe Spirit, the plane the nine men served on during the war.

"My wife and I were going out the door to church one Sunday in July when we got a call from that neighbor, Matt Collins," Holland said. "He asked me if I had been a tailgunner on that particular plane and I said yes."

Holland said he and his wife, Fae, never made it to church that day.

That telephone call and a series of e-mails confirmed that all the crew members were healthy enough to make the trip to Ohio from their home states of Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey, Missouri and Maryland.

In addition to Holland and his wife, their daughters Connie Spong, Angie Boyer, Sandy Hose, Kristie Baker and son, Doug Holland, are making the road trip along with spouses, grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren.

When they arrive on Friday, all will meet in the base hospitality room to reacquaint themselves with each other and talk about their lives since the war. They will tour the museum and the B-17 displays on Saturday.

"We are all going to line up in front of another B-17 for a picture like the one we had taken during the war," Holland said, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with that picture.

The Blythe Spirit, while being piloted by a replacement crew, was hit on a March 1945 mission and the crew was killed when the plane exploded.

"My crew flew 34 missions, bombing targets in Germany including Berlin, Frankfurt and Wesel," Holland said. He remembered several missions to hit key bridges in Wesel, a German city which is now Hagerstown's sister city.

After his third mission, Holland counted more than 100 bullet holes in his B-17 - put there by enemy planes as well as antiaircraft guns on the ground.

A staff sergeant when he left the service, Holland still has his uniform coat, shirt and tie as well as his hat and a collection of medals.

Back on the home front during the war years, Fae Holland was raising her eldest child, Connie, and doing her part for the war effort.

"I was a spotter while Jack was away in the war," said Fae Holland.

Spotters were volunteers who watched for enemy planes.

Fae Holland said their house in Williamsport had a star in the window to show support for her husband and the other men fighting in the war. "The only war news we got in those days was from the newspaper and in the newsreels they showed in the theaters."

Before he was drafted, Holland was a driver for Charlton Transportation. He returned to that job after the war, and retired after 46 years.

The prospect of the upcoming reunion combined with trips to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., in May and again in June have helped Holland look at his war experiences in a different light.

"When we took Daddy there in May, people came up and shook his hand," Connie Spong said.

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