June 12, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – A World War II Era Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” will be in the skies over Kansas City this weekend. The Madras Maiden is visiting the Downtown Airport on the Liberty Foundation’s 2017 Salute to Veterans Tour.
No stranger to a B-17, Roy Shenkel was a left waist gunner in the United States Army Air Corps in the heat of World War II. On just his fourth mission, Shenkel’s B-17, the Jersey Mosquito, was shot down over German-occupied Yugoslavia on April 6, 1944.
“I saw the lead pilot, and I waved and he waved back,” Shenkel said of the German pilot as he fell through the air. The Jersey Mosquito was the first of their company to be shot down.
Shenkel was a prisoner of war for thirteen months and one week before being liberated by Russian troops. He then returned to the Kansas City area and married his wife.
“I tell folks they starved us over there but we was rationed our potatoes, and made sure it was rationed properly,” Shenkel said. “We never had any complaints or any arguments. Guys accepted what we had and we had to get on with it.”
The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” was the most famous bomber of World War II. While the Liberty Foundation’s B-17, the Madras Maiden, never saw combat, it is one of twelve still flying in the world.
The Madras Maiden is painted in the colors of the 381st Bomb Group, which dropped a total of 220,000 tons of bombs during WWII and destroyed 223 enemy aircrafts. The 381st Bomb Group was part of the 8th Air Force based in Bassingbourn, England.
There were a total of 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, of which 4,735 were lost in combat. Additionally, the B-17 was used in the Korean War, in Israel’s war of 1948 and in the Vietnam War.
World War II lasted 46 months, and resulted in 300,000 U.S. casualties. The Liberty Foundation’s mission is to “(provide) visitors with the opportunity to take a step back in time and gain respect for the men and women who gave so much to protect our freedoms.”
“(I) never thought I’d get out alive,” Shenkel said. “I was telling them a while ago (that) when I came home I walked up to my mother’s door and knocked on her door. She opened the door a few inches, and all we did was stare at each other. Never said a word. And I thought in my mind, ‘I made it.’ I never thought I’d get home alive. But it worked out.”
The Liberty Foundation’s supporters and pilots do the tours in order to raise money to maintain the B-17 and keep it flight-worthy so it does more than be silenced in a museum.
Seventy-two years since the end of World War II, Shenkel said there are not many veterans left, but “there are a lot of stories to be told.”
“We meet Tuesdays at the Kansas City VA Hospital, ex-POWs,” Shenkel said about the dwindling number of WWII veterans. “We had around 50 to 60 at one time.”
The B-17 Madras Maiden will be available to the public for flights on June 17 and 18 at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport with flights in the morning and ground tours in the afternoon. Flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation Members and $450 for non-members.