The news came over Tokyo the radio soon after the B-25 bombers had at high noon that April day in 1942: “Enemy bombers appeared over Tokyo for the first time in the current war, inflicting damage on schools and hospitals,” went the announcer in an English-language broadcast, according to a New York Times story under a banner headline that day. “This inhuman attack on these cultural establishments and on residential districts is causing widespread indignation among the populace.”
The public was angry because until then it had imagined the Japanese mainland immune from attack, and American forces incapable of launching that daring of a raid. They were wrong: they hadn’t banked on the B-25 Mitchell, one of the great workhorses of World War II. Sixteen B-25s and 80 airmen had launched from the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier, without an escort, knowing it could be a suicide mission: they had no way of returning to the carrier, and were to land in China.
Tokyo radio claimed nine planes were shot down. It was a fabrication: 15 of the 16 planes made it to China (the 16th landed in the Soviet Union and was seized), but all crashed–and 77 of of the 80 crewmen survived. The raid, which lifted American morale at a low point in the war–it was two months before the turning point in America’s favor at the Battle of Midway–inspired several movies and documentaries. The B-25, some 10,000 of which rolled off American factories, went on to take part in most major engagements during the war.
On Saturday, a B-25 Mitchell will be a showpiece and one of some two dozen aircraft at the third annual Freedom Fest at the Flagler County Executive Airport, the annual event that combines aircraft history lore with exhibits of more modern planes and helicopters, while honoring veterans.
“It’s just a good community get together of celebrating freedom in America and paying tribute to our veterans,” says David Ayres, general manager of WNZF’s Flagler Broadcasting, a chief sponsor of the show along with the airport and the county’s veteran services. The timing, so near a particularly divisive election seems fortuitous, too. “It’s healthy to have a community event, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, where everybody can come together and feel good about our community and our country.”
Unlike last year, there is no admission fee this year. Gates open at 10 a.m. at the airport, with opening ceremonies from noon to 1, starting with a Warebirds Flyby Parade that will include many of the planes on display, the B-25 and, to Airport Director Roy Sieger’s delight–he will be the air boss for the parade–a Kingcobra P-63 Warbird. They’ll all be making flybys, starting with skydivers jumping with the American flag (don’t expect George Hanns to be among the jumpers this time) and Flagler County Fire Flight making a pass with the Stars and Stripes.
The P-63 is a peculiar World War II plane whose engine sits behind the pilot, with a 37 mm machine gun at its front. “Most people have never seen it before,” Sieger, who flew with the Marines for 20 years, says. The P-63 never actually flew for the Air Force but was adapted for use by the Soviet air force.
There are just four such planes still operational in the United States, Sieger says, “and we have 25 percent of them right here right now.” There’ll also be a National Guard CH-47 Chinook (those massive twin-engine troop-transporting copters), a Blackhawk H60 and and HH65, also known as a Dolphin.
What Sieger loves about events like this is to see the airport, usually frequented only by pilots and their passengers, opened up to the public. “It’s their airport,” he says with infectious enthusiasm. “At the end of the day it’s bringing aviation to life, and that’s what I like to do. You never know when you’re going to inspire that next kid to be a pilot, whether it be a civilian pilot or a military pilot.” (He notes that inspiring new pilots is becoming a necessity, with a looming pilot shortage ahead.)
Those attending can also take rides aboard a 1935 bi-plane, for $65, taking them around to Flagler Beach and back. There’ll be 26 or 27 vendors–food, drinks including beer, ice cream, barbecue and so on.
A lot of the pilots bringing their planes do so because of the airport’s reputation for hospitality and the veteran-friendly atmosphere: the airport will underwrite fuel to the tune of around 1,000 gallons as part of the county’s contribution, Sieger said.
Freedom Fest is the outgrowth of what used to be Wings Over Flagler, also at the county airport. There was a hiatus of a couple of years after a crash during the event, then Wings Over Flagler returned in 2015 (with a Flying Fortress), and in 2016, Freedom Fest had its first incarnation with the traveling Vietnam Memorial stretching over solemn lengths along an airport runway. Veterans teamed up with Flagler Broadcasting and the airport to keep those annual festivals going.
This year, one of the centerpieces of the event will be a lapel-pinning ceremony recognizing all Vietnam veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. The Flagler County Veterans Advisory Council and the Marine Corps League are hosting ceremony at 3 p.m.
“We wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to our Vietnam Veterans, and present each one with a lapel pin at the ceremony,” said Flagler County Veterans Services Officer David Lydon. “We are very pleased and honored to be able to do this.”
Project Flag will again make a World’s Record attempt for the number of people waving a flag, at 2:30 p.m. (It attempted to break the record last year.) And starting at 4 p.m., tribute bands will perform ZZ Top, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Boston. There will be a special Prayer & Pledge, the National Anthem, and a Veterans’ Salute at 7:45 p.m. Santore Fireworks will provide the grand finale at 8:45 p.m.
Admission is free. There is free parking at the high school (with a shuttle bus), and $5 at the airport. There will be a food court, kids’ fun zone, and both static and interactive exhibits.