Sunday, May 19, 2013

Day 2: B-17's and a Coincidental Stop

Pop stands in front of a photo of his Group's bombers.
Today, Harold Gilbert not only impacted our lives, but the lives of others around us while we visited the Parham Airfield. Harold Gilbert, known to everyone here as “Pop,” flew a B-17 Heavy Bomber with the 549th squadron of the 385th Bomb Group during WWII. Pop participated in 26 combat missions, only two with his original crew, and acted first as a waist gunner and tail gunner, and later a ball turret gunner.
After a beautiful breakfast at the hotel, we headed straight to Parham Airfield. We were greeted by the Parham Airfield volunteers when we first arrived and were given a presentation on the 390th Bomb Group, which the museum at Parham honored. The 390th Bomb Group at Parham specifically flew B-17 plans, which Pop flew during his time in service. We were even able to see a picture of the same bomber that he flew. After the presentations, Dr. Mullinax presented the museum with a plaque thanking them for their preservation of the Parham Airfield and dedication to Veterans.
Pop compares and contrasts B-17 Bomber models.

We were able to walk through a part of the museum which was completely dedicated to B-17 planes. Uniforms, equipment, pictures, and even a model of the B-17 were on display. While viewing this memorabilia, Pop would comment on the different outfits and equipment we saw. He told us a little bit about his experiences while flying, in particular the extremely cold conditions and how the model plane display was better than what he flew because it had windows. Pop had to manage a .50 caliber gun without a window to break the freezing wind. He said he had a mask and heated equipment, but that only did so much. In the middle of one of Pop's stories, a volunteer stopped and told us what a great Veteran we had. He said he could have listened to Pop all day and reminded us what an amazing opportunity it was to hear his stories.
On the way to Parham Airfield, Pop realized we were very close to Great Ashfield, the town where his base was located. This being his first time back to England after his service, he had not yet been able to visit the plaque the Great Ashfield congregation presented to the 385th Bomb Group at the local church. We were able to go into Great Ashfield and find the church where the plaque was placed, and Pop was able to get out and see it for the very first time. Pop was already so filled with joy to be back in England, but to be able to go back to the town where he served and see a monument in his Bomb Group's honor only made his joyful spirit double in size.
We have already learned so much from Pop, and this was only the first official day of our trip. We are so looking forward to hearing more of Pop's stories and learning more about his days on a B-17.

Pop visits All Saints Church in Great Ashfield.

Nichole Russell, senior
Kirk Metzger, senior


  1. What a wonderful way to wake up this morning! Reading about Pop's day with you all, and seeing such great photos. Thank you all; praying for many blessings on this incredible journey. ~ Donna Alfano, Pop's daughter

  2. Thanks for the update. Great to hear a little bit about Pop, thanks for your service to our country! Glad you could make it back to England to re-visit the places that you served. That is awesome that they were able to include a stop at the church to view a plaque in honor of your Bomber Groups' honor. I'm so thankful that Kirk is having a great time and getting to hang with a man like Pops on this trip.

  3. Wow, and it's only the first day, so thankful our son, Brandon is able to be on this trip.
    Mike Ashbee
    Kimberling City, MO

  4. Thank you so much for doing this blog to let all of us back home follow along with you on this incredible adventure. Enjoy every minute and continued safe travels. Jane Selvaggio, daughter of Tom Easterly

  5. Very awesome story of Pop's! I am ever thankful for your service!
    I too, am very honored that Kirk Jr has the privilege to tour England with such amazing men! Thanks to the college (for EVERYTHING!) and for the blog, so that we get a peek of what their days are like. Can't wait to see what they did today!
    Sheila Metzger (Kirk's mom)
    Republic, MO

  6. This is so wonderful! I love the photos and it is so great to hear about it from the students point of view.