GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — World War II planes buzzed over downtown Grand Rapids Wednesday in honor of the 75th anniversary of the end of the conflict.
A B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, a C-47 Skytrain, which carried paratroopers, and a B-25 bomber took off from Ypsilanti shortly after 5 p.m. and passed over the State Capitol Building in Lansing around 5:30 p.m.
They arrived in metro Grand Rapids around 6 p.m. Once here, they made a few passes over downtown, where many gathered on the Gillett pedestrian bridge to view the sight.
The flyover was backed by the Greatest Generation Day Committee and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
“We had 21 people from around the state … just looking to make this a great celebration of our Greatest Generation,” John Ryder from the Michigan Heroes Museum, which also helped organize Greatest Generation Day, said. “And here in Grand Rapids, we’re looking to focus on Grand Rapidians and Western Michigan heroes who served our country during World War II.”
Several WWII veterans in attendance spoke to News 8 about what this salute meant to them.
“It’s a wonderful thing to remember the veterans of World War II,” Robert Tessmer said. “They call us the Greatest Generation, so I hope they’re right.”
For Tessmer and other veterans, the sights and sounds of the vintage planes brought them back to their days on the battlefield.
“We used to see the bombers come over us when we were on the front lines and cheer them on,” he said.
At 99 years old, Bill Iverson shared his memories from the war, thinking back to a time when troops were segregated and Black soldiers were discriminated against.
“It was a proud thing to know that I was able to serve my country, but it wasn’t pleasant to know that segregation and discrimination were still going on and that was very hurtful,” Iverson said.
The flyover was especially sentimental for WWII veteran Alfred Schumacher.
Schumacher served in the Air Force and was assigned to a bomber plane similar to the B-25 aircraft flown during the tribute.
“There were at least five times that we were not going to make it,” Schumacher said about his time in the skies. “We were just not going to make it and every time, God put forth his hand and said, ‘I’m going to help you,’ and we survived every one of them, we survived a crash landing.”
Other celebrations are virtual, including a Wednesday evening online event with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.