Posted: Sep 24, 2012 1:51 PM by Matt Stafford
Updated: Sep 29, 2012 9:44 AM
Colorado Springs will soon be home to a brand new national World War II aviation museum. The grand opening is October 13th; it's located at 765 Aviation Way, backing right up to the runways at the Colorado Springs Airport.
The museum focuses on not only the planes that helped win the war, but also the community effort that made victory possible. That effort was evident across the country, and in southern Colorado.
News 5 has had the opportunity to sit down with some local men and women who played a role in that fight.
We know all to well how fast we're losing those people and their stories from what's been called the Greatest Generation -- a title dubbed by NBC's Tom Brokaw. News 5 has been sharing stories people involved in that effort in the lead up to the opening of the National Museum of World War II Aviation. The interviews were taped earlier in the summer, but since then one of the people who participated has passed away. Retired Colonial William "Bill" Beck was in the U. S. Army Air Force from the 40s all the way until he retired from the Air Force in 1969. He served as a pilot in World War II in the Pacific. Col. Beck participated in 54 missions before returning home in 1943 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his work in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea and an Air Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster, according to his obituary.
Col. Beck joined the Army Air Corps in March 1941 while in school at Texas A&M.
"I felt like we'd have a war, and I didn't want to be on the ground," recalls Col. Beck. "Ended up leaving Pearl Harbor the week before they (the Japanese) bombed it; on the Sunday before they bombed it."
Col. Beck was right; America joined World War II. Soon he was flying missions in the Pacific Theatre: in New Guinea.
"I flew a couple of B-25 co-pilot missions," says Beck. "Most of my flights were in the A-20 single pilot, twin-engine airplane."
He says they ran a lot of bombing missions. As a young man, he got to watch the power of America's military grow, specifically through the skies.
"We had nothing in aviation really before the war started; there were a few A-20s flying around, a few P-40s," says Col. Beck. "No big effort to build airplanes or get anything done."
But Col. Beck says that changed fast.
"During the war it became a different story."
United States air power played a major role in both the Pacific and in Europe; it's also given Col. Beck a lifetime love of aviation. He's been a strong supporter of the National Museum of World War II Aviation being built in Colorado Springs, and that has come with some perks.
"Well this B-25, I flew it," Col. Beck says with a smile, motioning over his shoulder to a giant, fully-restored B-52 at WestPac Restorations that will be on display at the museum. "Been over a year now." says Col. Beck.
"I had a hard time getting up into the airplane but I made it," says Col. Beck. It had been a while to say the least.
"Yeah," Col. Beck says laughing; "about 40 years."
"It was easy to handle, very smooth," describes Col. Beck. "Just amazing to me what these guys are doing with them."
"Putting the things back together, and they're just like new when they finish with them," add Col. Beck, and that's from someone who saw them in action.
WestPac Restorations uses World War II-era fabrication methods to completely restore the planes back to their original form, on the ground and in the air.
Col. Beck told friends and News 5 how much he loved being around the projects planned for the museum, and he was excited for the opening in October. Col. Beck wanted the stories from that generation to be preserved.
"If you had it to do all over again what would you do differently?" Col. Beck was asked at the end of his interview with News 5 in the summer.
"Nothing," he answered almost as quickly as the question could be asked. "I enjoyed every minute of it; had a great life."
Col. Beck passed away September 6th, 2012 at the age of 91. He's being enshrined with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston in Texas on Friday, September 28th.
News 5 has two more of these stories coming up -- a local Tuskegee Airman, and a member of the Women's Air Service Patrol, pioneering female pilot roles in the military. They'll run on Monday nights at ten, and then their stories will be able to be seen on KOAA.com.