Local Boy Returns Home in a Big Way

By Marshall Stelzriede

Although I had my share of thrills during 25 missions over Europe as a B-17 navigator, an even bigger air thrill happened before I ever left the States.

I was assigned to a combat air crew at Dalhart, Texas. After many training missions, we went to Scott Field, Illinois, and picked up our brand-new B-17.

We had to calibrate its navigational instruments in the air, so we flew over a farming area about 20 miles southeast of Scott Field. Earlier I'd told the pilot my hometown of Orient was only another 50 miles in the same direction.

After the calibration, the pilot asked for a compass heading back to Scott. I gave him a heading southeast, and he soon called me back and said, "We're headed for your hometown, aren't we?"

I confessed we were, to which he replied, "Well, let's give them a show."

We made four passes over Orient, so low we were almost down to the top of the 100-foot smokestack at the edge of town. The town only had about 800 people, so most of those who came out to watch were people I knew, including my parents, who were in the backyard waving!

Everyone in town knew it was me -- I was the only one from Orient serving on a B-17. To this day, whenever I visit there, someone brings up the excitement of the time we buzzed them.

The pilot had his day, too. On our way to Bangor, Maine, we went out of our way to fly over Linden, New Jersey, where he saw his apartment building and high school.

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