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A Tribute to A WWII Veteran

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I received this e-mail as a result of my association with the Missouri Pilots Association (MPA) and the US Pilots Association (USPA). I have met Seth Caperton and many other WWII and other military pilots through these associations. I thought many on this web site would love to read this account of a recent flight a number of pilots took with Seth.


Branson, MO, is touted as the leader in ongoing appreciation of our Veterans and their families. The shows in town include patriotic songs and recognition of those who currently serve in the military or have served for us. Military reunions are abundant throughout the tourist season, and Veterans Day every year brings a week-long parade of activities, special gatherings and celebration unlike any other in our country. We fly the flag proudly every day of the year, and we thank God for those making our freedom possible.

The Ozarks Chapter of the Missouri Pilots Association chose recently to give some special attention to one of our members. Retiring from the Air Force as Captain, and with nearly 19,000 hours of flying in the military and for The School of the Ozarks afterward, Seth Caperton is the founder of the Ozarks Chapter, a Co-Chairman of the MPA board, and a member of USPA. He's been our friend and neighbor for many years. And when we learned that the EAA's B-17 was going to be in our area giving rides, the opportunity to fly with Seth in a B-17 was too much to pass up.

Among Seth's long list of airplanes he's piloted, he had 35 war time missions over Europe in B-17s, taking flak and anti-aircraft fire, narrowly missing death when an 8 mm. shell penetrated his plane, remained lodged inside, but did not explode, and once returning to his Quonset hut when three-fourths of his fellow officers did not return.

The B-17, also known as the Flying Fortress, is powered by four Curtiss Wright 1820-97 nine-cylinder radial engines. Named the Aluminum Overcast, the plane was purchased as military surplus for in 1946 for $750, and has been restored to nearly war-time standards with authentic radio equipment, guns, and munitions (not functional, of course). Proudly carrying the colors of the 398th Bomb Group of WWII, it has flown over one million miles. This would be our chance to get Seth back into a B-17 after 60+ years!

We needed ten riders to fill the plane, including Seth as our guest. The word floated around, and in no time at all we had ten local area pilots, plus two standbys, signed up and ready to experience flying in a WWII plane with a man who had flown out of England in one just like it. Having heard a few of Seth's stories, somehow flying with him in a B-17 would connect us to that past.

After months of waiting, October 27 finally arrived with all the rain, fog, and low ceilings Mother Nature can deliver in the fall. In hopes that we would have a break long enough for a plane ride, we all launched in cars from the Branson area for a two-hour drive to Fayetteville, AR. Gathering together for lunch at the airport, everyone signed a memento notebook for Seth and waited for improving weather. A brief clearing offered a hopeful chance, but quickly turned again into rain and fog sheeting to the ground between the hills. The day was a pleasant gathering, but no plane ride. We would return tomorrow.

After morning fog, October 28 beamed bright and breezy, and all were able to fly their own planes from Branson to Fayetteville, where the Flying Fortress was already busy flying passengers. Dozens of people crowded the ramp area when we arrived. A strong southerly breeze refreshed the air, as we finally were able to board EAA's Aluminum Overcast, after a briefing of where and how to walk in the plane, what to not sit on, and where we could and could not go once inside.

Seth was escorted up to the cockpit, where he stood immediately behind the co-pilot, I was seated in a radio operator's seat across from two others of our group, and the other six were seated on two bench seats on each bulkhead farther aft by the waist guns. Among our riders was Justin Haase, photographer with KY-3 TV in Springfield, MO. Our flight was to be included in a salute to Veterans to be aired on KY-3 November 11. Justin had his hands full with the heavy video camera and equipment in the tight quarters.

We were soon rolling down runway 16 at FYV. With our light load of ten riders, three crew, and fake bombs, we were quickly airborne and climbing out over the beautiful fall colors of northwest Arkansas. The ear plugs we had been offered were welcome, as the plane having been built for a specific purpose did not include noise reduction. As soon as we climbed above 3,500' the wind-evoked "bumps" disappeared, and we were able to move around and begin exploring this marvelous plane.

A tour of the cockpit and nose turret was first, followed by the waist gunner positions. The smooth air made for easy walking through the plane, although the passage ways were very narrow, and the overhead low when you least expected it. At the altitudes flown by these planes during war time, with no insulation or heat, it was easy to realize the uncomfortable conditions. This marvelous merging of man and machine had a specific purpose, and creature comfort was not a part of it.

After sitting in the nose turret, taking pictures standing at the waist gun positions, exploring the Bombay and old radio and navigation equipment, our 20 minute flight came to a close. Too soon our time warp to WWII came to an end, we were back on the ramp, and the engines were shut down. As I looked forward to the cockpit, I watched as the pilot and co-pilot turn around and shake hands with Seth. The tears welled in my eyes as I felt the emotion of two generations meeting in mutual admiration.

Afterward, during an interview with Seth, Justin asked what it was like flying war time missions over Europe. In his usual slow Texas drawl, Seth simply explained that they always tried to have the number of landings equal the number of takeoffs. That's Seth! No aggrandizement. No self evaluation. Just another day at the office. He had a job to do, and he did it. It was that simple.

Later, enjoying lunch together, Mark Parent, Manager of Taney County/Clark Airport, smiled at us and thoughtfully expressed what we had just experienced. He summed it up well when he said, "We just flew in a B-17 with Seth Caperton." Yes, we did! His simple statement said it all. We now felt closer to Seth and, in some small way, had a connection to what he did for us.

Thank you, Seth, for your service, for your sacrifice and that of your family. We can never say it too many times or in too many ways. Welcome home!

Jan Hoynacki, Executive Director

US Pilots Association


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