Laguna Woods veteran who was shot down in WWII rides in B-17 again

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- An Orange County veteran was on cloud nine Wednesday evening after reliving the thrill of flying in a vintage B-17 aircraft.

The last time Lou Tirado flew in a B-17 he was shot down and captured during World War II.

"The last time I flew in one of these was almost 72 years ago," Tirado said. "I was what they called a ball-turret gunner. I sat in the ball, you had two .50 calibers and my job was to protect the bottom of the plane. So when enemy fighters come in from the bottom, it was my job to protect."

Tirado said he and his crew flew three missions from England to bomb Germany. On the third mission, Tirado said they took enemy fire.

At 95 years old, Tirado still has vivid memories of his last flight on the B-17. The date was Sept. 12, 1944.

"The day we got shot down we were overwhelmed by fighters, and we were one of the first planes to get hit, so we didn't have much chance to do any protecting," Tirado explained.

"Our plane caught fire and we bailed out by plane into Germany and became prisoners," Tirado continued.

72 years later, Tirado, who was born in Brooklyn and now lives in Laguna Woods, was thrilled to fly on the vintage B-17 Flying Fortress.

It's only one of eight B-17s in flying condition.

The plane made a short flight from Riverside Municipal Airport to John Wayne Airport, with Tirado aboard and many cheering him on his he touched down.

"Hey, I didn't need a parachute this time," Tirado joked after he landed.

With all smiles aside, Tirado couldn't help but get emotional, not just for the two men who died during his last mission, but for all the service men and women who sacrifice every day to serve our country.

"If we all do a little bit, hey we can have the best country in the world, and we do," Tirado said.

The Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom tour made Wednesday's mission possible.

The B-17, as well as two other vintage aircraft, will be on display through Sunday at the Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.
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