As Mary Westman Day exited the rear door of the B-17G Flying Fortress "Sentimental Journey" at North Texas Regional Airport-Perrin Field on Wednesday morning, tears were in her eyes and two departed friends were on her mind. She had just completed a 30-minute flight in the 69-year-old aircraft, one of only 14 airworthy planes of its type left in the world.

As Mary Westman Day exited the rear door of the B-17G Flying Fortress "Sentimental Journey" at North Texas Regional Airport-Perrin Field on Wednesday morning, tears were in her eyes and two departed friends were on her mind. She had just completed a 30-minute flight in the 69-year-old aircraft, one of only 14 airworthy planes of its type left in the world.


"I could have just stayed up there all day," she said as she met her husband Jerry on the tarmac. "I was thinking about our veterans we work with at the (Perrin Air Force Base Historical) Museum, especially the two that passed away earlier this year who were gunners on the B-17; both of them flew more than 30 missions. I couldn’t even focus my camera, I was thinking, ‘How could they aim a gun?’"


Mary Day’s flight was dedicated in honor of Ted Nurre, who died last May, and Bernard Kuse, who died in April, she said. Both men were married to their wives for more than 67 years and both flew in the European Theater during World War II. After they retired, both worked as volunteers at the Perrin Museum.


"They were good men," said Jerry Day.


The honor flight was made possible by a weeklong visit from the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historical aircraft. The group brought two restored WWII bombers from Mesa, Ariz., to Texoma as part of a five-month, 50-city tour.


In addition to the "Sentimental Journey" — which was built too late to see combat in 1944, restored in 1981, and sports Betty Grable on the nose — the CAF also brought "Maid in the Shade," a battle-tested B-25J Mitchell. Originally one of 9,984 constructed by Boeing, the 1943-built aircraft is one of 43 flyable models still in existence. "Maid in the Shade" flew 15 combat missions over Italy and Yugoslavia before the end of the war.


Dave Baker, a Vietnam veteran who flies with the Commemorative Air Force out of Mesa, said his love for the planes is in his blood.


"I have always been enamored by the sacrifices our nation made during WWII, and I always felt like I’d been born about 20 years too late to participate," Baker said as he watched the four radial engines on the B-17 rev, one-by-one. "Then one year, my wife bought me a ride in a B-25 as a birthday gift, and that was it. Poor lady had no idea what she was getting herself into," he said with chuckle.


For Jerry Day, who served 20 years in the Air Force and now runs the Perrin Museum, the visit from the bombers provided a chance to give his former volunteers and friends a final send-off in the same type of aircraft they flew in the service.


"It’s a chance to have a tribute to them in their memory," he said.