SANTA FE (KRQE) – The number of WWII veterans is shrinking dramatically every year. Thursday, a group of veterans from the 307th Bomber Group gathered in Santa Fe for a special reunion. The men have ties to a blockbuster film, set to hit the big screen later this year. Black and white images from WWII, photos of the crews, maps and letters were spread out on tables in the Drury Hotel in Santa Fe.
“We go back a while,” said Captain Jack Palmer, Pilot in the 307th Bomber Group.
Palmer, 91, sat near a handful of men he’s built a close friendship with. Each of them look forward to the reunions.
“We were flying B-24 bombers, and our principal objective was to completely destroy the oil flow to Japan,” Palmer recalled.
Surviving members from around the country gathered to catch up and swap stories. Their war stories have one common theme: Survival.
The story of the 307th Bomber Group will soon hit the big screen. The movie, “Unbroken,” is adapted from the best-selling biography of bombadier, Louis Zamperini. Directed by Angelina Jolie, it’s set to premiere this December.
Zamperini was an Olympic runner. He survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber crashed in the Pacific in WWII. He survived that, only to become a prisoner of war. Zamperini died this year after a battle with pneumonia.
The men who gathered in Santa Fe Thursday didn’t know Zamperini personally, but each had their own close call. Some of the men lost limbs, others came face to face with death.
“A plane flew and crash landed in the jungle beside us,” recalled Tech Sergeant Milt Potee. “I ran over there and everything was on fire, from the nose to the tail, and it was the most helpless, and I suppose the most terrifying thing that I had seen in the war.”
Potee said he later learned the plane that crashed carried U.S. Troops set to return home.
Tech Sergeant John Wright broke his leg playing touch football. The injury kept him from a scheduled flight.
“The plane that I was supposed to leave on had taken off and landed in Guam to refuel and then hit a mountain or trees on takeoff, and crashed and killed everybody aboard.”
Wright made it home, and had three children.
Then there are those that didn’t come home. Ann Williams Warner joined the reunion to learn about her dad.
“My darling wife and baby,” she read, from a letter her father wrote to her mom during the war. She keeps the letters in a book, as a way for her to know her dad. “I think I have more to live for than anything having you and Ann at home waiting for me,” her father wrote, when Ann was 9 months old.
His plane was shot down weeks later, and he didn’t make it home. But it’s stories like his, stories still shared, that keep the legacy of the men who served alive.
Veterans from the 307th Bomber Group have been gathering for reunions and sharing their history with others for about 30 years. Their history and records are being digitally stored and archived by Ancestry.com.