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Heroes visit Heber to share their Stories

Posted On
Jul 02, 2015

“Sentimental Journey,” the magnificent B-17 heavy Bomber from World War II, visited Heber City’s Airport from June 8 – June 14. The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) in Heber Valley brings the event to the Heber City Airport to accomplish their mission of preserving World War II military aviation history. They help keep the aviation-related memories alive through the people who participated in or witnessed the war. They want to share that history with others. Veterans from all over the state came to Heber to meet other veterans and revive memories from the war. Many veterans have not seen a B-17 since World War II. They are incredibly grateful the CAF was able to bring one to them.

Aristotle said, "Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but rather in deserving them.” Through the stories of four veterans, take a glimpse into World War II. Their experiences reveal the noblest human qualities at the highest level. Courage, sacrifice, love, and loyalty shine brightly.

The fear of heights is common. Fears of being imprisoned or shot are even more common. Crew members of B-17’s overcame these fears and many others as they performed their duty. The average B-17 lasted less than 6 months before being shot down. 

With very tight crawl spaces, B-17 bomber planes were manned by 10 man crews. The average weight of each person had to be no more than 120 pounds. The bomb capacity was 5,000 pounds which normally resulted in 10 bombs being carried. There was a narrow catwalk (pictured right) through the bomb bay between the two stacks of bombs, five to a side hanging in their shackles. After take-off the bombardier crawled back to the bomb bay and removed the safety pins from the nose fuses of the bombs so they would arm themselves when dropped. Of the 1.5 million metric tons of bombs dropped on Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, 640,000 tons were dropped from the hard working B-17.

Romain Rolland said, “A hero is a man who does what he can.” Jody Hlavaty was a tail gunner on a B-17. His son, Paul Hlavaty came to Heber with Sentimental Journey to learn more about the war and what life was like for his father. Jody humbly and courageously faced his obstacles without seeking recognition or praise. If we gave his story to Hollywood however, his movie would be a blockbuster. Try and envision the intense circumstances as best as you can. Try to understand the valor of his heart.

Jody was raised in Oklahoma. He married before the war. He spent time in the European Theater. While on a mission, his B-17 was hit with flak (picture a giant firework that shoots off metal instead of pretty colors). He crawled forward and put on a parachute. He jumped out of the plane before it crashed and landed somewhere in Norway. From Norway, he was placed in the cold wet hull of a German ship and transported to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. His POW camp was liberated by the Russians. Still behind enemy lines, Hlavaty and the other POW’s had to make the 13-day trip to allied lines on their own. Jody was strafed (shot at) twice by American planes while making his way back. Imagine the emotions that accompany those events. Paul wasn’t born yet so we don’t know how it happened, but try and picture what it was like when Jody was reunited with his wife in the United States after his impressive journey.

Jody Hlvaty died a few years ago at the age of 94. His son, Paul, now tells his story. Paul wishes he had days to talk to his father about everything. He said his dad rarely spoke of anything to do with the war, which is not uncommon among veterans. Paul overheard a few conversations between his dad and other veterans which helped him understand a little better, but mainly he knows what he does because his dad kept a POW journal. Paul has the journal in his possession and it is really personal and special to him. It contains 12 poems which help tell his father’s story firsthand. The only way he knows his father was transported from being shot down in Norway to a POW camp in Germany is because there is a poem about the trip. One of the things that stands out to Paul is that there are no misspelled words in any of the 12 poems. Paul mentioned that some of the poems refer to German women feeding prisoners through the fence, the German guards being just as hungry as the POW’s, and a very personal poem to his wife.

Wayne Denison is from Bar Harbor, Maine. He was in the ball turret of the B-17. He was part of the 91st Bomb Group, 323rd Squadron, in the 8th Air Force. The United States celebrated when the first B-17 flew 25 missions. Denison flew in 35 missions and although his plane had plenty of flak holes in it, he was fortunate enough to never be shot down. His crew, the “Sheriff’s Posse”, bombed German manufacturing plants and was responsible for dropping nearly 350 bombs on Germany.

Wayne joined over 11,000 bombers in the D-day invasion. His son, Jim Denison, has his journal where Wayne recorded his impressions of the experience. Visualize the magnificent sight of 11,000 bombers dropping over seven million pounds of bombs, flying over nearly 7,000 Allied ships to get there, and seeing nearly 200,000 Allied troops landing on the beaches. Imagine the sight. Imagine the noises. What would it have been like to have been there? What were the conversations like between crew members when the air raid was over?

Wayne returned to Bar Harbor, Maine. 60 years later, he boarded Sentimental Journey for a flight with his son, Jim Denison. An unforgettable day and a memory for a lifetime. (Wayne and his Son, Jim, are pictured below)

Jim Ritche was raised in Mount Vernon, Ohio. The average age for a B-17 pilot was 22. Jim was a 27 year old pilot. He was an optometrist by trade. He was part of the 379th Bomb Group, 424th Squadron, in the 8th Air Force. He was a pilot and bombardier. From April 1944 to October 1944, he flew 35 missions throughout Europe. In June 1945 he flew 13 missions from Guam. In August, 1945, he flew in a few more missions over northern Japan, which would become the last bombing missions of World War II. He heard about Japan’s surrender over the radio while returning from a bombing mission. How do you picture the crew’s conversations upon hearing the news? Jim Ritche flew in over 50 bombing missions. He passed away suddenly in 1956 at the age of 42. He is one of the most experienced pilots of World War II. His son, Jim Ritche Jr., came to Heber to share the story of his dad, a true hero. What would it be like to complete over 50 bombing missions?

Gordan Lodlow was in high school when World War II broke out. He grew up in Spanish Fork, Utah where he resides today. His experience gives us a unique view of World War II. He left high school early and enlisted in the Navy with aspirations of becoming a pilot. He remembers that everyone thought the war would be over really fast. The Navy sent him to Signalman School. Signalmen were responsible for transmitting, receiving, encoding, decoding, and distributing messages obtained via the visual transmission systems of flag semaphore, visual Morse code, and flag hoist signaling. He patrolled the South Pacific for enemy submarines and rescued shot down pilots. One of the scariest moments of the war was riding out a typhoon that lasted two entire days. Gordan came home to Spanish Fork and went back to school. His dreams of flying will now be a legacy. There are a few pilots in Gordan’s family, including his grandson, Clint Pulver (middle), who appears in the picture below with Gordan (right) and grandson Jake Pulver (left).

Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

This 4th of July weekend, remember the courage and heroics of those who have defended our nation and the world. There are countless soldiers, sailors, and airmen who have given their all and most of their songs will go unsung. Men and women have selflessly served. Respect their sacrifices. Make the most of opportunities. Help America be everything they stood for. Live life with the same courage and selflessness they did. Honor them by choosing to live a flourishing life.

The CAF is a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to restoring, maintaining and flying World War II aircraft for the purpose of honoring veterans and educating the general public about the importance of WWII in American history.  The B-17 Bomber event honors the heroes who fought in WWII and those on the home front who produced the tanks, ships and aircraft that enabled the United States and its Allies to achieve victory – 70 years ago. Come visit the Utah CAF Wing Air Museum - located in the CAF Hangar on the Russ McDonald Field, Heber Valley Airport, Heber City, Utah. The museum is open Thursday-Sunday, May 1st through October 31st. Donations requested at the door. If you plan to visit, check this website or call the CAF Museum 435-709-7269 for updates prior to traveling to the Heber airport.

Visit the CAF website here:

Be sure to make it to Heber for the B-25 visit from August 3-9.

Guest Blogger: James Neville, BYU MPA Student



Events, History