AUSTIN (KXAN) - Bill Brollier was given a rare opportunity when he boarded the B-24 Liberator for take off. This time he was on American soil, and the machine guns poking out on all sides were not loaded. Friends surprised the retired rancher from Mason with the 30-minute trip in the World War II vintage bomber during the Wings of Freedom Tour.
"I'm going to relive some of the most important parts of my life," said Brollier.
The last time the 88-year-old left the ground in one was in 1945. He was 24-years old and sat in the cockpit. The first lieutenant was a B-24 pilot in the 328th Bomb Group, 2nd Squadron. His 11 man crew flew 32 missions out of an airfield in Hethal, England. Their targets were mainly in Germany and France.
Brollier said his crew was the first to complete a tour in the B-24. He recalled coming face to face with enemy fire from the ground. One day in particular, he said a piece of an ammunition shell called flack flew in the plane and ricocheted off his seat.
"If I had not been leaning out of the seat at that time," said Brollier, "it probably would have taken my arm off."
His daughter and two grandchildren drove down from Amarillo during Spring Break to witness the flight and take a look inside the aircraft they have heard so much about.
"To hear him talk about the missions and then to tour the plane makes it that much more real," said his daughter, Diana Bartlett.
The B-24 Liberator is the last one in the world still flying. While on tour, it is flown to 110 cities across the nation each year.
"It looks about the same," said Brollier. "We didn’t have near all of the decoration on ours as this one did."
Brollier came to see the aircraft with his family while it was on display in 2008, but did not get a chance to take the $425 flight. Friends in Mason donated money to make it happen this year.
"Some people in our community gave him a priceless gift," said Bartlett. "Just a minor part of what he gave to us to fight the war."
The Collings Foundation WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 2:00 PM on March 20. In addition to the B-24, a B-17 Flying Fortress and P-51 Mustang are available for tours and flights. The aircraft will be on display at Atlantic Aviation at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport until departure March 23 at 12:00 PM. Flight prices range from $425 to $3,200.