Departing From IAH: A Journey Back To World War II

Clyde Gilmore flew 21 combat missions as a radio gunner in World War II. During one, his plane lost two engines over the target and crash-landed in Brussels. The army sent a B-24 to pick him up.


For Gilmore and other members of his 95th Bomb Group, time between missions was spent at a base outside London. Now Gilmore, 86, a retired engineer from Houston, is again waiting for his ride back.


Eleven veterans of the 95th, along with nine from the 9th and one from the 390th, are meeting in England to tour their old haunting grounds -- including three buildings on base that have been reconstructed to resemble their former selves.


"We'll just try to revive old memories," Gilmore tells Hair Balls from the IAH departure lounge as he waits for the flight to Heathrow. "This is usually what happens at these get-togethers, you know."


The 95th flew 351 missions out of its base in Horham and was the first to bomb Berlin in daylight. It has a memorial foundation which, about five years ago, sponsored a trip that drew 50 veterans and family members. This time the group is at 102, according to reunion chair Brad Petrella, whose father was in the 95th.


"For many of them, this is going to be their last trip," he says. "All of these guys are in their 80s. They're very, very spry. But as I read the roster of those who have passed on, the list just grows."


The itinerary features stops in the countryside in Suffolk, the American War Cemetery at Mattingly in Cambridge and the 95th's own museum in Horham.


But the highlight might be a visit to the reconstructed Red Feather Club -- which was the non-commissioned officer's club. On Saturday night it will host a `40s-style dance with a 20-piece swing band and over 250 guests (some in `40s attire) to recapture the building's old glory.


"I always heard about these parties," Petrella says. "I don't want to say too much, but the parties were so good that the officers, who had their own club, would come to the Red Feather Club -- because, as my dad always said, 'We had the best drink and the best women.'"


Gilmore remembers the club as a place to grab a drink and talk with friends. He says the chance to do so again is enough to make the trip worthwhile.

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