By SHERIDAN CYR
For decades, retired Lt. Col. Walter Hushak has been a sort of local celebrity. The veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corp and the U.S. Air Force Reserve spoke to local elementary school classrooms. He marched at town and state parades. Whenever there’s a discussion about World War II history, Hushak is usually at the center of the group, sharing his memories and experience.
That’s why Hushak looked out of place sitting beside Army Air Force Roundtable of Connecticut member Jim Ketcher in a discussion about the upcoming Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour. After 25 years organizing the WWII aircraft event, the 94-year-old Southington resident has finally handed over the reins.
Don’t worry. There’s no sign that Hushak is slowing down. The Southington veteran is still committed to the annual event and to his role as historian of the “Greatest Generation.”
“This event is so important to our history,” he said. “It’s important for this generation. They don’t teach our nation’s history at depth in school anymore. The kids ask, ‘Why do we need to learn all this ‘stuff’?’”
The Wings of Freedom tour is designed to bring history to life by flying extremely rare bomber and fighter aircraft into airports for a local living history display as part of a 110-city nationwide tour that shows off four airplanes that were used in combat in WWII. On Friday, Sept. 7, the B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator will arrive at the Waterbury-Oxford Airport, located at Atlantic Aviation at 288 Christian St., at 2 p.m. and will be on display until Sept. 9.
“This event is put on so that others can understand the sacrifices that were made by our veterans,” said Ketcher. “I was happy to volunteer to take on this task. I do things like this so I can be close to what I enjoy, and to be around guys like Walter.”
Hushak, himself, has vivid memories of flying in the B-24 Liberator, with the lives of nine other men depending on him, before he was even of-age to enter a bar.
“We were just happy to be able to do something, and to do it by choice,” he said. “We were not nearly prepared for it. But, there was no fear. I wanted to be there. I asked to be there.”
Hushak knows firsthand that knowing one’s history is key to survival.
“Why do you need to know your history?” he asked rhetorically, took a deep sigh, and said, “How do you answer a question like that? We learn our history, so people can live and survive a better life. We learn from the past.”
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit educational foundation devoted to organizing living history events that allow others to learn more about their heritage and history through direct participation. The Wings of Freedom tour is celebrating its 29th year.
The B-17, B-25 and b-24 were the backbone of the American effort during the war from 1942 to 1945 and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission. And the P-51, known as the bombers’ “Little Friend,” saved countless crews from attacking axis fighters.
Hours of visitation in Waterbury are 2 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, and 9:30a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 8-9.
Walk through tours are $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Guests are offered the full-fledged experience with flights starting at $400 for a 30-minute B-25 flight; $450 for a 30-minute B-17 or B-24 flight; $2,200 for a half hour P-51 flight training and $3,200 for a full hour.
Call (800) 568-8924 or visit www.cfdn.org for more information.