Former second world war pilot pays final visit to Tibenham Airfield aged 95
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013
He arrived during one of Norfolk's coldest summers and had to eat some of the country's worst food but it never stopped 95-year-old American pilot Captain Charles 'Chuck' Walker, from returning to his war-time roots.
During the last 17 years, Mr Walker, of Dallas, Texas, has travelled more than 150,000 miles to visit Tibenham Airfield to pay tribute to loved ones who died during the second world war.
The last remaining B-24 Liberator pilot, he flew the American heavy bomber plane from the south Norfolk airfield after enlisting into the United States (US) Army Air Force the day after the Pearl Harbor attack.
The surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the US naval base in Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, hastened the country's – and Mr Walker's – entry into the war.
It was his childhood dream to become a pilot.
You may also want to watch:
After training he was called in for active duty at Tibenham and joined the 445th Bomb Group on June 7, 1944 – the day after D-Day.
He said: 'That summer of '44 was just so very cold and had bad weather. It was cloudy too.'
- 1 Dutch design could inspire revamp of danger roundabout
- 2 Two Norfolk restaurants in top five 'secret' places to eat on English coast
- 3 Machinery sale marks end of family's 100-year farming history
- 4 Warning over 'Amazon' cold call recordings scam in Norfolk
- 5 You can run, Mr Hancock, but you can't hide
- 6 'More like March' - So when will we get the sunshine back?
- 7 Pub has to close indefinitely as town cleans up after floods
- 8 Prince William, George and Charlotte start races at Sandringham
- 9 Rare condition kills 'amazing' lorry driver
- 10 Farke on his contract situation at City
He described the food as 'the worst in the UK' and recalled his mess sergeant and officer being arrested for selling their 'good food' on the black market.
He remembered going on nights out – dubbed liberty runs – and said despite Norwich being 'blacked out' they always found the pubs and the Samson and Hercules dance hall, nicknamed 'the muscle club'.
The mission of the 445th group was to carry out daylight bombings in Germany, supporting the Royal Air Force's night bombing activities.
In total, the 445th flew 280 missions and 6,323 sorties, losing 576 airmen and 138 aircraft.
Mr Walker, whose aircraft was nicknamed Bunnie, said: 'It was just your job. It was what you would expect to do and have to do. You tried not to worry about coming back. You just thought to yourself if anything happened, it would always be to the other guy. Fortunately the other guy was never me.'
Mr Walker finished 35 missions but said September 27, 1944, was a day he would never forget.
Thirty-six planes were sent out on a mission but only four came back. Mr Walker had been granted leave for the day. 'I came back just as the mission was due home,' he said. 'You knew immediately something was wrong. I lost lots of friends.'
The next day he took part in a 'milk run' – an easy run – to the same target with the remaining planes. He said: 'It was one of my most emotional missions.'
In 1945 Mr Walker returned home and continued to work as a pilot for 25 years. He married his first wife, Maxine, who died 10 years ago, and together they had two children, Charles Junior and Susan-Lee. Five years ago Mr Walker got remarried to Dede. He has a grandson and a great granddaughter.
Yesterday was his last journey to the airfield, where he enjoyed his favourite meal of homemade tomato soup made by catering staff Eddie and Rachel Applegate.
Do you have any memories of Norfolk's airfields? Contact reporter Donna-Louise Bishop on 01603 693892 or email email@example.com.