WWII navigator flies in Liberator again
It’s been 70 years since Bruce Murray, a former WWII navigator, flew in a B-24 Liberator aircraft.
But he was surprised to find himself reliving years past as he visited the bomber last week in Superior, Wis.—and even had the chance to take a ride along with his son, David, grandson, Daniel, and great-grandson, Jacob.
“It was a complete surprise.
“I just thought it would be nice to see the Liberator again,” he noted. “I never expected to ride in one.”
Murray’s family and particularly his grandson, who is a pilot for Bearskin Airlines, had been keeping an eye on the Collings Foundation’s “Wings of Freedom” tour, which takes historic aviation across the U.S.
When he saw that the aircraft would be making a brief stop at the Richard I. Bong Airport in Superior, the family decided to make the trip because of the 18,200 build during the Second World War, only two are still flying today—one being with the Collings Foundation.
“And there aren’t that many people left who flew on these planes,” noted David Murray.
“So when we found out it was going to be close to here . . . we thought we’d go.”
But they didn’t tell the former navigator that he’d be going for a ride at the end of the afternoon.
“I had no idea until I got there that was going to have a flight,” Murray remarked.
And the occasion was made even more special to have the four generations of Murray men take to the skies together.
“I don’t think that happens very often to have four generations go up in a 70-year-old plane,” Bruce Murray said.
“We’ve checked with the Collings Foundation and we’re pretty sure this is the first time they’ve had four generations on a flight, with one being from WWII,” David Murray noted.
Daniel Murray always has enjoyed flying, in addition to having a keen interest in vintage aircrafts, while his son, Jacob, who is not yet four years old, is infatuated with planes.
So naturally, the family enjoyed the experienced.
“I had the opportunity to take what will most likely be the greatest flight of my past/future career when I went for a ride on the B-24 Liberator,” Daniel Murray enthused.
“Seventy years ago, Grandad flew his last flight as a navigator after 97 successful missions, including the sinking of U-boat 341. . . .
“All four generations took to the sky to relive the sounds, smells, and power he experienced all those years ago,” he explained.
“Of course, he was naturally the attraction for the enthusiasts as he could explain everything about it as if it happened three weeks ago,” Daniel Murray added.
“Memories to last a lifetime.
“It was a relatively short experience but it was very emotional,” echoed David Murray. “Everybody enjoyed it.”
Bruce Murray said it was the same as it was 70 years ago.
“It hasn’t changed,” he remarked, noting the aircraft is very noisy.
“You forget how noisy things were,” he added. “The present aircrafts are not nearly as noisy.”
“It was deafening,” agreed David Murray. “We were sitting there waiting to take off and they were testing the engines, running the oil, and checking the props and they have to do it four times.
“It’s quite a cycle they go through and it was noisy as heck. . . .
“When it was finally time to take off, the roar was unbelievable,” he recalled. “I’ve never heard anything like that before in my life.”
He called the aircraft a “big can.”
“There is equipment all over the place,” he recounted. “It’s not built for comfort at all. . . .
“There is a catwalk that you have to walk through the bomb bay and I had to squeeze through it.”
And while touring the plane, the bomb doors were open to the ground, which had the youngest Murray informing everyone that “this is dangerous.”
“When we were up flying, at the back of the plane there are two big doors that open,” Murray explained.
“That’s where the two side-gunners were, so they had machine guns on both sides and that was open the whole flight.
“You could fall out of that plane quite easily if you weren’t steady on your feet,” he added, noting their flight lasted about 45 minutes.
It was in December, 1941 that Bruce Murray was assigned to 10 North Atlantic Squadron in Gander, Nfld., where he and a seven-man crew flew the B-24 Liberator—affectionately known as “Dumbo.”
The aircraft was a modified version of the American heavy bomber that was assigned to patrol the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Iceland to protect the convoys from U-boats.
Murray flew 97 sorties, with his longest flight being 16-and-a-half hours long.
“It sure was boring to look at the Atlantic Ocean for 16 hours,” he recalled, citing the monotony of the grey clouds and grey water.
“There was no change of scenery, except for seeing some different ships out there sometimes.”
On Sept. 19, 1943, Murray’s crew spotted a submarine on the surface about 450 miles southeast of Iceland.
His job was to arm the depth charges, as well as man a machine-gun.
Murray’s aircraft made its bombing run, taking heavy fire from the U-boat. But the Liberator made a successful attack, with U-341 sinking.
As a result of the mission, Murray and his pilot were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, but he was the only one to receive his decoration.
A few weeks later, his crew went on leave—deciding to fly to Quebec for some R&R. But Murray decided not to go.
The six other members took off but did not arrive.
Three years later, the wreckage of the B-24 was found near Saint-Donat.
Murray was put with another crew, which he flew with until 1944 when he was posted to Pat Bay, B.C., where he remained as an instructor for the rest of the war.
Though modest about his combat medal, Murray received plenty of attention in Superior last week.
“Americans really hold their veterans in high esteem,” David Murray noted, saying with a few hundred people there looking at the planes, his dad was thanked numerous times for his service.
“Complete strangers wanted their picture taken with him because he had flown in this plane all those years ago,” he said.
“I didn’t realize I was a celebrity,” Bruce Murray chuckled, adding people were just so overwhelmed and so appreciative.
The Collings Foundation calls this particular Liberator aircraft a product of a multi-million dollar restoration, which “stands testament to the strength of the 1940s’ engineering that built it and helped it survive through many years of hardship.”
“A living history museum seen at over 120 cities per year, the B-24 brings memories for the many who flew others like it during WWII,” the website notes.
“For a younger generation, it brings enlightenment—a glimpse of the conditions in which it served, and an appreciation for the freedom we all share because of its role in the Second World War,” it adds.
And that’s exactly what it did for the Murray family.