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A return to the skies - WWII veteran gets opportunity to fly B-24 once again
    Some of Statesboro’s more “seasoned” citizens may remember back in the early 1940’s when a man named R. D. Bowen would “buzz” Statesboro during his basic training in the Air Force.
    Bowen, stationed in Augusta at the time, had a girlfriend living in Statesboro, a young lady he said worked at a dry cleaners located on East Main Street. He claimed he could recognize her walking down the street, and knew his friends got a kick out of his “buzzing” the town as he flew over.
    Bowen loved flying B-24s during World War II, and after all those years between then and now, he found a chance to fly one again last December.
    But he didn’t buzz any towns then.
    Bowen, known in the military by his first name, Rowe, served in 1943-45 in the Eighth Air Force 2nd Air Division’s B-24 outfit, and after basic training, was stationed in Tibenham, England.
    He flew more than 30 combat missions and was awarded several honors for his bravery and dedication during his tour. His outfit differed from the other divisions in that they flew B-17s.
    So, last winter, when he got the chance to not only ride in the country’s only operable B-24, but actually fly it, he jumped at the chance.
    Did it bring back memories? “Oh, yes, it did,” he said.
    Bowen, who lives in Valdosta, encountered folks from Vintage Aircraft, based in Stockton, CA., a company that travels to different towns, offering people a chance to ride in a historical airplane.
    “They fly to different towns, stay two or three days, and people come to look and ride,” he said. “They make about 120 stops a year.”
    The rides were rather expensive, the 90-year-old said. But luck was in his pocket, because during a conversation about the Collings B-24, the pilot, Taigh Ramey, discovered Bowen was an old B-24 pilot himself.
    “He said since I was an old B-24 combat man,  I could ride in it and fly it,” Bowen said. “It was Dec. 2, and he was flying from Moultrie to St. Augustine, Florida.”
    The friend who tipped Ramey off about Bowen’s history as a B-24 combat pilot agreed to drive Bowen’s car to Florida to pick him up after the flight, and Bowen stepped into the cockpit of a B-24 once again after over 60 years.
    “I didn’t take off or land, but the pilot said ‘get up in the front seat and fly a while,’” he recalled. “It was kind of cramped for an old man — I was 89 — but I got in and got adjusted.”
    It was a sweet experience.
    “Here I was, back here again,” he said. “It brought back a lot of memories. That airplane is still hard to fly.”
    After the trip, Ramey sent Bowen a letter and a photograph of Bowen in the pilot’s seat.
    “It was a real honor to fly with you last year,” he wrote. “You sure can fly a B-24, a lot better than I can!  ... I would like  to thank you for the wonderful experience of flying next to you in the Collings B-24. I would also like to thank you for what you did for our country. If it wasn’t for you and your generation, we would probably be speaking German or Japanese right now.”
    Bowen celebrated his 90th birthday Saturday in Valdosta. His brother, Register resident  Neal Bowen, had a surprise for him.
    “We fixed this up for him and are going to frame it,” he said, showing a copy of Ramey’s letter on card stock, along with a color copy of the photograph if R.D. Bowen flying the B-24, reliving  a special and important part of his past.

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