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WW II Nurse, 100, Flies on the B-17

Steve Burger

Having served at an air base that trained bomber pilots and mechanics, Mildred Bruner finally got to fly on one.

It started with a phone call to Mildred’s daughter-in-law, LeeAnne Bruner, from a representative of the Honor Flight of Southern Indiana group, which had hosted Mildred and LeeAnne on a trip to Washington, D.C. in 2015. An Honor Flight donor wanted to pay for two World War Two veterans to ride on the B-17 during the Evansville event.

LeeAnne Bruner said, “When we told her about it, she says, ‘Yeah, I think I’d like to do that.’ She’s totally blind, but she still gets a lot out of what she’s doing and she has been talking about this all week. And decided she wanted to go, so we’re glad we can get her here.”

"Here" is the Evansville Wartime Museum at Regional Airport.

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM
Mildred listens to the safety briefing at the Wartime Museum before her flight.

Following a safety briefing, the eight passengers, including Mildred and fellow World War Two veteran Tony Neumann, posed for a picture with the B-17’s crew and it was time to board the aircraft.

However, there are no modern jetways or wheelchairs, even for hundred year old veterans.

Mildred was going to have a climb a step ladder to get into the small crew hatch at the rear of the B-17. With a little help from her son Philip, she made it look easy.

During an interview earlier in the week, I asked Mildred to talk about what it was like to be a nurse at an Army airfield hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi during World War Two.

Mildred Bruner said, “Course I remember we had to have coupons to get shoes.  And I was lucky enough to be a nurse, because I got more shoes than other people did. I wore out more shoes walking, I guess. Everything was rationed, and most everybody talked about what was going on in Europe or the South Pacific. So, that was the main topic of conservation, what wemt on on the battlefields that they knew or what was allowed to be told. “

Burger: “Is that how any conversation you had with someone started?”

Credit Honor Flight of Southern Indiana

She said, “Well, pretty much, because I think most everybody had somebody that was in service, a loved one that they were concerned about and what they were doing. I was concerned because my husband was also in the Air Force.”

Burger: “Your sisters’ husbands were also in the service?”

“I have three sisters and they (their husbands) were all in service. One was in Alaska, two of my brother-in-laws were in the South Pacific, and then my Paul was in North Africa.”

Burger: “That was probably scary during that time then.”

She said, “Well yes,  we had to be concerned about, particularly my one brother-in-law in the South Pacific, and that was not too….The ship he was on took him to Hawaii for an R&R, rest and recreation. And, after it left Hawaii, it was sunk.  I don’t remember the name of that ship, but it was good think he wasn’t on it. He was safe and sound in Hawaii at that time.”

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM

During the 2015 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Mildred visited the World War Two Memorial on the National Mall. For someone without sight, who experiences her world through sound and touch, I wanted to know what she was thinking when she visited the memorial to the men and women of her generation.

Burger: “Was there a memory that went through your mind when you touched that memorial?”

“Well, I actually didn’t think of the war, to tell the truth. I just thought about what that memorial meant to me.”

Burger: “What did it mean to you?”

“Well, that there were a lot of lives lost before that memorial went up. And a lot of lives were changed because of injuries. And I want to tell you when I took care of some of those boys that were brought back from overseas, it was sad the kind of things that they had already gone through and were glad to be back home.”

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM
Mildred Bruner, at a photo op for the passengers on the B-17 flight.

After an early start, sitting through a safety briefing, walking about a hundred yards, climbing onto the B-17, then sitting in a cramped crew seat for almost an hour, you might imagine that the centenarian would be a little stiff with the awkward deplaning procedure. Mildred...made it look easy.

After climbing back down the stepladder, she exclaimed, “That was quite a ride!”

Mildred walked over to the museum, where dozens of people there in line for the B-17 tours found out why this elderly woman was on the flight.

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN-FM
Mildred walked with Commemorative Air Force member Michael Hart back to the hangar after her flight.

As a Commemorative Air Force spokeswoman told the crowd about Mildred's service, they broke out in cheers and clapping.

A few minutes later, inside the museum, with her son Philip at her side, I asked Mildred about the experience.

Mildred said, “I was surprised that it was so smooth. It was very nice. Very windy. It was quite windy.”

Burger: “And then, when you got back here, the people were clapping for you.”

Mildred chuckled and said, “Oh, I didn’t know they were clapping for me.”

Philip gently called her out on her modesty. “There was a hundred people there at the door, mom.”

Mildred just smiled.

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