A former B-17 Flying Fortress gunner has taken to the air again, this time flying with Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Flyaspitfire.com
On June 3, Flyaspitfire.com and the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar were honoured to welcome 98-year-old Staff Sgt Casimir ‘Casey’ Bukowski.
Casey’s war service started with machining P-40 parts. After enrolling in the USAAF he became a B-17 waist gunner, flying as part of the 531st Bomber Squadron, 381st Bomb Group from RAF Ridgewell in Essex.
On February 22, 1944, on his 16th mission (still aged just 19) and already with a confirmed Messerschmitt Bf 109 ‘kill’ to his name, technical problems with B-17 Friday the 13th delayed their departure. Unable to catch up, they joined the end of another stream. Being the ‘tail end Charlie’ they were especially vulnerable, and came under attack over Germany.
Rounds struck the oxygen tank causing an explosion and fire. Despite losing an eye, Casey managed to bail out, one of only four of the ten crew to do so. Once on the ground, his ordeal was far from over as he was quickly captured by civilians. He was only saved by the intervention of a woman with a broom who warded the angry crowd off, so that Casey could be handed over to the military. He was treated for his wounds and given a glass eye before interrogation and beginning life as a POW in Poland.
As the Russians advanced from the east, Casey spent 82 days on the road as part of the Long March during the brutal winter of early 1945. He was eventually liberated by General Patton’s 8th Army.
After a tour of the Heritage Hangar recently, Casey got airborne in a World War Two aircraft once again, this time taking to the air in Spitfire T.9 TE308. To mark this special occasion, he was joined in the skies by a second Spitfire, Mk.XVI RW382 (now resplendent in US markings), and Mustang G-CMDK for an unforgettable formation and flypast over historic Biggin Hill. With thanks to Ian Amis