World War II veteran takes flight into the past on B-17
A 90-year-old gets a chance to fly in a B-17 bomber for the first time since he was shot down during World War II.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tickets for B-17 rides:
The last time Al Soo had flown in a Boeing B-17 bomber, the Germans shot it down. Soo was unconscious, but the parachute he'd learned to tether to his ankle just that morning during World War II somehow opened and set him down in a German field. Out of a crew of nine, Soo and four others survived to become prisoners of war.
So it surprised his daughter, Cynthia Lew, of Bellevue, that he was thrilled to be invited to fly in a B-17 again.
"He's never been a very emotionally expressive man," said Cynthia, 54. "But when I told him about this, he just lit up."
Monday afternoon, Soo's 90th birthday, his daughter and her family took him to the Museum of Flight in Seattle for his first B-17 flight since that terrible November day in 1944.
The Experimental Aircraft Association, which organizes flights of restored B-17s, visits Seattle annually for Memorial Day weekend. Commercial tickets, available to the public are pricey at $475, but Soo was invited to fly for free.
Soo, from California, chatted with fellow veterans as they waited for the silver, four-propeller bomber.
"We were fortunate to come out of those situations the way we did," Soo said.
Cynthia and her husband, Tim Lew, are extremely interested in collecting the fragments of Soo's experiences at war, but they still don't have the whole story.
"We learn bits and pieces in conversations after dinner," said Tim.
Cynthia didn't even know her father's plane had been hit by the Germans until she was 19. Even then, she found out only because her mother heard the story at Soo's first 388th Bomber Group reunion.
There are still mysteries to draw out, including Soo's leg injury from the crash. The family knows only that metal flak lodged in his legs still causes his wounds to bleed.
That old injury didn't keep Soo from giddily stepping up into the B-17 in jeans, a blue rain jacket and a white 388th Bomber Group cap. His first grandson came, too. The plane took off while the rest of the Lew family waited.
"I don't remember everything being so narrow and steep," Soo remarked as he inched past the bomb compartment and crawled into a turret like the one he occupied during 2 ½ missions as a navigator. He could still tell other passengers the easiest way to get into the turret.
"Crawl in backwards!" Soo yelled over the loud propellers. Once inside the turret, he sat between two machine guns while taking in panoramic views of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound and Lake Washington.
Soo's grandson, Nathan, said it was fun to learn more about his grandfather's war experiences; it's still somewhat of a mystery how they affected him emotionally. Nathan learned only five years ago that Soo has had nightmares for decades.
"It's hard to comprehend: At 19 or 20, this is the kind of stuff he was doing," said Nathan, who works at an Issaquah-based Internet-advertising firm.
"I'm 30, and I'm still wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirts. We're a spoiled generation that's really lucky to be living off of what his generation gave us."
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published May 21, 2012, was corrected May 22, 2012. A previous version of this story might have implied that most veterans could get free rides, which is not the case. Also, five people survived when Germans shot down Soo's bomber during World War II. The original story said four people survived.