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WWII vet to get first flight on a B-29 in 74 years

B-29 in flight (US Air Force/WikiCommons)

It has been 74 years since Jim Marshall rode in a B-29 Superfortress bomber, but the 96-year-old veteran of a World War II bomber crew will get to do that again Friday.

Marshall, who lives just north of Topeka, expressed excitement Thursday that members of his family had bought him a birthday gift of a 30-minute ride early Friday evening out of Manhattan Regional Airport in “Doc,” a restored B-29.

Doc, which has nose art featuring the character Doc from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” will then do a flyover before Saturday’s football game at Manhattan between Kansas State and Nicholls State universities.

Marshall, who grew up near Emporia at Reading, said Thursday that he was a radio operator in a B-29 during World War II.

Marshall said he became familiar with the B-29 while working at the Boeing plant in Wichita before being drafted in 1943 into the U.S. Army, where he became a radio operator.

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When Army officials asked Marshall what type of airplane he would like to serve on, he replied “the B-29.”

Unknown to Marshall, the B-29’s existence was still being kept secret at that time, he recalled.

“They hustled me into a room like I was a Nazi spy and said, ‘How did you know about the B-29?’ ” he said.

Officials calmed down after Marshall told them about his work at the Wichita Boeing plant.

Marshall said he took part in 32 bombing missions in a B-29 that was based at Saipan in the Mariana Islands.

A 2006 Topeka Capital-Journal article indicated Marshall served on “Honey,” a bomber adorned by the racy silhouette of a woman.

Marshall kept a diary during the war and still has it today, he said Thursday.

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After the war, Marshall served nearly 35 years as the state’s director of special education, retiring in 1990.

His wife, Virginia Marshall, died at age 85 in 2014 after more than 62 years of marriage, according to her obituary.

Jim Marshall’s 96th birthday was Sunday, Aug. 25.

He said Friday’s flight comes as a birthday gift from the families of his four children: Marc Marshall, of Oak Grove, Mo.; Susan Newman, of Derby; Keith Marshall, of rural Topeka; and Laurie Heng, of Wichita.

Jim Marshall said he was inside Doc a few years ago during a visit to Wichita and provided input to the people restoring the plane.

The website promoting Doc, one of 1,644 B-29 Superfortresses made in Wichita during World War II, said Tony Mazzolini found it in 1987 sitting in California’s Mojave Desert, where Doc and other B-29s had been bombing targets since 1956 for the U.S. Navy.

Mazzolini and his team towed Doc out of the desert in 1998 and returned it in sections on flatbed trailers in 2000 to Wichita, where they began restoring it a few hundred feet from where it had rolled off the assembly line in 1945, the website said.

It indicated the long, arduous task of restoring Doc resulted in the plane flying again beginning July 17, 2017.

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© 2019 The Topeka Capital-Journal