WINGS OF FREEDOM
In Early April, the Collins Foundation, sponsored by KBIM Radio, brought a visual piece of history to Roswell in the form of two fully restored, back to flying condition, World War II bombers.
The B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator flew into Roswell and stayed three days so residents could personally see, inside and out, these large pieces of living history. These two bombers came to honor our veterans of all wars as part of the nation-wide Wings of Freedom Tour.
Both aircraft, restored to their World War II configurations, bristled with guns.
Following is the history the Collins Foundation provided on these planes:
The Boeing B-17G was built in Long Beach California by Douglas Aircraft under contract from Boeing, and accepted into service April 1945. Too late for combat service, this plane served as part of the Air/Sea First Rescue Squadron and later used in military transport service.
This craft was subjected to three different nuclear explosions in April 1952, and after a cool-down period of 13 years, was sold to a scrap pile.
Aircraft Specialties Company restored it. It served as a fire bomber for 20 years without major problems, dropping water and borate on forest fires. Collins Foundation bought it in 1986, and it was restored to its original wartime configuration by Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft. In 1987, while performing at an air-show in western Pennsylvania, a crosswind caught it after touchdown, it rolled off the runway and crashed into a fence that pushed in the nose, causing injuries but no fatalities.
Volunteers and donations in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania again restored it to flying condition. It has since made more than 1,800 tour stops.
This plane was also named the Nine-O-Nine in honor of the 91st Bomb Group 323 Squadron plane of that name that had completed 140 missions without loss of any crewmen. The original 9-0-9 was assigned to combat in late February 1944. By April 1945, it had made 18 trips to Berlin, dropped 526,000 pounds of bombs and flown 1,129 hours. It had many engine changes and suffered considerable flak damage. After hostilities ended, the 9-0-9 — with 600 patched holes — flew back to the United States and eventually became scrap metal along with thousands of other “proud aircraft.”
The Collins Foundation’s B-17 “9-0-9” flies proudly representing the 8th Air Force on Wings of Freedom Tour.
The Consolidated B-24J Liberator, or the “All-American/Dragon and His Tail,” was built nearly 60 years ago, August 1944, by Consolidated Aircraft Company in their plant at Fort Worth, Texas. It was delivered to the United States Army Air Force October 1944 and then transferred to the Royal Air Force. Flying under the British flag, this B-24 saw combat in the Pacific Theater in operations ranging from anti-shipping to bombing and resupply of resistance force operations.
At war’s end, the Royal Air Force abandoned the plane in a bomber graveyard in Khampur, India, assuming it would never fly again. In 1948, the Indian Air Force restored 36 B-24s, including this one, to operation status, and they used it until 1968. For the next 13 years, it sat abandoned in India until British aircraft collector Doug Arnold obtained it in 1981 and transported it back to England. There it was advertised for sale in “as in” condition, and Dr. Robert F. Collins purchased it. It was shipped over the ocean to Boston and brought to Stow, Massachusetts in four truck-loads. He originally planed for it to be a static display only, but local B-24 crewmen encouraged him to restore it to flying status, making it a five times greater project. He was convinced to do that when he was told that, as a static display, it would be seen by about 3,000 people a year; as many as three million would see it if flown on a nationwide tour.
Restoration began in 1985 aided by Massachusetts volunteers, mostly former B-24 crewmen or sons of crewmen. In Kissimmee, Florida Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft worked on the airframe and power-plant. Volunteers restored turrets armament, radios, oxygen systems and cosmetic details. General Dynamics, the successor to Consolidated Aircraft, was a major sponsor of the restoration.
This plane began to fly again in 1989.
This Collins B-24 was originally named the “All American” in honor of a 15th Air Force B-24 with the same name. That plane set a record when gunners shot down 14 enemy fighters in a single raid over Germany in July 1944. That plane was lost in October 1944 when it was shot down over Yugoslavia.
In 1998, the All American was renamed “Dragon and his Tail” to tribute veterans who served in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. The original Dragon flew with the 43rd Bomber Group 64th Bomber Squadron and was always the center of attention by Japanese fighter pilots. The original Dragon survived the war, flew home, was stored at Kingman, Arizona, eventually the last B-24 to be scrapped.
This plane now flies in tribute to those who built, flew and maintained the B-24 and to all other veterans of World War II. It remains the only flying example of the B-24 Liberator left in the world.
John and Betty King’s KBIM AM/FM Radio advertisement stated, “KBIM Radio invites you to show your support for all those who were stationed in Roswell, for all the civilians who were employed at the [Roswell Army Air Force] base, and to support our veterans and all those serving in the US Military throughout the world.”
THE BATTLES FOR BILLY’S BONES
The Lincoln County War has begun again, but this time it isn’t confined to Lincoln County.
Billy “the Kid” Bonney was controversial when he lived. Long after his death, he is still. People, especially in southeastern New Mexico, continue to take sides 125 years after the Lincoln County War. Some current area residents are descendents of those who took one side or the other in that war, others are descendents of its victims. Feelings still run deep.
Some call Billy a very bad boy and cold-blooded murderer who, if he had not been shot by Garrett, should have been hung. Others think he was a hero or, at least, betrayed by a friend — Patrick Garrett — who shot and killed him while he was unwary and unarmed in Fort Sumner. They think he was also betrayed by New Mexico Territory’s governor Lew Wallace who promised him a pardon for services rendered, but then never gave it to him, and they think most historians misunderstood the Kid.
His origins have always been a mystery, only guessed at, and published historians don’t know the source, they have no clue of the origin, of the “Bonney” name he adopted late in his short life. He had begun life as Henry McCarty, and after his mother married, he changed his name to William H. Antrim to match his new step-father’s. It was only after he lived in New Mexico that he began to claim his last name was Bonney, baffling most historians as to its origin.
Now, beginning in 2003 and carried forward into 2004, sheriffs and residents of several New Mexico counties — Lincoln, De Baca and Dona Ana — battle over Billy’s bones. They, their attorneys, the New Mexico governor and the State office of the Medical Examiner, want to dig him up. They and others also battle over the bones of his mama, Catherine Antrim, who died of “consumption” in Silver City when he was a younger kid, before he began his life of notoriety.
On the other side, various people and dignitaries, including the mayors of Fort Sumner and Silver City and their city councils, say the remains of the Kid and his mama will be exhumed over their dead bodies … more or less.
One of the problems with Billy is that he refuses to die — not only his legend but, according to some diehards (pun intended), the Kid himself.
Most serious historians have no doubt that the young man known to history as William H. Bonney, alias “The Kid,” was killed the night of July 14, 1881 in Pete Maxwell’s adobe bedroom at Fort Sumner. And they doubt not that Sheriff Patrick Garrett killed him, an unarmed young man, there and then.
However, a few have created a controversy by claims that Billy survived, or was not even involved in, that “one-armed” conflict in Ft. Sumner, and he lived many more years. One of those controversies is the Brushy Bill Roberts version that says he lived to be a very old man in Hico, Texas, and futilely asked the then-New Mexico governor to pardon him not long before he died of natural causes in 1950. However, the birth date recorded in the family Bible of Oliver “Brushy Bill” Roberts, as well as a 1930 census, indicates he was only two years old when “The Kid” was allegedly shot in Ft. Sumner. The history of the other primary claimant, John Miller from Arizona, is even less convincing than Brushy’s. Over past years, there had been perhaps a couple dozen Billy claimants, but it is Texas and Arizona, on behalf of Roberts and Miller, who are the loudest in claims that Billy is buried on their turf and not New Mexico’s.
If Billy was such a bad boy, why do so many want to claim him?
Some New Mexicans, including the current governor and other dignitaries and non-dignitaries, think it is now imperative to prove certain bones in Fort Sumner are Billy’s and certain ones in Silver City are his mama’s, that he’s not buried elsewhere, including in Texas or Arizona. Why does New Mexico have to prove anything? It has documented history on its side. Besides, it seems unlikely the exhumations, if they ever do come to pass, will prove a thing. The exhumations are more likely to have negative results, doing more harm than help to New Mexico’s claim of possessing Billy’s bones.
But why his mama’s bones, you may ask? Without having any known Billy-DNA available for comparison to dug-up bones that might and might not be Billy’s, they think his mother’s DNA would identify his. You see, mitochondrial DNA is passed down from the mother to her offspring and descendants.
However, the actual locations of the two sets of remains being considered for disinterment are uncertain. Each has been moved at least once, Billy’s bones might be mixed with that of his two pals (O’Folliard and Bowdre) if they are in the designated plot at all. Besides, 123 and more years ago, exact burial places weren’t well documented and early markers were not durable. To add further doubt upon the process, there may be little remains left of whatever they find to accurately identify them by DNA, which is the purported reason for the exhumations.
New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson wants the State Police forensic team to do the exhumations and the murder case to be reopened. The crux of this case is: did William H. Bonney, or did he not, willfully kill Lincoln County deputies J.W. Bell and Bob Ollinger in 1880?
Richardson wants a defense counsel assigned to Billy and a prosecutor assigned to represent “the people,” a.k.a. the State of New Mexico. And the governor wants evidence presented at legal hearings in all the places where Billy once hung out, including Lincoln, Silver City, Old Mesilla and Ft. Sumner. A defense attorney, Bill Robins, working pro-bono (without pay), offered to represent this deceased defendant, and a prosecutor offered to represent the State in this so-called criminal matter. One of several things that makes this case distinctly odd is, there’s never before been a trial of a deceased person. Who can they punish if homicide is ultimately proved? The suspect, a.k.a. the defendant, cannot be sentenced to hang in the public square, or to serve the rest of his life in the state pen since he’s been dead for 123 years.
There is another proposed criminal trial, this time with Sheriff Patrick Garrett as the defendant. Did he knowingly kill a different man, a wanderer in lieu of Billy, to enable his Kid pal to escape? If so, that would make the sheriff guilty of heinous murder, as well as a colossal cover-up, which in contemporary New Mexico courts is called “tampering with evidence,” another very serious crime. Proponents of the theory that Billy did not die that night in Fort Sumner, and that the sheriff was involved in a cover-up, cite the claim by Apolinaria Gutierrez Garrett, the sheriff’s widow. They say Mrs. Garrett claimed that her husband was involved in just such a shooting and cover-up. But did the widow really say that? If she did, was she aware that made her husband guilty of an even more serious crime? Wives cannot legally testify against their husbands; it would be especially difficult to get her sworn testimony since she died in 1936. That claim, which is only hearsay, that she casually made such a statement to someone decades ago, is the only real evidence against Garrett of a cover-up. Further, hearsay is not acceptable in court. Dead women tell no tales.
Regardless the reasons for the current movements towards and against exhumation and legal processes — be they political, or to generate tourism, or to learn the truth for history’s sake, or to satisfy curiosity, or just to keep the Kid’s legend (if not his ghost) alive in all of his various old haunts — a New Mexico State Police investigation of the 1880 murders of Bell and Olinger in Lincoln, allegedly by Bonney, has been reopened.
Lincoln County’s current sheriff, Tom Sullivan, and the mayor of the nearby village of Capitan, Steve Sederwall, led the charge. Then sheriff of Dona Ana county and Sheriff Gary Graves of De Baca County got into the act, Governor Bill Richardson added his support, and the project has picked up momentum and world-wide interest.