The flight of a lifetime

 Messenger photo by Andrew Sharp
 Jack Buck and his wife, Joyce, share a laugh after his ride on the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The World War II aircraft was on display and giving rides at Bolton Field. Buck is a retired pilot who couldn’t wait to take a spin. 

When Jack Buck woke up to the words "Merry Christmas" last week, he was understandably confused. His wife Joyce doesn’t usually greet him that way in August.  

"My first response was, ‘how long have I been sleeping?’" he said. "I thought maybe it was a Rip Van Winkle deal."

Buck is a retired pilot who lives with Joyce, his wife of 52 years, in Grove City. Of course, he hadn’t overslept by several months to wake up in December, but his wife wasn’t playing a prank on him either. When she saw an ad for a plane ride in a restored World War II bomber, she knew it would be the perfect gift for her husband, who has always loved flying and comes from a family with a lot of military service.

The bomber, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator nicknamed "Witchcraft," was one of the aircraft on display in the Wings of Freedom tour, put on by the Collings Foundation.

According to the Collings Foundation, "Witchcraft" is the only fully restored and flying Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the world. The foundation, a non-profit organization, takes various restored aircraft on tour to honor veterans and educate people about American history.  

The tour came to Bolton Field airport Aug. 13-15.

Joyce saw their ad in the paper, and said "As soon as I looked at it I thought, ‘Oh, he would love that.’"

Buck said he has always been fascinated with flight. He didn’t get his start as a pilot, however, until after college. In high school, at Central High near downtown Columbus, he was an all-around athlete and played on the same football team as future Ohio State legend Howard "Hopalong" Cassady. At Ohio State in the mid 50s, Buck was a walk-on for the football team and played for Woody Hayes. After college, he served in the Navy for several years.  

In 1968, he finally got the chance to try flying planes.

"The firm I was working for at the time needed somebody to deliver bids and things overnight," Buck said. "They paid for my flight training."   

Flying was good for him, Joyce said, because he loved it and when he flew he would forget about everything and relax. His approach to flying was different than some in his family. Joyce’s brother Barney was a gunner on a bomber during World War II and when he came home, she said, he used to fly his private plane under the bridges on the Scioto River for fun.

"He got arrested all the time," Joyce said.  

Jack, she said, was more responsible, and besides "he knew I would kill him if he ever did that."

For Buck, the chance to fly on a vintage bomber like the one Barney served on was a dream come true, and tears came to his eyes as he looked at the big plane and spoke of his late brother-in-law’s service and his upcoming ride.

A small crowd of onlookers gathered outside the runway as the bomber fired up its four propellers and slowly taxied into position for the takeoff, with Buck and other passengers aboard. Once ready, the 35,000 pound aircraft slowly gathered speed and laboriously pushed away from the ground.  

The plane flew around the Grove City area for half an hour, as the passengers walked around the plane and checked out the view.  

"Got a peep out of the tail gunner’s hole," Buck said.  

The ride, he said, was fantastic, and he got a lot of pictures.

"A great ride and a great experience."     

Joyce was happy to pay whatever it took to get him his early Christmas present.  

"He’s been a good husband, a good father, and a fantastic grandfather," she said. "And he’s my best friend."

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