Restored B29 brings back memories for Mocksville WWII vet

Published 12:31 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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By Mark Hager

President, Forks of the

Yadkin and Davie

County History Museum

World War II veteran Leo Sheek Bowden Jr. was given a special tour of a B29 Superfortress Bomber.

The bomber is called Doc. A recent restoration had been completed and tour of America became the result.

More than 4000, B29 bombers were made during WWII. They were built in four factories before delivery to the main Boeing factory in Wichita, Kan.

Doc was part of a group referred to as the Snow-White Squadron. All of the Seven Dwarfs and the Wicked Witch were present and accounted for at the end of WWII.

Doc, however, did not see much action; and instead was used for training purposes. Years later it was destined to become target practice for the US Navy.

Somehow it managed to survive.

In 2000, Doc was rediscovered and through the help of the National Aviation Museum and a non-profit organization called, “Doc’s Friends.” It was restored to flight status. Hundreds of people volunteered to help put Doc back in the air. It took 16 years to restore DOC back to flying condition.

It is one of two remaining fully restored B29 bombers.

After WWII, the famed Superfortress continued protecting America during the Korean War and into the 1960s, before eventually being phased out and replaced by the B 52 Stratofortress.

On Tuesday April 30, Statesville Airport Director John Ferguson contacted this writer.

Ferguson wanted Sheek Bowden to tour Doc and meet the crew of the restored Superfortress.

Bowden was a crew member of another B29 named Big Boots and flew in 18 missions during World War II. His squadron was part of the 504th Bombing Group based in the Pacific Theater of action on Tinian Island.

His main job was the Central Fire Control Gunner. Big Boots was piloted by Capt. Arthur Tomes.

Bowden told Ferguson and the crew of Doc: “I was in the air returning from a mission when we heard the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima.”

Bowden went on to inform “Doc’s” crew that the plane that dropped the atomic bomb, The Enola Gay, had another Davie County native on that crew – Thomas Ferebee – the bombardier.

Bowden visited Doc with his granddaughter, Alyse Wooldridge and two great-grandchildren Capron Wooldridge and Aidan Svewczyk, as well as,Hager.

Hager told Doc’s crew that it is a distinct honor to be with Bowden and even accompany him and his family as they toured the inside of the bomber. Upon walking around the bomber Bowden enjoyed seeing his great-grandchildren waving to him from a spot near his duty station as gunner 79 years ago.

His granddaughter, who works for the Davie County SchoolSystem, was moved by the experience.

“This event will be forever remembered by my child and nephew. I could tell that he was having the time of his life.”

Hager’s favorite memory of the event was watching as Bowden stopped and saluted his grandchildren as they waved to him from inside a place that Bowden knew all too well.

Bowden said that some of his missions had a 19-hour flight time. But that, “We had to do what we could to end that war.”

A remarkable history for Davie County, which has had many notable veterans with distinctive service records.

Bowden’s great-grandson smiled at Hager after hearing this and said, “We can hold our own here in Davie.”

Doc had other missions to attend. The B29 was headed to Virginia on May 1. And then, continue across America through Memorial Day. The Superfortress is a traveling museum.

It reminds us of the courage and sacrifice that many have made to keep our nation free.