World War II veteran revisits his warbirds

San Angelo Standard-Times

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Ludwig Havlak’s mind was made up before stepping foot on the runway.

The first thing the 92-year-old World War II veteran intended to do upon laying eyes on the last B-24J heavy bomber still whizzing through 21st century skies was kiss the hulking Army-green aircraft. Havlak, a Rowena native, flew the first of his 43 Pacific Theater missions nearly 70 years ago when he manned two guns in a B-24’s bottom turret.

“You can’t tell me that anybody who goes down there isn’t scared, isn’t all shook up,” Havlak told the San Angelo Standard-Times ( “I looked down to see flashes and all that smoke around the ball turret — I was ready to go home.”

The Wings of Freedom Tour, sponsored by the Collings Foundation, flew into San Angelo last week with a convoy of World War II aircraft for the public to explore. Wings of Freedom tours 300 days a year and hits 110 cities, basically circumnavigating the United States, said Ryan Keough, sales manager with the tour’s flight experience program.

The airplanes represent the backbone of American air power during World War II, he said.

“Our mission is educating the next generations about these aircraft and what our veterans did during World War II,” Keough said. “It’s important to preserve these airplanes because without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

“Witchcraft” is the last B-24J flying in the world out of 18,000 built from 1940-45, Keough said.

Once Havlak kissed the bomber, he crouched under the plane, climbed inside and grabbed hold of a .50-caliber Browning machine gun. Not since 1945 had he squeezed through the tight quarters of a B-24.

Havlak’s son, Roger Havlak, said it was majestic to see his father scaling the same type of plane he spent more than 600 hours in during wartime. He too navigated the plane’s narrow corridor from the back end through its slim bomb bay, fortified with a labyrinth of wires, oxygen tanks and bombs.

“For the size of this plane, you see what little space all of those people had in there,” Roger Havlak said. “How did these people hang on, much less do their jobs?”

Each night mission Ludwig Havlak flew over the Philippines and New Guinea lasted about 12 hours and 2,000 miles, he said. He was given the option of leaving the Air Force after 35 missions but elected to make additional flights to aid the war effort.

“Thank goodness it worked out,” he said.

More in Local News

Suspect sought in two Everett bank robberies

He’s described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with dark hair and a goatee, and may have a neck tattoo.

Jogger unharmed after fending off attacker in Edmonds

Police released video of a man they believe to be the attacker.

Two missing men found, one alive and one dead

The man found alive was found in an apartment across the hallway and taken to a hospital.

Darrington School Board dealing with upheavals

The crux of the controversy seems to be the superintendent’s job.

Alaska Airlines has selected destinations for new service from Paine Field. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines will fly from Everett to 8 West Coast cities

Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.

Three teens arrested for Marysville school vandalism

Windows were broken and a trash bin was on fire Sunday night at a Marysville middle school.

Langley mayor threatens newspaper with lawsuit

The mayor threatened to sue the paper over claims he withheld public records disclosure information.

Divers called to recover body after train hits pedestrian

The accident was reported by a BNSF crew near Woods Creek in Monroe.

Katharine Graham, then CEO and chairwoman of the board of The Washington Post Co., looks over a copy of The Daily Herald with Larry Hanson, then The Herald’s publisher, during her visit to Everett on Sept. 20, 1984. The Washington Post Co. owned The Herald from 1978 until 2013. (Herald archives)
A local connection to history

Retired Herald publisher Larry Hanson remembers The Post’s Katharine Graham, who visited several times.

Most Read