STANWOOD — Dick Nelms flew over Europe. Buck Weaver flew over islands in the South Pacific.
Nelms piloted a B-17, called the Flying Fortress. Weaver piloted a P-39 Airacobra.
“He was in Europe, where they used a lot of bombers, and I was in New Guinea, where they used a lot of fighters,” Weaver said, just before lunch Thursday. “So I was lucky.”
“We could have used more fighters, more escorts,” Nelms agreed.
With an American flag behind them, the veterans drank lemonade together at a shiny, octagonal wooden table in the Stanwood Eagles Hall. The white-haired men wore caps and jackets, and leaned toward each other to talk, often grinning as they swapped stories.
They served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Now, Weaver lives in Edmonds and Nelms on Mercer Island.
They’d never met before Thursday.
Within minutes of first shaking hands, they were comparing notes on the planes they’d flown and the terrible food they’d eaten during the war.
“Breakfast over there, we’d get powdered eggs. Remember the powdered eggs?” Nelms asked. “They’d be kind of green.”
Weaver nodded. “The food was really lousy.”
He lost a lot of weight while serving overseas, he said, but has a good appetite now. He turned 100 in August.
“You’re 100? Wow,” said Nelms, 95. “I sure hope I make it that far.”
The two took part in a gathering of former military pilots, many of whom meet regularly for a meal and fellowship. On Thursday, about 20 attended. Veterans from more recent conflicts wanted to shake hands with Weaver and Nelms.
“They’re our heroes, really,” said Bob Blank, a former Navy pilot who started the get-togethers in 2016.
Nelms flew 35 missions over the course of about four months. That was a mission every two or three days, he said. He started as a co-pilot on the B-17, then became a pilot.
Weaver flew 137 missions. He told people during the war that he was 5-foot-7, but now admits he was never that tall.
“Thank heavens I had a parachute to make me look taller,” Weaver said. “But in combat, you’re sure glad you’re small.”
He loved flying the P-39, though many of his fellow servicemen hated it.
“It was the prettiest airplane, and the easiest to fly,” he said. “You could fly it with one finger. Of course, your feet had to work a little.”
“Boy, that wasn’t the B-17,” Nelms said. “You had to horse it around a little bit.”
But the bomber was steady, even at high altitudes.
Nelms recalled how enemy planes would come at the B-17 head-on.
“I don’t know why they did that,” he said.
He had to be ready to grab the wheel tightly when the bombs dropped, to make sure the bomber stayed steady with so much weight lost at once.
Weaver said the P-39 was fast and could go into a rapid dive without falling to pieces. It was not, however, suited for high altitudes.
“You get a P-39 up that high, you had nothing,” he said.
Charlie Sylling, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1971 to 1995, sat down next to Weaver to ask questions. Sylling once commanded a fighter squadron in Okinawa that traced its roots to the P-39s at Guadalcanal, he said.
The Camano Island man has been coming to the pilots group in Stanwood for about six months. Meeting the WWII veterans was a pleasure.
“Anytime you can talk to those fellas, it’s fascinating to hear them describe the conditions they lived in and the sacrifices they made during the war,” he said.
After the war, Nelms and Weaver both went to school on the GI Bill. Weaver became a dentist, Nelms a commercial artist.
Both men lost their wives in the last few years. Weaver has four children. Nelms’ son lives 150 feet away from him.
Nelms is a volunteer storyteller at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and on Saturdays he stands near the B-17 there to greet people. He’s talked to visitors from Germany. He’s never sure how those conversations will go, he said.
“My missions were commercial and industrial. Anything that would help Hitler with the war effort, we bombed. I didn’t bomb the cities,” he said. “I’ll tell them, you know, we had to stop him.”
Many have thanked him.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.