Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

USO-style fundraiser planned to raise money for historical display at airport

BROOKSVILLE — When Jack Waldron and Lucy Basta learned that officials at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport were working on enhancements to their office, including a large-scale model of a B-17 bomber and historical displays, they wanted to help.

For Waldron, it was a personal cause.

His stepfather, Gerald Raymond Waldron, was shot down in a B-17 in Europe in 1944, when Jack was just 7. One of just three survivors of the crash, the elder Waldron spent 15 months as a prisoner of war during World War II. After his stepfather died, Waldron was going through his things, including a diary he kept that recounted his military experiences.

That was when Waldron learned that his stepfather had received his B-17 training in Florida, possibly even in Hernando County. He said he didn't know that when he chose to retire to the area from Indiana 15 years ago.

The Hernando airport originally was a military airfield, and the 9th Bombardment Group used it for training for both the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator.

Wanting to honor those who served their country, Waldron, who himself is a retired Air Force sergeant, and Basta decided that they would organize a fundraiser to buy display cabinets so people can share with the community the history of the airport and the people who trained there.

They are seeking volunteer music, dance and comedy acts, directors and sponsors for a USO-style variety show that is slated for 7 p.m. Nov. 11, Veterans Day, at the Brooksville Elks Lodge. They are calling the event the B-17 Project "Stand Tall Together.''

Waldron and Basta have organized, directed and managed similar volunteer productions before, and they hope to get a good response from volunteers who want to help and community members who want to support the cause.

"We're hoping to fill the place,'' Basta said, noting that the lodge seats 700. "This is an opportunity to recognize veterans at this show and give them a good and enjoyable revue.''

They decided to focus on fundraising for the display cases because they believe people have memorabilia they would be interested in sharing.

"I think when you get older, you realize that if you're going to perpetuate this type of history, you can't keep it in a box in the closet,'' Basta said. "The best way is to share it with others.''

And, the local business community already is working to raise the estimated $33,000 needed for the B-17 model that the airport staff and the Aviation Authority board hope to hang from the ceiling of the airport office.

Aviation Authority member Dennis Wilfong said about $9,000 has been raised so far, including $5,000 from John Petrick of American Aviation, the airport's longtime fixed-base operator. Fundraising continues both for that and another project Wilfong is heading up.

He has located an actual B-17 plane in Arizona and has found experts to disassemble it there and reassemble it for display at the Hernando airport office. Wilfong said he must raise money to get it from Arizona to Brooksville, which could be just as expensive as the model, and also obtain federal clearance for the move.

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