A Rare Thrill
WWII Pilot Flies Last Remaining B-24
It’s been 65 years since Bob Bluford last took the controls of a bomber plane, but the decades haven’t dulled his pilot’s instincts.
While on route from Staunton to Chesterfield last month in the only remaining airworthy B-24, Bluford did not hesitate to accept an invitation to sit in the co-pilot’s seat.
And when the pilot of the craft handed him the controls, Bluford didn’t hold back either. The 91-year-old Presbyterian minister remained at the helm almost the entire flight before relinquishing the stick for a landing at Chesterfield County Airport.
Asked if his flight training came easily to mind after all those years, Bluford answered in the affirmative.
“But I didn’t try any funny stuff,” he said with a chuckle. “I just flew straight and level.”
After volunteering for the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942, Bluford served as a B-24 bomber pilot and squadron leader, flying 18 missions over the European Theater. While he was based in England, his brother Harry was a ground crew chief, working with P-38’s in Italy. The day after Bob Bluford’s flight, Harry – now 90 and a resident of The Masonic Home – enjoyed his own flight tour of Richmond.
Organized by The Collings Foundation, an educational non-profit that sponsors living history events, the flight provided five local vets in all with an airborne stroll down Memory Lane, just in time for Veteran’s Day. The Wings of Freedom Tour, which left Richmond Oct. 22 bound for North Carolina, is designed both to honor veterans and to educate visitors. Every year, an estimated three to four million people see the planes, which include a B-17 and a P-51 in addition to the B-24.
Since his World War II days, Reverend Robert Bluford, Jr. has leaned more towards shepherding church congregations than piloting planes.
Resuming his interrupted studies at Hampden-Sydney College, he graduated as valedictorian in 1947 and went on to the seminary. He later served as campus minister at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and had pastorates in North Carolina and South Carolina, then was active in the civil rights movement and war protests of the 1960s. In 1979, he co-founded the Fan Free Medical Clinic, and in 1989, he founded the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation in Hanover County.
Samuel Davies, the first non-Anglican minister licensed to preach in Virginia, pastored the Polegreen Church from 1747 to 1759. Among Davies’ regular listeners at Polegreen, considered the birthplace of religious freedom in Virginia, was young Patrick Henry – who later credited Davies with “teaching me what an orator should be.”
In addition to establishing Polegreen and overseeing its placement on the National Register of Historic Places, Bluford played a significant role in the preservation of Henrico County’s Laurel Historic District, which is also on the register. He is an author as well, having chronicled the Samuel Davies story and the history of Polegreen in the book, “Living on the Borders of Eternity.”
“He has a profound knowledge of history,” says long-time admirer Susan Nochta, who was among the friends celebrating his flight. “If you have any questions on history, Reverend will probably know the answer.”
On a historic tour with Bluford, she adds, he can talk about “every single building, how every brick was laid, who was who and who said what.” A former runner, Bluford always carries his running shoes in the car and is known for conducting impromptu, hands-on tours that involve anything from a trek through the woods to digging up dirt.
Last One Left
Nochta notes that Bluford is tireless as a guest preacher as well, and never misses an opportunity to speak on the topic of religious freedom and Polegreen.
“There’s not a church he hasn’t preached at,” says Nochta. “Bob is amazing. He reaches out, he never reaches in. He’s given us so much insight – as Christians, friends, family members, and loved ones.
“He’s definitely my hero,” adds Nochta, noting how gratified she was to see Bluford enjoy an opportunity like the B-24 flight.
After his flight, Bluford observed that the feat was even more remarkable considering that almost all of the B-24’s built -- except for a handful preserved in museums – were later “chopped up” for scrap.
“[That plane] was the only one of 18,000 made that is left in the world,” he said, “and still flies.”
What’s more, it appears, the rare bird could not have been in more capable hands.
When Bluford asked the pilot, “How much altitude did I gain or lose?” he was pleased to hear that he had kept the aircraft flying level and true.
“It was quite a thrill for me,” said Bluford. “I’m very grateful.”
The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.
Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.
Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.
At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.
Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.
The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.
Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.
CAT Theatre will hold auditions for Book of Days on Sunday, Oct. 26 and Monday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. each day. Auditions will be held at CAT Theatre, 319 North Wilkinson Road in Henrico. Book of Days will run Jan. 23-Feb. 7 and is one of CAT’s submissions to the Acts of Faith Festival.
Book of Days, by Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson is an exploration of faith, justice, and corruption, amidst the backdrop of murder – and community theatre – in small town America. Book of Days was first written for and produced by Jeff Daniels Purple Rose Theatre Company of Michigan.
Director Leslie Cline is seeking five females between the ages of 20-65 and seven males between the ages of 24-65. > Read more.
CAT Theatre’s 51st season will open with Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, which will run Oct. 24 through Nov. 8. The play is based on the original 1899 play by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and adapted by Steven Dietz, and was the winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Play.
The story follows Holmes, whose career as the world’s greatest detective seems to have reached its end until he is confronted with a case far too tempting to ignore. When the King of Bohemia faces blackmail by famed opera singer, Irene Adler, Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson find themselves falling into the trap of evil genius Professor Moriarty. > Read more.
Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.
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