My father flew 36 missions over Europe during World War II before he was 20 years old. He lived for 81 years, yet rarely talked about his service as a U.S. bombardier.

I learned everything I know about the war studying books, documentaries, music, and movies. But one thing I did know was that my dad flew two different types of planes—a B-45 and a B-17 Flying Fortress.

The closest I’d ever gotten to the latter was when I saw “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby,” a permanently grounded B-17 belonging to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. But last month, an airworthy B-17 (one of only nine left in the U.S.) was taking off less than 20 miles away from where I lived. I sped over there and got a seat.

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