World War II heroes honored at Oakland International Airport

Virginia Basler joined her friend and fellow Rosie the Riveter, Florence McCarty, for a reunion - celebrating those who served in World War II.

"I am 97 - I'll be 98 next month," she said.

But she was straight out of Northville High School when she got a job building the B-24 Liberator at Willow Run.

"I worked in the bomber plant in Ypsilanti and I was a hydraulic assembler," Basler said. "I got paid a dollar an hour.

"I worked there for a while and then I joined the Navy. Those planes sure flew good after we got through with them."

Florence was one of the veterans honored Thursday at Oakland International Airport. The planes, the people, and the history were all there in the same place.

George Leland is 96 and was a B-24 Liberator nose gunner with the Army Air Corp - from 1943 to 1945.

"I fired a .250-caliber machine gun in a small turret," he said.

Leland has photos of him on top of that small turret back around 1944.

"I don't think I'd fit in a turret too good today," he quipped.

Today was a day to gather together - and to remember.

"You become closer than brothers - you know there's ten guys on a plane and each one relies on the other one and you become very close," he said. "There are good memories and there's bad memories. Now they're all gone, I'm the only one left.

"It wasn't a picnic - let's face it- the Germans knew how to fly, they were good."

But George remembers being cheered on by the notes left onboard the new B-24's by the Rosies working at Willow Run.

"Everywhere you looked in there there was a note from them," he said. "They were all good - even some had a little profanity in them.

"Nasty words about Hitler - you know."

A chuckle from George as he looks back.

"Alotta memories - a lot of exciting times."

And as he looks out at a B-24 bomber - the American Rosie the Riveter Association and the commemorative Air Force honoring the women who built her - the men who flew her - and the Tuskegee fighters who escorted her. The brave Black pilots went unrecognized for far too long.

"If it hadn't been for the Tuskegee Airmen, we'd be speaking German today - we'd have lost the war," Bill Wellborne said.

Wellborne, 88, served in Korea and Vietnam. He's pleased to see the men and women of the greatest generation honored in this way.

"A lot of these guys here - they came before me - they paved the way for me - white or Black, I don't care who they are," said Wellborne.

He also knows the few who are left have amazing stories to tell - and we don't have much time left - to hear them.

"If young people would just sit down and listen to these people - they'd learn a lot," he said.