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'Flying Fortress' becomes educational time machine for vets

WAUKESHA -- At 93-years-old, World War II veteran Bill Bergner can't move around quite like he did.

\"We used to scramble around like a bunch of monkeys,\" Bergner said of his Air Force days Friday.

At 23-years-old, the B-17 \"Flying Fortress\" was his jungle gym.  Bergner ran radar in the radio room on bombing missions over Europe, cramped inside sometimes ten hours at a time.

\"It looks big from the outside, but when you get inside you realize how small it actually is,\" Bergner said.

Bergner and his son-in-law came to Waukesha Friday hoping to fly aboard the bomber again.  For the veteran, the flight is a great chance to teach young people about a history that's fading.

\"You probably don't know diddly squat about what we did,\" Bergner said with a smile.  \"We would have to talk to you for hours at a time to explain everything.\"

But the B-17 never got off the ground Friday.  Heat and humidity caused problems for one engine and the starter failed on a second.

\"I won't fly it if it's not right,\" Operations Chief George Daubner said.

Daubner's crew started working on the engines immediately, making sure the plane can take off for this weekend's shows.  But he was disappointed he couldn't take Bergner up.

\"That man is an American hero,\" Daubner said.  \"You want to put a label on him?  USA hero.  That's what he is.\"

For Bergner and his son-in-law, it was an unfortunate end to their day, but the veteran hopes there will be more chances to teach.

\"I'm as disappointed as he is right now,\" Bergner said.  \"But there will be more flights.\"

The B-17 crew guaranteed they would fix the plane and have it ready to fly safely Saturday and Sunday during the Wings Over Waukesha air show.

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