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World War II Veteran reunites with B-17 bomber

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Norman Norquist was a tail gunner in the European Theater.

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Norman Norquist and his daughter Wendy Stearns took a flight on a restored B-17 bomber on Saturday, March 4. Norman served as a tail gunner on the same type of plane during World War II.Memories were flying high last weekend as Norman Norquist took flight in the same type of plane he flew in during World War II.

Norman, who served as a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber in the European Theater, was one of several veterans to ride in the Madras Maiden on Saturday, March 4, at the Hillsboro Airport. The plane is an original B-17 that was restored by the Liberty Foundation.

CONTRIBUTED - Norman joined the Army Aircorps after he was drafted at age 18. He spent two and a half years with the service.Norman, 91, who lives in the Dover area between Estacada and Sandy, described the experience as "wonderful" to be back on the plane again.

The Boeing B-17 model, one of the most well-known planes of the World War II era, was nicknamed the Flying Fortress because of the amount of defensive firepower it provided. Between 1935 and 1945, 12,732 B-17s were produced. Today, fewer than 15 models are still able to take flight.

Getting Norman a spot on one of Saturday's half-hour flights was a family effort. His daughter and son-in-law, Wendy and Troy Stearns, saw while watching the news that flights on the Madras Maiden would be available in Hillsboro .

"When we saw the piece (on the plane), we knew we had to do it," said Wendy, who accompanied her father on the flight.

Wendy and Troy started a GoFundMe page to offset the price of the flights, which cost $450 each. Within a half-hour, enough money for Norman's flight had been raised, and the fundraiser met its total goal within a day.

"I'm emotional that people took it on themselves to do something so nice for me," Norman said.

PMG PHOTO - Norman is pictured after his flight on the Madras Maiden. He said he was grateful to his family and friends, who fundraised to help make the $450 flight a reality.

He has many fond memories of the two and a half years he spent with the Army Aircorps. After growing up on a farm between Boring and Damascus, he was drafted at 18 and chose the Army Aircorps since he enjoyed watching planes while working on his family's farm. ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Norman examines the back of the Madras Maiden, a restored B-17 bomber that was at the Hillsboro Airport last weekend.

"I used to look up at the planes and think I'd like to fly," he said. "When I was drafted, I thought, if I'm going to be in the service, I want to do what I'd like to do."

While in the Aircorps, he enjoyed meeting "a lot of nice people."

"A bunch of guys were together with the same goal —

to get the war over with," he said.

Norman, who eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant, participated in 16 missions as a tail gunner. In this position, he defended the plane against enemy attacks from the rear.

"We didn't fly every day, but on days we did, we got up at 4 a.m. and would meet in the briefing room at sunrise, and they explained where we were going, the weather and the enemy," he recalled.

Though he was never injured, Norman never forgot the danger of the situation. To stay safe from the elements, he and his fellow servicemen wore electrically heated suits and oxygen while flying at 10,000 feet or higher.

PMG PHOTO - The Madras Maiden is a restored B-17 bomber, one of the most well-known types of planes from the World War II era."Deaths (in the plane) occurred because of freezing, hypothermia and lack of oxygen," he said. "We had to be prepared for those things. You would hate to see your friends go down."

Norman recalled one instance where his oxygen became disconnected.

"I started seeing champagne bubbles," he said. "I was about ready to pass out when I pulled off my suit and saw that my oxygen was unplugged and snapped it back together."

Once the war was over, Norman was assigned to a photography group, in which he took photos for maps while flying above Europe and Africa.

"Instead of guns, we had cameras," he recalled.

Upon returning to Oregon, Norman put himself through dental school, eventually opening a practice on Powell Boulevard in Gresham.

"(Work on the farm was) dirty and heavy, and I wanted a job in a nice room where I could stay warm," he said. "I had friends who were dentists, and it appealed to me." CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MATT NORQUIST - Norman is pictured with a B-17 bomber during his days in the Army Aircorps. He served as tail gunner in the European Theatre during World War II.

Norman particularly enjoyed the role the community played in his work.

"I met a lot of people," he said. "I used to walk into Safeway and people would recognize me. My favorite part was working with children. You see them regularly and get acquainted."

One year after returning from the service, Norman married his childhood friend, Dottie. With eight children, more than 40 grandchildren, more than 40 great-grandchildren, one great-great grandchild and another due this summer, the two created a significant family legacy.

Though Dottie died last year, Norman is grateful for their long and happy marriage.

"I miss my wife, but the grieving period is getting smaller and smaller," he said. "I enjoy knowing she's in heaven and I'll be with her some day."

Norquist, who lives alone in his home just outside of Eagle Creek, now typically spends his time caring for the horses and colts that live on his land. And he enjoys gardening "when the weather allows."

He's grateful for the long and fulfilling life he's lived.

"Life has been good. I have a wonderful family and lots of friends," Norman said. "I really enjoy living."

He added that he believes the service of veterans in World War II was necessary.

"We had been attacked, and we had to defend the country," he said. "I was surprised at how capable people were at rising to the occasion. We formed tremendous war efforts. It was almost unbelievable what we were able to do."

PMG PHOTO - Norman and his daughter Wendy stand inside of the restored B-17 right before flight begins.