World War II Prisoners of War will make history books come to life as part of Fantasy of Flight’s newest installation of its Living History Symposium Series. “Airmen in Captivity: The POW Experience” features former POWs willing to share their stories of courage. This is the first time the Polk City, Florida, attraction has offered a POW-focused symposium as part of its series, now in its second year.
Only a small fraction of the nearly 100,000 World War II POWs are alive today. Taking the stage at Fantasy of Flight’s Officers’ Club Friday Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 9, several of these American heroes will field questions about piloting B-24s and other World War II aircraft, surviving flying trauma, and the days and weeks that followed their captures. While their stories may disturb, perhaps even shock, they will offer a realistic depiction of what these fierce young pilots faced as they overcame a psychological battlefield of interrogation, isolation and perilous conditions.
“More than 60 years ago, these men were young pilots who risked not only their lives for our country, but had their psychological boundaries tested to unimaginable limits as they were held captive behind enemy lines.” said Kim Long, General Manager of Fantasy of Flight. “We’re confident our guests will be inspired by the stories they hear.”
The event includes an open-forum/question-and-answer session with decorated pilots George Drew, Rudy Froeschle and Lt. Colonel Ben Griffin.
George Drew (Tampa, Fla.) was a 2nd Lieutenant who flew B-24s and was part of the 464th Bomb Group, 779th Bomb Squadron, and 15th U.S. Army Air Force over Southern France. The 779th was one of the groups that George Patton liberated. Patton hoisted down a Nazi flag and replaced it with the American flag, freeing the soldiers at a German prison camp. Some 10,000 men were crying and laughing at the same time, as freedom became reality.
Rudy Froeschle (Ft. Myers, Fla.) was a bomber pilot who joined the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Fighter Squadron in 1943. During his 2nd mission in Stuttgart, Germany, his plane was gunned down and he was held captive for over two years. While in captivity, he taught German grammar and literature to college students. A snapshot of Rudy was profiled in a recent documentary on the History Channel called “Great Escapes of World War II”. The documentary highlighted POW’s battles’ with severe depression while in captivity. Rudy is shown with his tin can cooking stove behind a heavy barbed wire fence.
Lt. Col. Ben Griffin (Winter Park, Fla.) was one of 10 fighter pilots to go to the 4th Fighter Group with the 336th Bomb Squadron. After more than three dozen successful missions, Griffin was gunned down near Prague, Czechoslovakia — but not before he and the Fourth Fighter Group destroyed more than 1,000 enemy planes!
The symposiums will take place each day at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and each will be followed by an autograph-signing session. Fantasy of Flight guests can purchase items from the gift shop or may bring items to be signed. Guests are asked to limit items to be autographed to two per person per hero.
During each symposium, Fantasy of Flight will feature “Open Cockpit Days” where guests are invited to get up close and personal with several examples from the world’s largest private collection of vintage and restored aircraft and climb aboard for a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.
In the meantime, the attraction is lining up the “2011 Living History Symposium Series” which will include: “They Dared to Fly” featuring Tuskegee Airmen, Thursday, Feb. 10 – Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011; “A Passionate Pursuit” featuring WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots), Friday, March 4 – Saturday, March 5, 2011l and D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, Friday, May 13 – Saturday, May 14, 2011.
Fantasy of Flight is committed to finding more war heroes and bringing them to Central Florida, so World War II pilots, soldiers, flight nurses, WASP and even Rosie the Riveters are encouraged to contact Fantasy of Flight for upcoming “Living History Symposiums.” If interested, please contact Stephanie Conner at 863-984-3500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost of each Living History Symposium is included with Fantasy of Flight admission, which is $28.95 for adults, $14.95 for children ages 6-15, plus 7% sales tax. Children 5 and younger are free.
For more information: call 863-984-3500 or FantasyOfFlight.com