(Walnut)--On March 8th, 1944 a group of high school kids near Walnut, Iowa witnessed something that would remain firmly emblazoned in their memories for the rest of their lives.
A group of B-24 Liberator Bombers were flying in formation over Lewis when the wing of one of the planes clipped the tail of the lead aircraft.
The bomber crashed in a snow-covered field 5 miles south of Walnut. Seven young airmen lost their lives that fateful day.
Ron Paasch, a Veteran of the Korean War, was one of those students who witnessed the tragic event. He was a sophomore in high school.
"There were seven of us in a Model A and we stopped and walked up to it. We could see the pilot and co-pilot sitting there in the smoke and fire. There were machine guns of course on the ship; the bullets were exploding with a 'bang' 'bang' 'bang."
Fifty years after the crash, in 1994, a memorial was put into place just south of the crash sight at the corner of M-47 and G-30, a memorial that remains to this day.
Harley Ploen built a 1-to-9 scale B-24 Liberator replica that was hoisted onto the top of a windmill tower on Memorial Day of that year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event and of course, honor the lives that were lost just 1/4 mile to the north. Ploen, now 95, serviced bombers in the Pacific Theater during World War II, so he knew a thing or two about these aircraft.
"The body of the old plane was a maple log. The wingspan tip to tip was built out of a bridge plank," says Paasch.
It was a beautiful replica, but over time it began to deteriorate and Paasch, who in 2012 purchased the farm where the plane crashed 73 years ago, decided to do something about it.
"The older plane's condition was not the best and we wondered what to do. We went to Weirich's because they have done other interesting objects like the big bicycle and if you want something really up to snuff just go to Weirich's, they'll get the job done for you."
Paasch is referring to Weirich Welding Plus of Lewis.
He enlisted the help of Logan Weirich and after conferring with Paasch, removing the existing replica and purchasing a small model of a B-24, he and his team of Anthony Drogo and Adam Robert went to work to build a new one.
And work they did.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-man hours went into the project. The team smartly decided to go with an aluminum body to alleviate the possibility of eventual rust and decay and the new B-24 Liberator replica was erected onto the tower in 2016.
"I think it turned out far better than I ever expected," says Paasch.
Weirich was honored to be given the responsibility of the project.
"Very special. I've been by this plane many times and really never knew the story, and then Ron approached us. Just to know the whole history and learn Ron's experiences and then just to be a part of it is very special," says Weirich.
It remains a beautiful sight to behold and an enduring reminder of the sacrifices that our servicemen and women have given over the years, both on the ground and in the skies.