To say Marty Potts is an avid collector of World War II memorabilia would be an understatement.
The Bryan resident has a room filled with photos, model airplanes, guns and other memorabilia and collectibles from the war. He jokes that there are still some spots where the wall can be seen.
Potts also collects stories of those who flew some of the planes he has models of – especially B-17 bombers.
Potts recently flew on a B-17 and met a man who used to man a ball turret on a B-17. He was waiting at the Toledo Airport for the crew to finish up what they were doing and he noticed a man wearing a hat from the 100th Bomb Group.
“I said you were in the 100th,” Potts said relaying the conversation. “He said I was. I said the Bloody 100th. He said that it was.”
The man told Potts of his 35 missions that he survived, including 18 where his plane was shot out from underneath him and he and his crew were rescued by the French Underground. Which was extremely fortunate since most crews, if they survived the jump, were captured by the Germans.
“Seven or eight times when they landed, they were so shot up, they had to salvage it,” Potts said. “There was no fixing it.
“That was pretty typical. He was in the latter part of ’44 and early ’45. The flak was incredible.”
It is stories like that that evoke respect and awe in Potts for the crews of those airships.
“We owe them a lot,” Potts said.
Potts has a link to the war, as his dad served under Patton.
“I started following World War II when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Potts said. “I started building model airplanes; I didn’t want the jets. I wanted the World War II stuff.
“This is my passion.”
One of his prized possessions are pieces of a P-38 fighter buried 268 feet in a glacier. The crews used a high-powered water cannon to carve out a space and then brought the plane up piece by piece.
After a 10-year restoration effort, the warbird flies again.
“We became friends with the project manager,” Potts said. “Every time we’d go on vacation we’d stop and spend a lot of time there. When the owner died, the family sold it and the manager gave me a couple of pieces.
Tales of lost planes from the war being found intrigues Potts. The latest is about a P-47D discovered at the bottom of a lake in Austria.It was the last fighter plane to go down, having been ditched on V-E Day in 1945.
A fisherman noticed the plane when the sunlight hit it at just the right angle, Potts said. It had been sitting at the bottom the lake for 60 years, he said.
“The nose art that had been painted on the plane was still there. The star was still on the wings. The name of the pilot and crew chief were still on the airplane,” Potts said.
The plane was named “Dottie Mae” and Potts has a model of it suspended from his ceiling.
Potts flies on B-17s a lot through the Collings Foundation of Massachusetts. He has a friend who is a “planes sponsor” which allows him to bring two others on flights.
Potts and his buddy will hop a B-17 on a one-way trip to a town and then rent a car and drive back to Ohio.
“The most fantastic thing are the people you meet on the flight who are mostly veterans,” Potts said.
Potts told the story of taking a B-17 from Valparaiso, Ind. to Terre Haute, Ind., and helping an older veteran onto the plane. The man wanted to sit in the navigator’s desk, so Potts got him situated and sat right next to him.
“I wanted to keep an eye on him, he was sorta frail,” Potts said.
The man leaned his head back, closed his eyes, opened his mouth and appeared to fall asleep, Potts said. Potts was amazed anyone could fall asleep with the loudness of the engines making conversation almost impossible.
When they landed in Terre Haute and were walking up to the terminal, Potts asked the man how he could sleep.
“Oh young man, I wasn’t sleeping,” Potts said. “I closed my eyes and I could hear all my guys playing cards and goofing around on the way to and from. “I saw them all.”
“That engine noise brings back all those memories.”
“We weren’t flying (for fun), we were flying not knowing if were ever coming back.”
It’s people like that makes that trip worth it, Potts said.
The planes are well cared for and are probably better taken care of than modern airliners,he said. Thanks to a few forward thinking people, there are a few still left, he said.
“These planes were not designed to fly for 70 years.”
James Pruitt may be reached at email@example.com