One of Naperville’s own veterans recently took to the skies to relive a part of history. Joe Chovelak was a radio operator during World War II on a B-29 bomber plane.
The plane was the fastest and largest of all WWII bombers and carried the largest load of explosives. Of the original 4,000 B-29’s produced during the war, there’s only about 20 left in existence and of those, only one left that still flies. That aircraft came to the DuPage County Airport and Chovelak got the chance to take one last ride in it.
“It wasn’t until he just hit the throttles and it started to pick up [that] I just knew where I was 66 years ago,” said Chovelak.
In 1945, Chovelak finished his final mission in Guam during World War II. He voluntarily joined the Air Corps, which then was part of the U.S. Army. He and the rest of the 29th Bomb Group completed 35 missions in Guam by the end of the war.
“After the mission and the bombs were dropped down, I’d send a message to Guam town telling them that the mission was accomplished and what we had done,” said Chovelak.
Volunteers with the Commemorative Air Force take ten passengers and six crew members at a time on a half hour flight in the vintage aircraft. To do so, the group spends about $300,000 a year in fixed operating costs, plus another $250,000 in fuel alone. To offset some of those expenses, patrons pay anywhere from $595 to $995 for a ride depending on their seat. For veterans like Chovelak, the experience is well worth it.
“There was blood. There was treasure, time, and effort that they spent and most of them came back and didn’t talk about themselves,” said Chovelak. “They talked about the men that they left on the battlefield. So this is a time of remembrance for them.”
It was also a time to share a little of their war-time experience with family and friends, like Chovelak who took the ride with his daughter Cindy Chovelak.
Cindy had wanted to take her father on the ride six years ago for his 80th birthday but couldn’t due to mechanical problems. Just recently, she finally was able to give him that gift.
“I looked over at my dad and he started to cry a little bit,” said Cindy. “He was just thrilled to be up there but quite emotional.”
The ride was perhaps just as emotional as the original flights home after each mission during the war.
“What we did was we said, ‘Well thank goodness it’s done, it’s over.’ You get down, you kiss the ground and that means you are going home,” said Chovelak.
Chovelak returned home from the war once and for all after finishing his last mission on August 6, 1945, the same day another B-29 crew dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.
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