The airman who normally manned the tail gunner's position became ill — and Ferich, who was a backup gunner, readily volunteered for a mission over Germany on Nov. 22, 1944
As the formation flew over enemy territory, the bomber was hit by anti-aircraft flak, sending shrapnel into Ferich's leg.
Another shell hit the plane, and one wing was set alight.
Ferich was one of four members of the 10-man crew who bailed out of the crippled bomber.
The 89-year-old Lancaster County man relived his younger days behind the dual machine guns as a B-24 touched down at York Airport in Jackson Township on Wednesday with Ferich in the tail gunner position.
“It was a thrill to do this,” Ferich said.
Tour: The B-24 and a B-17 Flying Fortress made a stop at the airport as part of the Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour.
A P-51 Mustang was to land at the airport Wednesday, but its arrival was delayed.
Organizers hope to have it there for the remaining two days of the stop, which runs through noon on Friday.
The B-17 is one of only 10 in flying condition in the United States. The B-24J and full dual-control P-51C Mustang are the sole remaining examples of their type flying in the world.
Unlike World War II-era warplanes seen in museums, the planes on the tour are flown, said Henry Erck III, a plane sponsor and local coordinator.
“We fly every day,” he said.
And also unlike museum planes, the public can touch the aircraft and walk through parts of them.
Up close: Hobby pilot and aircraft enthusiast Rudy Wolf of Dillsburg was being treated to a 75th birthday present by friends who took him to the airport to see the planes up close.
Wolf recalled seeing B-24s in the mid- to late 1950s when he was in the U.S. Navy but said he'd never actually been inside one until the tour.
“When I first went in (the Navy), they were still using these,” he said.
As Wolf's friend Joe Ellingsworth of York City stood at a waist gunner's position in the middle of the B-24's fuselage, he envisioned what it must have been like firing rounds at Luftwaffe fighter planes attacking the bomber.
“When you're kids, you always see that in the pictures,” he said.
Rescue: Ferich doesn't need to envision what it was like to fly into combat; all he needs to do is remember.
After Ferich, who lied about his age and joined the military at 17, leapt from the crippled B-24 in 1944, he passed out because of the high altitude.
Ferich came to in midair with an injured leg, a cut on his head, six broken ribs and a broken nose. He steered his parachute toward a grouping of trees in Germany in an effort to avoid further injuring his leg on landing.
As he hung in the tree from his parachute, a truck filled with German soldiers pulled up, and Ferich was taken prisoner and led to a barn housing other British and American airmen.
On the third night of his ordeal, the door to the barn flew open and someone shouted for the airman to get down.
“They took machine guns and fired over the bunks,” killing the German soldiers, Ferich said.
The rescuers were Yugoslav partisans who shuttled the airmen to a field where an Allied plane landed and flew the group to safety.
The three days Ferich has lived with since then began when he simply volunteered for a mission he didn't have to go on. Ferich said he has no regrets about taking the place of the ill airman.
“If you don't believe in God, you do after something like that,” Ferich said. “If it wouldn't be for God, I wouldn't be here.”
If you go:
The Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour is in the midst of a three-day stop at the York Airport, 6054 Lincoln Highway West in Jackson Township.
Hours for ground tours and display are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.
Donations of $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12 are requested for access to the planes and tours through the inside of the aircraft. World War II veterans can tour the aircraft for free. Discounted rates for school groups are available.
Those seeking a bit of an adventure can take to the sky in one or all of the planes.
Flights on either the B-17 or B-24 are $425 per person. P-51 flights are $2,200 for a half-hour and $3,200 for a full hour. For reservations and information about flight experiences, call 800-568-8924.
For more information about the tour, go to collingsfoundation.org.
— Reach Greg Gross at email@example.com.