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Unruh represents WW II vets at Memorial Day event
ARLINGTON — One of Arlington’s last remaining World War II vets, Art Unruh, 86, is losing a lot of his old friends, but he remains in contact with the two remaining members of his air crew, tail gunner Bill Jamison, of Atlanta, and navigator Jack Santamore, of Tennessee.
“We talk on the phone about monthly,” said Unruh, who has dedicated his life to sharing the stories about the old airplanes.
“They say that 1,200 World War II vets are dying every day,” Unruh said last week from his home near the Arlington Airport.
Unruh will be one of three panelists sharing stories about the old airplanes and veterans of World War II at a special Memorial Day event at Paul G. Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field Monday, May 25. Starting at 11 a.m., all veterans will be admitted free.
Formerly located at the Arlington Airport, Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection reopened at Paine Field in Everett on D-Day last year, Unruh said.
“It’s a beautiful facility, but a bit hard to find,” he said, adding that the Allen Collection is on the south side of Paine Field while the Future of Flight Museum is on the north side.
Arlington has seen its fair share of losses this past year, with the recent passing of Harry Yost and Clarence Wayt, and Bill Senica last year, among others. Yost and Senica will be honored in the dedication of a new flag pole at Arlington’s Pioneer Cemetery on Memorial Day.
Unruh has published one book already, “The Shadow Casters,” which is in its fourth printing. He is thinking of doing another one.
“I hear so many good stories as a volunteer with the collection,” he said.
“Maybe I’ll have to do another book.”
Unruh is a one-of-a-kind source of information, said Jennifer Bragg, a public relations representative for the Flying Heritage Collection.
During the war, he was stationed in Italy with the 15th Army Air Force.
He also served in the 301st Bombardment Group as a waist gunner and took part in 50 separate B-17 bombing missions.
“I flew my first six missions as tail gunner and then they moved me up to waist position for 44 more missions. After 50 missions I returned to the states and was there when the war ended.”
He said he returned to Denver to B-29 school and got a diploma and was heading to the Pacific when it ended.
“I was lucky I didn’t have to go,” Unruh said, adding the Germans were a better enemy than the Japanese.
“They were a decent people to fight because of mutual respect,” Unruh said.
The Allen collection includes 14 operating aircraft in its World War II collection, Unruh said.
The Memorial Day event will recognize veterans while educating the local community on World War II, Unruh said. Along with Unruh, the panel will include another waist gunner, Joseph Roundhill, and pilot Hank Hendrickson.
Unruh has been volunteering with the Flying Heritage Collection on Saturdays every week for five years and plans to continue as long as he is able. He also speaks at schools in Granite Falls, Arlington and Marysville.
“Young people need to be reminded they should not take for granted the freedoms of today,” Unruh said.
“All they have to do is push a button and flick a switch. I spoke to a crowd of 500 kids at Granite Falls for Veterans Day last year,” he said.
He makes his talks especially interesting for children by taking his collection of military paraphernalia, including gas masks, German arm bands and lots of pictures.
“Art’s gallant service and his dedication make him a valuable addition to our community,” Bragg said.
Unruh plans to volunteer parking airplanes and taking registration at Arlington’s Fly-In this summer.