Austin vet taking to the skies in classic bomber

Published 3:46 pm Saturday, July 17, 2010

In three days, Richard Nordin gets to be a World War II flying pro.

Nordin, the 79-year-old captain of the Spamtown Belle and Navy veteran, is boarding a B-17 bomber on Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a once-in-a-lifetime-flight — an opportunity provided to him by his four children for Father’s Day.

“I couldn’t believe it, really,” Nordin said of hearing about his present a month ago. “I’m taking a camera, and I’m just going to snap the heck out of it.”

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For nearly his whole life, Nordin has been involved with and interested by the military and its history. He joined the Navy in 1955, getting stationed in Hawaii as a naval security officer. While on the island, Nordin met his wife-to-be — who was on vacation from Austin — at the Pearl Harbor Officers’ Club. Nordin jokes that it was meant to be if she “came all that way just to see him.”

Nordin soon left Hawaii for Washington, D.C., where he continued to serve as a security officer. He said the work required him to monitor information coming in from across the globe — a “very important job,” Nordin added.

By 1958, Nordin was out of the Navy and back in Austin, working as an optometrist. He said he has good memories of his time in service.

“I look back very fondly on those days,” Nordin said.

But the captain’s military story doesn’t end there. Nordin was in fact named after an uncle who died in service during World War I. His father also served during World War I, while Nordin’s brother was in the Army during World War II.

With that family history as a backdrop, Nordin got more and more into military history over the years, always reading a new book when he could. He said of particular interest to him was the story of World War II — making Tuesday’s flight such a treat.

The Boeing B-17 bomber — dubbed the “Flying Fortress” — was a plane used primarily in Europe during World War II, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is putting on Tuesday’s flight.

B-17s participated in a number of missions from bases in England during the war. Because of their long-range capability, formations of B-17s often flew into battle with no fighter escort, relying on their own defensive capabilities to insure a successful mission.

At the time, the large B-17s — which could hold 10 crew members and featured 13 machine guns — were among the most modern aircraft in the U.S. inventory. However, the advent of the jet age and advances in technology made the “Flying Fortress” obsolete soon after World War II. In the years following the war, most B-17s were cut up for scrap, used in Air Force research or sold on the surplus market. According to the EAA, there are fewer than 100 B-17s still around today, and even less are airworthy.

Now, Nordin will be getting the rare chance to board one of these planes, along with several others who booked the same trip.

Lisa Baudler, who is one of Nordin’s four children, said she and the other three took dad completely by surprise.

“I don’t think he even realized something like this was available,” Baudler said. “He was just absolutely thrilled.”

Baudler said it was in fact her brother, Blake Nordin, who first came up with the idea. When he told Baudler, along with their sister Amy Duma and brother Mark Nordin, they knew right away it was the perfect Father’s Day present.

“We were immediately on board,” Baudler said.

Because of scheduling issues, the kids actually told Richard Nordin about his present a few days before Father’s Day. But on June 20, they did give him a small envelope with a gift inside.

“Earplugs and a camera,” Baudler said with a smile. “It’s all you need.”

Richard Nordin will certainly bring both on Tuesday, along with a naval cap he wore years ago. Though the flight is only scheduled to last 45 minutes, the memories should last a lifetime.

“I’m excited,” Richard Nordin said.