LOWER TOWNSHIP — John Fulginiti found a spot among several hundred people crowding the edge of the runway at Naval Air Station Wildwood on Wednesday to watch three vintage World War II aircraft arrive for this week’s AirFest celebration.
As a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress arrived, memories came flooding back for the 89-year-old North Wildwood resident. Fulginiti was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942, and after surviving the infamous Bataan death march, he spent most of World War II working at a steel mill in Japan.
After thinking Uncle Sam had forsaken him, American bombers arrived in Japan and started dropping bombs, he recalled.
“That’s the best sight I saw in years. A group of B-29s came in and left vapor trails. The Japanese were deathly afraid of B-29s,” Fulginiti said.
A B-24 Liberator and a P-51 Mustang fighter are also on display during AirFest. The Collings Foundation, which restores vintage World War II aircraft and operates them as a living history museum, brought the aircraft to Cape May County as part of a nationwide Wings of Freedom Tour.
The crowd watched the planes touched down on the tarmac as part of the beginning of AirFest, which run through Friday.
The three World War II planes are the highlight but the event includes other aircraft, a car and truck show, vendors, exhibitors, music, food and more.
The price of admission includes tours of the aircraft and at the NASW museum, located in a gigantic wooden post-and-beam aircraft hangar dating to World War II. The museum includes 26 aircraft from World War II to the more modern F-18 Tomcat. There is also a new U.S. Coast Guard exhibit area. Unlike most aviation museums, visitors are allowed to touch and sit in the aircraft.
Watching them arrive is free and it often draws large crowds. For World War II veterans, it often brings back memories. Fulginiti said after the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Japan the prison guards left the American prisoners to themselves. That’s when the bombers returned.
“We stayed there a few days and then the B-29’s dropped us food. I came back on a Dutch freighter,” Fulginiti said.
If you go
The 15th Annual AirFest is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and runs through Friday. The event includes tours inside vintage aircraft and of the Naval Air Station Wildwood museum, located at 500 Forrestal Road in the Cape May Airport.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for ages 3-12, and free for younger children. Flights on the World War II planes cost more. A 30-minute flight on a bomber runs $425, while a P-51 Mustang experience, which includes “stick time,” is $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,200 for one hour. For flight reservations or more information about fees, call 800-568-8924 or visit: www.cfdn.org.
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