ADDISON, Texas — A few weeks ago, on a warm late-winter weekend afternoon, two boys walked onto a tarmac at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, a cavernous building filled with the silver shape of a massive B-29 Superfortress.
An old man in a motorized scooter noticed the boys' excitement and asked whether they'd like a tour of the aircraft, nicknamed "Fifi."
"Did you fly this plane in a war?" one of them asked the gentleman.
"No, I flew fighters," he said.
There's more to it than that, of course. A great deal more.
John T. Bradshaw went to war before his country did, one of fewer than 250 young men who joined the Royal Air Force to help preserve England when only it stood against Nazi Germany.
On June 5, 1944, the RAF's 41 Squadron made haste for a Royal Navy base near Portsmouth from its normal operational base of Lympne, south of London.
The men -- mostly Brits, plus a motley collection of pilots from Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Scotland and exactly one Yank from New Jersey, Bradshaw -- knew something important was afoot.
At 4 a.m. on June 6, they filed into the pilot briefing room.
"This is it," Bradshaw heard the commander say. "We're going to do the invasion."
Each man was given a grid map of a portion of the French beaches where British and Canadian forces would land for Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allies' invasion of Western Europe. The fighter pilots, all flying the highly regarded Supermarine Spitfire, would spot for the battleships and cruisers several miles off the coast, helping them adjust their fire to the targets on the ground.
Bradshaw's coordinates were for Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five landing areas and the site where the British 3rd Infantry Division went ashore.
"I flew at about 5,000 feet, so I could see a lot of the action on the beaches," he said. "I was too busy to notice much, though. They took a lot of shots at us, but I didn't see a German airplane that whole day. All the action was on the ground."
Bradshaw saw his first plane in the 1920s when he looked up from his yard in Morristown, N.J., and saw a passenger plane that looked a lot like a Curtiss Condor.
"It was flying right under the clouds, not more than 1,000 feet," he said. "It was probably going in for a landing at Newark. I can still see it today."
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