World War II plane sparks memories of a brother who made the ultimate sacrifice

South County

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Five World War II bomber and fighter aircraft landed at Quonset State Airport Wednesday, stopping in Rhode Island as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour.

Having the planes on display allows people young and old a chance to see a piece of history.

For 90-year-old Nan Johnson, seeing one of the planes – a B-24 also known as a “liberator bomber” – gave her a bit of closure.

Johnson said her big brother, Johnny Bourque, was one of an estimated 407,316 service members killed during the war.

“Everybody liked Johnny,” Johnson said. “He wouldn’t get married because he didn’t think it was the right thing to get married and go off.”

Bourque grew up in South Providence before enlisting in World War II.

“He enlisted, became a co-pilot for the B-24, a liberator bomber,” Johnson said. “He flew over England.”

On the tarmac Wednesday sat an identical version of the same plane flown by Bourque decades ago. She was able to get a first-hand look inside the aircraft.

“We couldn’t believe that they could even fit into something like that,” Johnson said.

She said his time flying the aircraft was short, but the display plane gave her a glimpse of what his life may have been like.

“He was only there for three months before his plane disappeared,” she said.

Johnson said her brother’s remains were never identified. He was only 23 years old when his plane went missing.

“War is something you don’t want to remember,” Johnson said. “But you can’t forget. I didn’t want my kids to forget him. Naturally, they never met him.”

“It’s so hard. Someone like Johnny will always be a hero,” she added.

Johnson and her family are hopeful people will come and view what’s being called “living history” and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Tours will continue Thursday and Friday before the aircraft depart for the next city.

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