Everyday Heroes: Paul Payne keeps the stories of the Greatest Generation alive

Paul Payne explains where the bombsight was on this B-17 Flying Fortress that's being restored at the B-17 Alliance hangar in Salem. (KATU Photo)

Paul Payne is helping to keep stories from America’s Greatest Generation alive, one museum tour at a time.

He’s a history buff, especially with World War II aviation. He knows so much about it because he lived it. He was a bombardier on a B-24-type bomber.

“We were kind of like a flying family of 10 guys,” he says.

He shares his personal stories as a museum tour guide at the B-17 Alliance hangar in Salem.

Volunteers are restoring a B-17 Flying Fortress. The “Lacey Lady” was once a Milwaukie landmark, the Bomber gas station owned by Jayson Scott’s grandfather, Art Lacey.

“The airplane’s really the tool, but it’s more about the life stories and experiences of the people that actually flew and operated and maintained and built these planes,” Scott says.

Payne is one of more than 100 volunteers who works on the aircraft.

“It’s a wonderful group, and I just love to tell people how the country operated during World War II and what happened,” Payne says. “Every single person, man woman and child did something to help the war effort. It was just amazing.”

Payne did plenty of training missions, but never ended up seeing combat.

“The first atomic bomb was used and that brought the war to a screeching halt,” he says.

It’s Payne’s personal and often colorful stories that make the experience for visitors so unique.

“They were fleece-lined leather things, and you looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy when you got geared up in one of those things,” Payne says about the bomber jackets back then.

“This guy is the first guy here in the morning. He’s oftentimes one of the last guys to leave,” says Scott. “When any project needs to be tackled here, he just jumps right on it, and here he is, the 94-year-old in the group.”

He’s also a 94-year-old with some amazing memories, and the stories he shares will live on from the Greatest Generation.

“We were just doing the job,” he says. “Everyone was just doing what they were trained to do. We didn’t give a thought about what we were going to be doing or what might happen to us.”

They’re hoping to get that B-17 airborne in 10 years.

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