June 16--JOHNSTOWN -- A replica World War II fighter plane will be placed at Johnstown's airport in honor of one of the region's best-known war heroes.
Lt. Col. Boyd "Buzz" Wagner became the nation's first WWII flying ace in the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk that will be represented in the memorial planned for installation later this summer.
The effort is spearheaded by the Lt. Col. Boyd D. "Buzz" Wagner Chapter 221 of the Air Force Association.
"We feel this would be the ultimate tribute to a true local hero," chapter President William Burns said.
A replica P-40 has been a dream of the local chapter, but the project seemed financially out of reach until members came across an online ad. Another group had ordered the full-sized reproduction, but then backed out, they learned.
"We found out there was a replica P-40 at a reasonable cost," chapter member Robert Rutledge said. "We contacted the builder."
Several major sponsors were lined up to fund the project, but then some backed out, he said.
"We are going through with it and doing our own fundraising," Rutledge said. "It would be a suitable memorial for Buzz Wagner."
The cost is estimated at $48,000, with $24,000 in donations and pledges already in place.
Air Force Association members are contacting local businesses related to aerospace and others interested in promoting aviation and the airport for additional donations, Burns said. But the project is on track for installation later this summer.
The replica will be placed near the main driveway into the terminal park area and MTT Aviation Services facility.
Wagner was born Oct. 26, 1913, in the Susquehanna Township village of Emeigh. He graduated from Nanty Glo High School in 1934, and his family moved to Irene Street in Johns-town's 8th Ward shortly after his graduation.
After joining the Army Air Corps aviation cadet program, Wagner was stationed in the Philippines when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and other bases on Dec. 7, 1941. As commanding officer of the 17th
Pursuit Squadron, Wagner responded when the Japanese attacked the Philippines.
He is credited with shooting down eight Japanese planes over the next few days, making him the first ace of World War II.
Wounded in battle, Wagner recovered and returned stateside to work with aircraft engineers. He died Nov. 29, 1942, when his factory-new P-40K crashed on a routine flight in Florida.
Randy Griffith covers transportation for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ photogriffer57.
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