Nightly News   |  April 14, 2013

A veteran’s sentimental journey

A World War II veteran got the birthday present of a lifetime after he was reunited with the old friend from his days flying over Germany. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight, for one veteran of world war ii , it was a special journey into the past. reuniting with a trusted old friend and soaring once again as he did so many years ago. nbc's kristen dahlgren has our story tonight.

>> reporter: just days before rudy's 90th birthday, a dream come true.

>> it's been 69 years since i've been on a b-17. and it was beautiful. couldn't ask for anything better.

>> reporter: known as the flying fortress , the b-17 is credited with helping to win world war ii and helping to shape the greatest generation .

>> our generation saved the world.

>> reporter: an for a young sergeant from a small town in california, it was the aircraft that altered his life.

>> it was the most special plane up in the air.

>> reporter: he was a gunner, until a mission over germany took down the mighty plane.

>> and as i was coming down in the parachute, i looked up and i saw the plane blow up.

>> reporter: captured and held for almost a year by the germans --

>> this telegram here was sent to my parents when i got shot down. they didn't know for 48 days if i was alive or dead. so you can imagine what they went through.

>> reporter: the pain is still fresh when he talks about buddies in the p.o.w. camp.

>> it hurts.

>> reporter: but even after all of that, he could never forget the thrill of flying.

>> i had no fear of flying , even in combat.

>> reporter: and so, over the skies of fresno, decades after he last set foot on a bomber, he returned to his beloved b-17, flying on-board "the memphis belle ," one of the few remaining.

>> it was just magnificent. it was just tremendous.

>> reporter: he calls it the best birthday present, ever.

>> and i just wanted to be on a b-17 as the last thing in my life to do as a reminder of world war ii .

>> reporter: after a life marked by sacrifice, a trip back in time that he hopes may just inspire the next generation. kristen dahlgren, nbc news, fresno, california.