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Arkansas WWII Veteran Helps Reopen Britain's American Air Museum

by Cheryll Simpson /  / Updated 

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DUXFORD, England — Standing underneath a decommissioned B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, 91-year-old Bill Toombs recalled the sight of 2,000 warplanes roaring over Europe's skies during the D-Day landings of June 1944.

"You will never see that, one plane can do the job now," the energetic veteran from Little Rock, Arkansas, said.

Toombs was in the English village of Duxford this week having been invited to the reopening of the American Air Museum after a major revamp.

The Flying Fortress was among 850 historical exhibits that have been intricately displayed alongside the narrative of people whose lives were shaped through conflict.

"Oh, it's awesome!" the retired rail road worker said of the exhibition. "I think everybody should see this, because this is history that everybody should know about ... I think that the young people just don’t get enough knowledge of what happened during World War II."

Bill Toombs stands underneath a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber at the American Air Museum on Wednesday.NBC News

The museum also houses the best collection of historic and contemporary American aircraft on display outside the U.S. and Canada, with some of the planes dramatically suspended in the air.

The D-Day landing was Toombs' first of 28 missions during the conflict. He was in high school on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. That prompted him to join the Army Air Corps aged 18.

"It evolved into the fact that I was trying to be a flight engineer, so if you are a flight engineer and you are healthy you are gonna fly," he said. "That’s how I wound up in the Air Force."

He joined the 493rd Bomb Group, based at Debach, in the English county of Suffolk.

Toombs recalled the day his team were told about D-Day: "We went down to the briefing room and the executive officer came in, pulled the curtain back and said, 'Gentlemen, today we are invading a continent.'"

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