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One last fly over for Jack

BREMERTON — When Jack Brooke graduated from high school in 1945, it was too late to join the war and help fight for his country.

But growing up in Seattle, he couldn’t resist his passion for aviation after watching the aircraft that flew out of Boeing Field. Brooke decided to join the Navy and Naval Air Reserve at NAS Seattle (Sand Point) and served for nine years, but was never on active duty.

Then in 1993, thanks to his daughter Cindy and a tour of World War II-era aircraft in an exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, he became hooked on learning as much as he could about the aircraft and crewmen who served during the wartime period.

“I had no idea what this would ever turn into — a total serious hobby,” Cindy said. “But I’ve been the fortunate one to experience it with him.”

Since that fateful trip, Brooke and his daughter have been organizing visits of the Collings Foundation WWII Heavy Bomber Aircraft to Bremerton. While Brooke passed away last August, this week’s visit of the foundation’s B-24 and B-17 to Bremerton was held in his memory.

Brooke had been a part of the foundation as a plane sponsor, organizer of local events and traveled with the foundation around the country numerous times in the historical aircraft, said Foundation Chief Pilot Rob Collings.

“It’s people like Jack and Cindy who make it happen,” he said.

And the foundation wouldn’t forget about Brooke when they left the area after one of their visits. In years past, as the bombers were flying out of the area, they would do a flyby over Brooke’s home in Driftwood Key, said his widow, Paula.

During their time involved with the foundation, the father-daughter duo not only made sure the organization came back again and again, but they also flew on the B-17 “9-0-9” many times around the country during its yearly tours. They also traveled around the world visiting former WWII airfields, air bases, museums and historic sites to learn as much as possible about the significant time in history.

Learning about the aircraft and making it accessible for all generations was just one part of the Brooke’s passion — the other was visiting with the many WWII vets around the country and hearing their stories.

“One story from one person itself really draws you in,” Cindy said.

At the time of the war, young men who were barely out of their adolescent years were being put on airplanes and flying 25,000 feet in the air around the world, dropping bombs during missions that could last six hours or more, Cindy explained. The odds of coming back were 25 percent and they had to deal with extremely rough conditions. The men Brooke visited with remembered stories from their war days like it was last week, she added, and Brooke felt it was incredibly important to record those stories and share them with younger generations when the Collings Foundation planes would visit.

One of those men was Kingston resident and former B-24 pilot Ayres W. Johnson, who called Brooke “a distinguished fellow” who was very dedicated to his work.

“Having flown the B-24, I was immediately impressed with the work he and his daughter Cindy did to bring them in from the Collings Foundation,” Johnson said.

The B-24s were the most produced aircraft during WWII, as there were 18,000 made and the one used in the show is the only one left that still operates, he said.

Brooke’s work accomplished two things, Johnson said: He educated a large number of people in this part of the country about WWII airplanes and service men and he provided an opportunity for the vets to relive their memories.

“If not for Jack and the wonderful Collings Foundation, none of that would be possible,” Johnson said.

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