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Residents of Enterprise, Oregon, inspect a B-24 Liberator that landed on the golf course after getting lost. (Photo: Wallowa County History Museum / Illustration: Bill Whitcher)

The Bomber on the Golf Course

An emergency landing resulted in weeks of entertainment for a small town.

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(Continued from page 1)

“Where are we?” Botts asked.

“Enterprise.”

“Why, I’m from Flora!” Botts said. Flora was a small ranching community 25 miles north of Enterprise (it’s now pretty much a ghost town).

The crew was taken into town, fed, and housed for the night. Lieutenant Webb, the pilot, called the air base to report they were down safely in Enterprise. By early morning, military police, engineers, and advanced preparation soldiers, dispatched from Walla Walla Air Base, were on site. Webb thought he could take off from a steel-mat runway, and the engineers apparently agreed. The Army sent a company from Geiger Army Air Base in Spokane, Washington, to set up a tent city for 160 men. Most of the company, from East Coast cities, were startled awake by serenading coyotes the first few nights.

Within a few days, workers were stripping (and saving) sod and carving out a runway area. The damaged engine was repaired. By June 14, nine train car loads of steel mat arrived on the local line connected to the Union Pacific.

Locals visited daily, especially young women. It was late spring, the weather was nice, and with so many men from this farming, ranching, and logging community having been sent off to war, all these young men were a welcome sight. One morning Phyllis Zolman was given an orange out of the lunch sacks the crew had left with the airplane. She tucked it away as a keepsake.

Some girls rode their horses over. One offered a soldier a ride, and in a show of bravado, he jumped on. The horse took off down the meadow, but the soldier managed to stay on for 100 yards before being thrown.

As the runway was prepared, the airplane was stripped of all non-essentials to reduce takeoff weight. The 300 gallons of aviation gas on board had been pumped out. Ranchers and farmers showed up to get free, high-octane gas without having to use precious ration cards.

Departure was scheduled for mid-morning on June 15. A twin-engine, low-wing VIP transport—could have been a Beechcraft C-45—brought officers from the air base, a test pilot (for the tricky takeoff), and a copilot. Everyone from town who could get there came to watch. My brother and I rode out with Dad. None of the original crew was on hand. The weather was clear, with little or no wind.

The two pilots boarded and started the engines. After a short warm-up, the bomber roared down the steel matting and lifted off about 200 feet before the end. The pilots pulled up the landing gear and, climbing slowly, cleared the fringe of tall cottonwoods along the Wallowa River. After the B-24 circled back over the golf course and headed toward Walla Walla, the military brass took off, and the townsfolk went about their business.

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