University of Wisconsin Oshkosh senior Nick Brewer maintains that his once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true-story is really his grandfather’s reality.
On July 17, the two military veterans–one living, one long passed–continued their inter-generational story. With a dose of anticipation, excitement and smiles, Brewer, 27, an Iraq War veteran, climbed aboard a B-17 Bomber, the same aircraft his grandfather crewed in World War II.
“My grandpa is the real story,” Brewer said. “He sacrificed. He really was the brave one here. I just got to follow suit.”
Brewer deployed to Iraq from June 2010 until June 2011 and, as a Blackhawk helicopter refueler, flew around the country, training other refueling crews, he said. After serving in the military, he enrolled at UW Oshkosh.
Brewer’s grandfather, Llewellyn Bredeson, served as a First Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Brewer said his grandfather’s B-17 was shot down during its first mission in 1944. Bredeson spent 16 months as a prisoner of war after the crash.
For years, Brewer has researched his grandfather’s war experience, with little more to go on other than family stories. However, after an emotionally-fueled day of waiting on the runway and eyeballing the gleaming B-17 from the ground at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport on July 17, Brewer was one of 10 to board the Flying Fortress and take the ride of a lifetime.
“I have some bragging to do when I get home,” Brewer said following his flight, which was in part made possible by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s “Aluminum Overcast” tour.
During the span of a few July days, the warbird’s owners and crew offered the experience to Brewer and several others from Northeast Wisconsin as a way to stay connected to World War II aviation history. For Brewer, the experience was deeply personal, given his grandfather’s service.
UW Oshkosh Veterans Resource Center Coordinator Shawn Monroe, also a veteran of the Iraq War, developed the opportunity for Brewer to fly in the operational B-17.
“What really resonated with me is he doesn’t have any mementos from his grandfather’s service,” Monroe said. “A lot of the medals and things were was lost over time, and I was wondering if we could find a way to get him connected with his grandfather.”
Monroe sent an email to EAA in Oshkosh, and short time later Brewer’s B-17 flight was scheduled. Anticipation built; Monroe—one of Brewer’s biggest supporters on campus—would take the flight with Brewer.
“A lot of my job is to help student-veterans succeed on campus,” Monroe said. “Another part of what we try to do is engage our students outside of the classroom. They are going to be students for a while, but they will be veterans forever.”
“Nick doesn’t smile a whole lot,” Monroe said, reflecting on Brewer’s reaction to the flight. “(His smile) was something to see. You could tell right then that he was about as happy as can be.”
Brewer said he’ll be forever grateful to Monroe for making the B-17 flight happen. He’s also extremely proud to have the UW Oshkosh Veterans Resource Center at student-veterans’ service. It is an office on campus where he is regularly found.
“The Veterans Resource Center is like another family. I found a new military family (there),” Brewer said. “It keeps me sane in the civilian world. I can go in there and be myself.”
For Monroe, the experience he could help deliver on July 17 was one more example of the way the Veterans Resource Center supports UW Oshkosh students.
“If we can help student-veterans make connections with their family, their community and organizations like EAA, that’s great,” Monroe said. “I couldn’t be happier than to get someone like Nick up on a B-17. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was glad to be there with him.”