Honoring a legend

Highland Springs resident travels to New York City for film premier

Sara Martin
February 24, 2020

Conrad Lohoefer's had a number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

His most recent? Attending the film premier of the documentary Memphis Belle in Color aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

Conrad, who lives at Highland Springs, the Erickson Living-managed community in North Dallas, was interviewed for the film and was also a guest panelist at the premiere, one of four panelists participating in a question and answer session following the film's screening. During World War II, Conrad served as a B-17 flight engineer and top turret gunner with the 401st Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.

Other panelists included Jeff Duford, lead curator of the Memphis Belle project at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force; Tim Evans, executive producer for the Smithsonian Channel; and John Luckadoo, a World War II B-17 pilot with the 100th Bomb Group.

"John Luckadoo also lives in Dallas," says Conrad. "We've both traveled to Normandy with the Greatest Generations Foundation, and we were both invited to attend the film premiere in New York City."

Honoring the flying fortress

As a surviving B-17 crewman, Conrad carries memories of a war long past but never forgotten.

He was drafted in the summer of 1943, a 19-year-old from Amarillo who'd completed one year of junior college.

"I was assigned to a B-17 crew in Lincoln, Nebraska, and then sent to Dyersburg, Tennessee for three months of overseas operational training," says Conrad. "We boarded the Queen Mary [ocean liner] in New Jersey for a seven-day voyage to Glasgow, Scotland, zigzagging the whole way to avoid submarines."

Conrad's crew was sent to the Royal Air Force station in Bassingbourn, England, and assigned to the B-17 bomber Old Battle Axe.

"When we first arrived in England, B-17 crews were sent home after 25 missions," says Conrad. "The U.S. lost so many crews, they raised the requirement to 30 missions. After the Battle of the Bulge, they raised it again to 35 missions."

The Memphis Belle was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions.

"The U.S. brought the Memphis Belle back stateside and took it on a War Bonds tour to raise money," says Conrad. "After the war, the City of Memphis bought it for $350."

In 2005, a thirteen-year restoration project began at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, to bring the Memphis Belle back to its wartime condition.

The Smithsonian's documentary about the famed flying fortress emphasized the B-17 bomber's role as a weapon that changed the course of the war in Europe.

"They are so strong, so sturdy, and so dependable," Conrad said in the documentary. "They can take a lot of punishment."

Conrad's ten-man crew flew missions all over Europe, bombing submarine pens, marshalling yards, and transportation hubs, hoping to cripple the enemy's flow of supplies.

"I'm convinced one of the main reasons the Allies won the war is that we never ran short of ammunition, gasoline, or food," says Conrad.

From Texas to California and back again

After completing 35 missions, Conrad returned to Texas where he worked as a journalist for newspapers in small towns across the state, eventually landing a job as the farm editor for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. He married his wife Stephanie and the couple had five children, two daughters and three sons.

When four of his five children were out of the house, Conrad was offered an opportunity to move to California, working for a company that sold supplies to cotton gins.

Conrad, Stephanie, their youngest son Lee, and Conrad's father headed west to the Golden State. Conrad retired in 1997, and he and Stephanie returned to Texas in 2005, purchasing a home in Plano, Texas, where Stephanie passed away in 2012.

Memory-making moments

By 2016, Conrad was ready to let go of the chores associated with home maintenance. He had friends living at Highland Springs, so he made an appointment to tour available apartment homes.

"I wanted a one-bedroom with a den," says Conrad. "When I saw this apartment, I loved its location in the community. It's close to all the amenities in the Hillcrest Clubhouse."

Conrad worked with Personal Moving Consultant Cindy Gay to plan out the details of the move, including furniture placement in his new apartment, a Glendale-style floor plan.

The den serves as a home office. It's filled with pictures and memorabilia from his life, including his most recent trip to New York.

"My oldest son went with me to New York," says Conrad. "The film premier was on a Wednesday, so we arrived the day before. After the premier, we stayed two more days and took an open-air bus tour of the city to see the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building. We were also treated to a VIP tour of the Intrepid."

The plane ride home held one more memory-worthy moment.

"We were on an American Airlines flight out of LaGuardia when the captain made an announcement," says Conrad. "He said, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we're happy to have a celebrity on board today.' He explained I was a World War II veteran who'd been to the premiere of the Memphis Belle movie. Then he said, 'We're going to get you safely to Dallas, Mr. Lohoefer.' Everybody clapped, and I was flabbergasted."

Back at Highland Springs, the good wishes keep coming.

"People who've see the film on the Smithsonian Channel tell me how much they've enjoyed it," says Conrad. "It's been fun to share those experiences with friends who live here."