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Airman finds piece of family history at Lackland

  • Published
  • By Meredith Canales
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs
When Airman Howard Gibbs graduated from basic military training, he didn't expect to stumble upon a piece of his family's history thousands of miles from home.

"I was taking pictures of the (static aircraft) displays for my cousin, and I just ran upon it," Airman Gibbs said. "I wasn't expecting to find it."

What Airman Gibbs found was the Heaven's Above, a B-17 on display at the parade grounds. His grandfather, also named Howard and now deceased, had flown the Heaven's Above while in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

"He was a navigator; his team flew missions over Germany," said former Airman Brian Gibbs, Airman Gibbs' father. "He was out at Lackland in 1980 and told us he flew the plane. So we'd all heard the stories about it over the years when he would tell us his old war stories."

According to both Gibbs men, joining the Air Force was primarily a family tradition.

"All the stories my dad used to tell me made me so proud," said Airman Gibbs. "I wanted to do something different because I was having trouble in college, going the regular route. Dad and Grandpa both went into the Air Force, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps."

Airman Gibbs' shock at finding the plane just after graduation came primarily from its location. 

"I thought it was in a museum in Ohio," he said. "My dad had always told me that, and I had been planning a trip to go to Ohio to see it after graduation."

Airman Gibbs called his father with the news of his discovery. 

"We were coming home from his graduation," Mr. Gibbs said. "Howard called and said, 'Dad what plane did grandpa fly?' I told him it was Heaven's Above and he said, 'That plane's right here!' We had told him stories about it and talked to him about it before, so he recognized it immediately."

Upon seeing the familiar lady's legs stretching out of a cloud on the nose of the plane, Airman Gibbs said he felt pure elation. 

"My heart dropped," he said. "It was a feeling I can't describe. It was pure joy."