By Ken MacLeod

STOW (CBS) – At a small private airfield in Stow, the Collings Foundation is dedicated to preserving transportation history. When the non-profit’s B-17 crashed at Bradley Airport in Connecticut Wednesday, it hit a certain 95-year-old WWII pilot very hard.

Bill Purple’s basement and office reveal a man very proud of his Air Force flying some 75 years ago and the plane that got him through it.

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“I’m here talking with you because it brought me home every time from my 35 missions,” Purple said.

He’s talking about the B-17 bomber, of course, from which he poured bombs on Germany as a 19-year-old pilot, service that later earned him the Legion of Honor award from France.

WWII B-17 pilot Bill Purple (WBZ-TV)

“I think the B-17 is the greatest aircraft ever built,” Purple said.

So, when he learned of Wednesday’s crash, it gnawed at him. But when he learned it was the Collings Foundation’s Flying Fortress, he was sickened.

“It’s very, very, very emotional to me. Period.”

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Emotional, because he knows the foundation staffers who stage these air shows which he has been a part of several times himself, sharing his old B-17 flying stories with a younger audience.

B-17 bomber that crashed at Bradley Airport (WBZ-TV)

“If they had the opportunity that I had, they should hear about it,” he said.

But even further, he’d flown on the ill-fated bomber himself many times, even asking the foundation if they had room on this flight, only to learn it was already fully booked.

“I could have been on that plane today,” he said.

He wasn’t, of course, but fears he knows crewmen who were. And so far the explanations he’s heard don’t explain the tragedy.

“That should have never happened,” Purple said.

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Bill Purple says he certainly wants to know why the bomber crashed, but hopes it doesn’t hurt the Collings Foundation’s noble mission.

Ken MacLeod