YOU WON'T RECOGNIZE THE NAMES OR FACES, BUT THESE GUYS WERE BIG-TIME STARS.; REAL-LIFE WAR HEROES PAY HOLLYWOOD A VISIT.
They walk out of the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and across the boulevard of dreams to pay homage to some old movie heroes.
To men like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Robert Taylor and so many of Hollywood's leading men of the '40s who fought World War II from a soundstage - defining on film forever the courage and toughness of the men who did the real fighting.
Men like these five walking across Hollywood Boulevard to see how their foot sizes stack up to the bigger-than-life stars who forever are memorialized in cement at Mann's Chinese Theater.
Harold ``Mick'' Maddren from Burbank and his out-of-town World War II buddies mingling with scores of other tourists listening to tour guides talk about some of the great roles these stars played in popular war movies like ``The Sands of Iwo Jima,'' and ``Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.''
The men smile and give each other knowing winks - their minds in sync to a time more than 50 years ago when they starred in their own little war drama.
Thirty seconds over Berlin in a B-17 bomber with anti-aircraft fire so thick around them the sky was jet black with smoke.
Two of their plane's four engines shot out as it dropped its load of bombs on German railroad tracks before limping home across the English Channel for six long hours - losing altitude with every mile.
A 22-year-old pilot named Mick Maddren and his 21-year-old co-pilot Wayne Chapin, hometown Mount Vernon, Mo., fighting their bomber's urge to give it up over the channel.
Finally making it to land and setting down to cheers and ambulance sirens on an emergency airstrip in England called Woodbridge - so long and so wide, you couldn't miss it no matter how bad you were banged up.
Kissing the ground at the end of one of the 30 bombing missions these men made together over Germany to help administer the coup de grace to Hitler's war machine.
Not on film. In real life.
It makes you want to grab the microphone from the tour guide and let all the tourists know that there are some special stars among them today.
You won't recognize the names or the faces, but trust me, these guys were big-time stars more than 50 years ago when this country needed them.
Men named Maddren and Chapin, and the rest of their B-17 crew who are still alive. Jim Cowen, navigator, from Highland Park, Ill. Al Shaw, ball turret gunner, out of Belle Fourche, S.D. Bob Mullen, armament man, living in Aurora, Colo., these days.
All of them in town with their wives for the yearly, roving reunion they began having in 1995 at Cowen's place in Illinois to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the end of World War II.
``Mick and I used to write back and forth all the time, but no one was getting off their fannies to get together,'' Cowen said. ``When 50 years came, we all knew it was time.''
In the movies, their B-17 bomber would have had a colorful moniker to define the toughness of its crew and its metal.
In real life, they gave their plane no name. None of them wanted to push their luck, Maddren says, laughing.
``After we returned from our first successful mission, we jokingly agreed that we'd go with what we had (as a name), which was nothing,'' he said.
``We didn't need romance or want to push our luck and get a hole through it before the paint was even dry. It worked. We survived 30 missions.''
And now, five of the original nine crew members have survived more than 50 years of life after the war.
They are all men in their 70s now, accompanied on this trip by wives who were home waiting 50 years ago.
``We all married our sweethearts and stayed married,'' Maddren says proudly, gathering up his crew so they can move on to Universal Studios together.
Before they leave Mann's Chinese, though, they each spend an extra moment over the Duke's footprints and signature - thanking John Wayne again for making movies that made them feel a little like stars themselves when they were young men fighting a war.
``The war movies made you feel like you were participating in something truly romantic and exciting, even though it wasn't a lot of the time,'' Maddren says.
Half an hour later, the crew of a World War II B-17 bomber with no name was ready to try this new Jurassic Park ride they had heard was supposed to be so scary.
They didn't look too worried.
You want scary?
Try 30 seconds over Berlin.
Photo: The B-17 bombardiers, from left, Jim Cowen, Harold ``Mick'' Maddren, Bob Mullen, Al Shaw and Wayne Chapin, hold a photograph of themselves and their crewmen taken one week before Allied forces liberated Europe from Nazi aggression.
Terri Thuente/Daily News
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 8, 1997|
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