America’s first military stealth aircraft – the Waco CG-4A combat glider – silently soared into World War II history over 70 years ago, powered only by the prevailing winds and the guts of the men who flew them. Under veil of darkness on D-Day and other major Allied airborne assaults, the Waco glider carried troops and materiel behind enemy lines to take out key enemy defenses and transportation links. These humble gliders – engineless and unarmed – overcame perilous odds to make the first cracks in Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Yet their story is an obscure chapter in the Allied victory saga. Their moment in the spotlight of military aviation was fleeting. But in the pre-helicopter age, combat gliders represented the state-of-the-art in stealth, landing precision, and hauling capacity.
— American Society of Mechanical Engineers —
Nearly 6,000 men piloted the Waco CG-4A combat gliders — known as “Flying Coffins” — during World War II. Three of those men — Captains Bucky Williams, Frank Blalock and Lee Roy Perry — hailed from Sanford.
The three are the subject of Downtown Sanford’s fourth large mural, which will begin to take shape this month on the Dossenbach’s Fine Furniture building near the intersection of Wicker and Steele streets. The mural by artist Scott Nurkin — paid for by the families of the three veterans — will be titled “Silent Wings,” and will pay homage to the brave pilots who navigated these gliders that had “few provisions for passengers’ safety and none for their comfort,” featured a control panel the pilots mistrusted, were subjected to violent turbulence any time winds topped 40 mph, and served as easy targets for enemy fire. According to the ASME, “many pilots were taken out before they could land.”
Many of those pilots were trained at the airport in Moore County, and during training, many parachuters would land in Sanford on particularly windy days, according to Liz Whitmore, planner for the Sanford Historic Preservation Commission. It’s her hope this mural — and recent Horner Boulevard murals of Sanford Spinners pitcher Howard Auman and trailblazers W.B. Wicker and Link Boykin (as well as another World War II scene on Moore Street) — will not only attract visitors to downtown but also bring a sense of history to current and future generations.
“I hope they educate younger people who weren’t aware of all these great people who have shaped their city and their nation,” Whitmore said. “I think they’re very important additions to our downtown area.”
A fifth mural is also in the works, with prepping to begin as early as September. The Advantage Auto building on North Steele Street will soon display a mural of NASCAR Hall of Famer (and Sanford native) Herb Thomas, known as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, who was the inspiration for the character “Doc Hudson” in the Pixar movie, “Cars.”
A dedication ceremony for all of these recent murals has been scheduled for Sept. 15, in Depot Park.