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Bluebonnet Belle Gets New Mission Flying Supplies to Victims of Harvey

The Bluebonnet Belle returned home Sept. 4 after flying supplies into Beaumont and Orange for Hurricane Harvey victims over Labor Day weekend. After landing, Randy Foster, Mark Davis, Dave Bonorden, Juan Jimenez, Chris Williams, and Chris Dowell stand for a photo in front of the Bluebonnet Belle. All except Williams are members of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force. Williams is a part of the CAF Gulf Coast Squadron. Three others from the Highland Lakes Squadron took part in the mission but were not pictured: Tom Travis, Rick Kelley, and David Oliver. Staff photo by Jared Fields

BURNET — Nearing her 73rd birthday, the Bluebonnet Belle showed she’s as capable today as she was during World War II by hauling much-needed cargo to Southeast Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

With her main duties now as an air show feature and offering flights to military veterans, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain relived some of her glory years over Labor Day weekend.

“Our squadron made a decision that we’ve got this incredible airplane and let’s put it to use,” said Col. Dave Bonorden of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, which is based in Burnet.

The Highland Lakes CAF knew about a Georgetown church that had taken donations and had items that needed to reach Beaumont for victims of the storm. After contacting the church Thursday, Aug. 31, the squadron made a commitment to fly one load.

“When we got down there, it just became apparent there was an incredible need here and it was urgent, so we just kept flying,” Bonorden said. “We kept flying until they said they had enough stuff.”

The Bluebonnet Belle flew out of Burnet on Friday and returned Monday night. The craft stopped in Georgetown to pick up 4,000 pounds of food, water, and other supplies to take to Beaumont. The crew, as well as many others who came to assist, staged in Conroe. A newly formed CAF unit in New Orleans had supplies but no plane, so the Bluebonnet Belle flew to New Orleans to pick up cleaning supplies to take back to Orange on the Southeast Texas border with Louisiana. The New Orleans supplies weren’t enough to fill the plane, so with other monetary donations the unit had collected, the crew flew back to Conroe and purchased more cleaning supplies at a nearby Walmart.

The Highland Lakes Squadron accepted online donations in order to keep flying, which it did all weekend thanks to the generosity of people in the Highland Lakes, Southeast Texas, New Orleans, and who knows where else.

“People started donating, so we kept flying,” Bonorden said. “Incredible donations were coming in just on trust.”

Interstate 10 to Orange and Beaumont was closed and impassable for most vehicles for more than a week after Harvey struck. Bringing the supplies to those towns by air was about the only way to get much-needed items to the residents. The Beaumont public water system was damaged and unable to provide water to the city's residents. The only drinking water available was what could be flown into the city.

On Monday, Sept. 4, when the crew returned to Burnet, members had been told that trucks were beginning to get supplies into Beaumont and Orange, and residents had plenty of food and water for the moment. Having completed her mission, the Bluebonnet Belle will now get ready for the Bluebonnet AirSho on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Burnet Municipal Airport.

“To see this airplane doing what it was meant to do was pretty special,” Bonorden said. “It was just cool to see it doing what it was meant to do again.”

For more photos of the Bluebonnet Belle’s latest mission, visit its Facebook page.

jared@thepicayune.com

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