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The recipe for telling stories we find interesting, psychologists tell us, consists of presenting something new within a context that listeners find familiar.

If the elements of a story are known, the audience can fill in the gaps with their own memories and feel actively engaged in the experience.

Sandra Warren’s presentation to the Black Mountain Rotary Club on May 16 at Givens Highland Farms was compellingly titled, “We Bought a WWII Bomber.”

It was a perfect mixture of novelty and mystery embedded in our memories of the home front in those long-ago war years.

When Americans were called upon to “do their part” following Pearl Harbor, the students of South High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., stepped up. They started a “Bonds for Bomber” campaign.

The government offered two goals for aviation fund-raising: contribute $75,000 for a pursuit flyer or $375,000 for a B-24 or B-17 Flying Fortress.

The students sold war stamps in the school halls and went door-to-door urging the community to go to local banks and buy war bonds on behalf of South High’s campaign. The first goal was $75,000, but they blew past that and went for the big plane.

Rotarians and guests basked in our own private memories, experienced and recounted over countless meals, of ration books, V-letters, Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) spotters, and the like.

The students of South High were successful, and the new B-17 flew to Grand Rapids to be named “The Spirit of South High School.” It was a great patriotic experience with large crowds, bands, speeches and the impressive B-17 that, the students hoped, would play a significant role in ending the war.

The B-17 flew off, and Sandra Warren, a South High graduate herself, recounted a fascinating tale of tracking down what did happen to the plane. Her countless contacts with the Defense Department, aided immensely by another South High grad, star athlete and captain of the football team named Gerald Ford, led her to Meadows of Dan, in Patrick County, Virginia. There, in land now part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the plane crashed in 1944.

It’s all a great story in her book. Warren, who lives in Nebo, has published historical nonfiction, biographies, poetry and children’s books, among other works.

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