The 21st Show

Flying On A B-17 World War II Bomber; Marilyn Webb Receives Her Ph.D., 52 Years Later


Jasper Davidoff/Illinois Public Media

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We take a flight in one of the last B-17 bombers still in the air and talk to Illinois veterans about their memories of World War II. Plus, Marilyn Webb has been a writer, educator and professor, but she never got to finish her doctorate. Back in the sixties, her male professors sexually harassed her and she eventually left her program. 52 years later she’s finally getting her Ph.D. from UChicago. 

It’s graduation season, a time when we celebrate the often incredibly stressful years of effort that go into getting a degree, like a PhD.

Imagine having to wait more than 50 years for your hard work to be recognized! Marilyn Webb started her graduate degree in educational psychology at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. But when she was nearing the end of her program in 1967, she was sexually harassed by two male professors she  asked to be on her dissertation committee. With no systems in place during that era to address her problem, she left with her dream of a doctorate derailed.

Marilyn moved to Washington D.C. and became active in the feminist movement. She's had a successful career as not just a writer and editor, but also a professor. She co-chaired the journalism department at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois where is still a professor emeritus of journalism.

52 years later the University of Chicago is working to correct this injustice that drove Marilyn out of her doctoral program as a young woman. She's graduating on Saturday with her PhD. We had a chance to speak with her before she came back to Illinois, while she was still at her home in New York.


During World War II, the B-17 bomber became known as the Flying Fortress - for its ability to fly solo for hours on end and strike targets deep behind enemy lines.

Today, fewer than 15 of these airplanes can still take to the skies - and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Aluminum Overcast is one of them. This summer, the EAA is flying the plane across the United States to give people a peek into aviation history.

Last Thursday, on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the Aluminum Overcast came to Champaign’s Willard Airport. We had the chance to ride the B-17 and talk to its pilots.

The Aluminum Overcast is at Peoria’s Downing Airport this Friday through Sunday. Click here for more information on ground tours or flights.

There are also veterans living today who served on B-17s during the war. One of them is Harold Huffman, who served as a flight engineer and top turret gunner. We visited him at his home in Arcola and he told us about flying missions over Europe and getting shot down over Sweden. 

Of course, World War 2 was being fought all around the world. While Harold was in Europe, John Knoepfle was serving with the Navy’s amphibious corps in the Pacific theatre. He was at both Iwo Jima and Okinawa. When he came back to the US, he later worked as a professor of English at the University of Illinois, Springfield. John and his wife Peggy joined us from Springfield.

John and Peggy Knoepfle

Sean Crawford/NPR Illinois

Story source: WILL