BRADENTON -- The card arrived for Sen. Edgar Price around Veteran's Day and it touched him deeply, his son says.
It was from the widow of one of the former B-17 pilot's crew members, thanking him for bringing her husband safely home from World War II.
All of them have passed on.
Robert Herr, a waist gunner, was third from last. He died Feb. 6, 2011 in Atoka, Tenn.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
Grady Thompson, the co-pilot, died seven weeks later in Brownwood, Texas.
Now Sen. Price has passed away, too.
He died Saturday night at the age of 94 after battling a prolonged illness.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
"I honestly think he was determined to stay around until they were all gone," said Jerald Price. "He was the last one to bail out of the plane."
Sen. Price would've had it no other way.
A respected Florida legislator and revered community leader, his devotion to his fellow man manifested itself throughout his life, and it included an enduring bond with his crew that remained strong until the end.
They flew 26 missions in 1945 from the 381st Bomb Group's base in Ridgewell, England, joining the Eighth Air Force on massive daylight raids on Germany. From 1943 to 1945, the "Mighty Eighth" suffered 47,000 casualties, including 26,000 dead from 1943 to 1945.
It was that experience that shaped Sen. Price's life.
"Being responsible for the other nine men on the plane, that was a very formative thing for him," Jerald Price said. "The rest of them looked to him to get them back
every time they went up and that carried over."
Sen. Price called and wrote them every year, especially at Christmas, and did the same for crew members' widows.
"A great comradeship develops among a crew," the former Flying Fortress pilot told the Bradenton Herald in May 2009. "You become a family." A family forged by war.
Sen. Price got his wings at 23 and his crew was mostly teenagers. "My ball turret gunner was 17 and needed a waiver from his folks," he said.
The first B-17 they flew into combat was the bomb group's oldest plane, but its nickname, "Mizpah," from Genesis 31:49, resonated with the devout pilot.
"'The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent from one another,'" Sen. Price said. "It meant a lot to us. Believe me, when you're in combat and getting shot at every day, you turn to God in a very real way."
They had their share of close calls during missions that took seven to ninehours of precision flying.
During one raid on Stuttgart, Germany, an engine caught fire and Price ordered the crew to prepare to bail out.
Mr. Herr recalled in his memoirs that one of the crew jumped, but he convinced others to hang on while Price tried to save the plane.
"I remember fire coming out of the open cowl flap, but Ed did some miraculous thing and the fire blew itself out," Mr. Herr wrote. "Ed was the best, the original 'Mr. Cool.' We were able to get back to base. The crew chief said another 30 seconds would've put the fire through the firewall (and lost the wing)."
Fortunate as Mr. Price and his crew were, he remembered those who were not.
"You'd come home at night to quonset huts, look down the barracks and there'd be empty beds," he said. "Friends who'd been there that morning were not coming back."
Sen. Price never forgot that, adhering to a noble sense of duty to his crew until his own death. "He felt like he had to hang in there for them and it worked out that way," his son said.