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US veterans take flight on vintage plane in honor of their service

Boeing Stearman N67193 (Wikimedia Commons)

A cloud of dust forms as the propellers of a 1942 Boeing Stearman airplane starts to spin, the engine is fired up, and World War II veteran Milton Moxon, 93, begins to take flight to the sky.

“Just as smooth as could be, I had a lot of time to look around, had no concerns at all,” Moxon said afterward. “Felt very safe, very steady, it was good flying.”

Moxon was one of nine residents of the Covenant Village of the Great Lakes, ages from 71 to 93, had the opportunity to fly Thursday from Sparta Miller Airport north of Grand Rapids.

The adventure was courtesy of The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Darryl Fisher in 2011 to honor U.S. military veterans living in long-term care facilities.

Out of the nine individuals, five served in the U.S. military and the other four had relatives, loved ones, or an interest in the military. However, they all come from a diverse background and a different purpose for getting inside the cockpit.

With his walker and WWII veterans hat set aside, Moxon landed the plane with a giant smile on his face. Onlookers cheered him on as he made his way back to the deck of the Sparta Miller Airport Office.

Moxon served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. Following his basic training and a semester of college, Moxon was assigned to the 94th Division and was then shipped to England via the Queen Mary.

Reflecting on memories of the war, Moxon recalled a time when he set off an anti-personnel mine during the Battle of the Bulge and how a fellow soldier saved his life and his leg.

For his heroic services during the war, Moxon was later awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal.

Pauline Werner, 89, flew on her husband’s behalf who was unable to fly due to medical reasons. Werner’s husband, Bob, served in Europe from 1943 to 1945 during WWII. He was in the Battle of the Bulge and was a staff sergeant.

“I had to lead the platoon and I wasn’t filled with with fear — it was that I never went to battle before,” Bob Werner said. “One of the soldiers came to me and said, ‘Sergeant, I can’t go any further’ and I said, ‘Harry, you’re doing fine. Just go tree to tree, we’re going to make it.”

With emotions running high, many of the flyers had flashbacks of memories during the war or were thinking about their loved ones who once served for the U.S. military.

Barbara Rosga, 86, said she could remember hearing that Pearl Harbor was under attack on the radio when she was 10 years old.

“It was a Sunday afternoon, and I remember running into my mother and telling her that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, so that was the start of World War II,” Rosga said. “My brothers were sophomores and juniors in high school but they could hardly wait to enlist.”

Linda Kirpes, resident life director of Covenant Village of the Great Lakes, helped coordinate the event and said that days like Thursday brought back some of the most deep memories that the nine residents carry every day.

“Ageless Aviation Foundation named their foundation so appropriately because what I see when the men and women climb into that Stearman plane, they do become ageless,” Kirpes said. “Their faces change, they start glowing and smiling in a whole new way, and these are patients I see everyday. The expressions they keep throughout the flight, it last days on their faces … It’s amazing.”

The Ageless Aviation Foundation has provided more than 3,000 Dream Flights to veterans nationwide. The 1942 Boeing Stearman was the same airplane used to train military aviators in the 1940s.

Below is a list of the nine residents and their history of flying and serving in the U.S. military:

Nel Kastner, 87

Her husband served in the Navy. Since she was a small child, Nel had always been intrigued by flight and how far it has progressed to open the universe. She is excited for this opportunity.

Fred La Huis, 88, PFC U.S. Army, Korean War

Following basic training, Fred served as military police at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. He also was a desk sergeant for his squad.

Milt Moxon, 93, PFC, U.S. Army 1943-1945, World War II

Following basic training and a semester of college, Milt was assigned to the 94th Division and was eventually shipped to England via the Queen Mary. He later moved to hold German troops at the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded in a counter attack and sent to England to recuperate.

Barbara Rosga, 86

Barbara had brothers enlisted in Army and Navy. She recalled news of the attack on Pearl Harbor when she was just 10 years old. She has vivid memories of the war years. In her lifetime she has flown around the world on trips, but still looks forward to flying in an open cockpit.

Dan Sprich, 86. 1st Lt. USAF, 1955-1958

Dan is no stranger to flight as he served in the Air Force as a pilot. Training occurred in Missouri and Texas. He eventually became part of the 5th Bomb Wing at Travis AFB in California and 31st Bomb Squadron at the Strategic Air Command. He flew many missions.

Tom Stahr, 71

Tom is a retired government and history teacher. During his career, he taught many students about the history of flight and both World Wars. Tom is no stranger to thrills– he went sky diving just a few years ago.

Jim Stephens, 84. A1 class, USAF 1953-1957, Korean War

Jim served in Greenland as a radar tech helping to land planes. Jim will also be a photographer during the flights.

Pauline Werner, 89

Flying on behalf of her husband, Bob, who served in WWII. Bob Werner was a staff sergeanta and served at Battle of the Bulge.

Bob Wilkinson, 88, Yeoman 3rd Class, U.S. Naval Reserve, 1951-1957

Bob served in the reserves one night each week and for six years every summer for two weeks of training in the Great Lakes, Virginia, and Connecticut.


© 2018 The Grand Rapids Press, Mich.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.