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WWII veteran, Silver Star recipient takes ‘tremendous’ flight in 1943 warplane

WWII veteran, Silver Star recipient takes ‘tremendous’ flight in 1943 warplane (Butler County Warbirds/Facebook)

A highly decorated World War II veteran’s unforgettable year has taken flight.

Since April, M/Sgt. 1st Class Richard “Dick” O. Gard has celebrated his 100th birthday by being recognized at the Cincinnati Reds baseball game at Great American Ball Park, honored during a dinner at the Centerville VFW Post 9550 and watched a surprise parade thrown in his honor outside his West Carrollton home.

Then on Saturday, two days before Memorial Day, Gard got to fly in and pilot a 1943 PT19-A Cornell two-seat warplane that was piloted by Tim Epperhart, president of the Butler County Warbirds that are based at the Middletown Regional Airport.

“He was thrilled,” said Garry Delph, a Franklin resident and Gard’s nephew. “All of the things he has done lately, this was the thing he liked best. This was tremendous for him.”

The 45-minute flight was a total team effort, too.

Since Gard uses a wheelchair, Delph said he was unsure how to transport his uncle into the airplane. He thought some relatives were going to attend and help, but some backed out at the last minute.

So he called the Middletown Division of Fire Department and Capt. Ben Bultman, Lt. Shawn McIntosh and firefighters Jeff Kren and Caleb Clemons from Station 81 lifted Gard out of his wheelchair and into the cockpit. They placed a towel on the plane’s seat, and removed Gard after the flight by lifting up the towel.

Delph said Gard wasn’t inconvenienced, but then again, he survived World War II.

“They made him as comfortable as possible,” Delph said. “But you have to remember this man walked across France in his sock in the winter.”

Landing in Normandy three days after D-Day, Gard participated in the breakout from the beachhead through Saint-Lô, France to Brest. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action. He was wounded in Belgium on Jan. 16, 1945.

His medals include the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.

While in the air, Epperhart turned the controls over to Gard, who earned his pilot’s license 76 years ago. They talked the whole time, Epperhart said.

Delph said he hopes to make the Memorial Day weekend flight an annual event.

“His head swelled and he felt like he was 30 years old again,” Delph said. “The patriotism was heartfelt.”

Epperhart said he enjoys taking veterans on flights. It’s his way of paying them back for their military service.

“I have been very honored to meet many of my childhood heroes,” he said. “I thanked him for adding another name to that list, thanked him for giving me the opportunity.”

Epperhart said “each of us is blessed with talents” and we have the responsibility to use those attributes to “make the community better. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”


How to go

WHAT: Butler County Warbirds

WHERE: Middletown Regional Airport, 2351 Wedekind Drive, Middletown

MUSEUM: The museum display is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. Museum is on the eastern corner of the airport.

HOW TO DONATE: Support can take the form of monetary donations, volunteer work, or various supplies and materials. If you are interested in making any type of contribution, contact the Butler County Warbirds at (513)-702-3062 or e-mail [email protected].


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