My gang pulled a terrific surprise on me for my 80th birthday last September. My daughter who lives in Cocoa Beach, FL wanted to visit the WarBird Museum in Titusville. We took a drive up there to look around. Much to my surprise, there was a C-47 on the ramp. It had been originally assigned to the 435th Troop Carrier Group and is now owned by the museum. We walked out to look at it and we were offered a tour of the airplane. Little did I know that my kids had purchased a yearly membership (which makes me an honorary Col. in the Valiant Air Command) and prearranged for me to take a ride. After inspecting the airplane which had the same old C-47 equipment with an additional six seats, we were offered a ride.
After we got into the air, the copilot unbuckled and came back (I was sitting at the navigator's table) and said "I understand that you flew one of these during the war". When I answered yes, he offered me the copilot's seat. After I got buckled in and donned the headset, the pilot asked me "do you want to take it?" And of course I jumped at the chance! He wanted me to make a couple of procedure turns, which went very well. Then he asked how I would like to fly over the Kennedy Space Center. I said "great", and he called KSC and got clearance to fly down the shuttle runway maintaining a 500 foot minimum altitude. He gave me directions to make a 120 degree turn which put us on a direct heading for KSC. It was interesting to see the shuttle on the pad from this vantage point. We took a southeast heading down the runway and got clearance to make a 180 degree fly back down the runway. Needless to say, I was extremely thrilled for this one in a million opportunity. It sure felt good to have the opportunity to handle the old "Gooney bird" again. The entire staff of the museum was equally pleased to talk to someone who had flown a C-47 during the war.
I thought this flight was the ultimate birthday present, however my kids had another surprise planned. The following weekend I was lured by my granddaughter to the mall. When we returned, I was shocked to find our place full of guests, food, lots of wine and musicians. I had a wonderful surprise party with my friends, family, and gifts galore. The cake had a photograph of me in front of the C-47 I had flown a week earlier. As if this wasn't enough, my oldest daughter had collected photos depicting my life and had them put on video tape with nostalgic music in the background. We played the video for our guests and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
It was the most special birthday I've ever experienced, and one I'll never forget.
Note: The above letter appeared in the Summer 2001 edition of the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron Association Newsletter