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Mulberry Gardens veterans thanked with a trip to the wild blue yonder

by Jeff Saunders | reporter Published: September 25, 2016 12:00 AM
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For David Kahl, soaring in a biplane was a not the kind of flying experience he had in the Airforce in the 1960s.

"Good," he said of the experience. "I've never been in one of those before. It was different."

Kahl was one of six residents of Mulberry Gardens Assisted Living in Munroe Falls, five men and one woman, who each took an approximately 20-minute flight in a vintage 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane at Kent State University Airport in Stow on Aug. 26. The flights were courtesy of Nevada-based Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation. It was the third consecutive year that Mulberry Gardens residents, who have not had an opportunity to fly previously in the plane, went up.

"The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation is a non-profit organization established and dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans," says the foundation's website. "The primary focus is on individuals living in long-term care communities. Our mission is to 'Give Back To Those Who Have Given.'"

This year, the pilot was Darryl Fisher, Ageless Aviation's founder and president. Fisher told the veterans in the airport's hangar between flights that his grandfather purchased the Stearman as military surplus in 1946 for $1,500.

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"I am the fortunate one. I gave the first Dream flight for our organization on March 29, 2011, so we're coming up on 2,000 flights," said Fisher.

Veterans have

varied experiences

"That was interesting," said Roger Garver after his flight. "The hardest part was getting into the plane. 'Don't worry,' they said. 'You're not going to fall.'"

"I was worried," said his wife Evelyn.

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Her husband, who made it into and out of the plane just fine, said his flight took in a 20-mile radius.

"You got to see the landmarks, which you could recognize," he said, adding "probably" when asked if he would go up again.

Garver served in the Army's 377th Infantry Regiment, part of the 95th Infantry Division, from 1942-47 and was in the European Theater during World War II. He earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Infantry Combat Badge and the French Legion of Merit.

He recalls taking part in fighting at Bastogne, in southern Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

"That's where the Germans made a counterattack and I don't know how many Americans were killed," said Garver. "I was there at the end of the battle, not the beginning."

In March 1945, he crossed the Rhine and saw some additional action.

"We were the first ones to pull through with a battalion of tanks and the 95th Infantry led the attack," he said, adding that the tanks caught up with a trainload of at least 100 German soldiers.

"All it takes to stop a train is a .50-caliber bullet through the boiler," said Garver. "Once you put a bullet into the boiler, it stops the pressure."

A few of the Germans briefly escaped, taking refuge in a house, but were killed with phosphorus grenades during a brief fight. Garver said he still remembers Easter services on April 1, 1945 taking place outside the town, not far from where the house was still burning.

"I was wounded two weeks later," he said. "We were getting rid of a German antitank mine. It was booby trapped and we set it off accidently and I got shrapnel in the leg."

Ernie Queer, who with his wife Roberta is known as Ernie and Bert, served in the Navy reserves from 1949-54.

"It was great," he said of his flight. "It was a real experience. We have flown many, many miles on the big planes, but there's no comparison between the big planes and the small ones. He took me all around. You could make out Chapel Hill and all that."

Queer served his duty on weekends in Akron, "where they built the dirigibles," he said. When asked if he would like to take another flight in the biplane, he said "Very much so."

Jim Tyson earned a business administration degree from KSU and served in the Army infantry from 1951-53 as a first lieutenant and platoon leader at Fort Benning in Georgia and Camp Rucker in Alabama.

Nearly a week after his flight, he was expressing enthusiasm about it, saying it was "beautiful."

"I just thought it was awesome," he said. "It was very nice, inspiring."

"He still talks about it all the time, how awesome it was," said Tyson's wife Wanda.

Sam Wolber served in the Navy from 1961-81 as an engineer, mainly on light cruisers.

"Took care of the main engines," said Wolber. "Once in a while, they'd stick me on ships, police force, master at arms."

His service included on the USS Oklahoma City, a light cruiser built during World War II that was converted into a missile cruiser in the late 1950s and became the 7th Fleet's flagship.

He said he would take another flight "in a heartbeat."

"I was scared to death until I got into the [biplane]," he said. "It was nice and quiet and smooth. You could look out. Cars seemed like ants. Stayed up about 20 minutes. It was beautiful. I think it's neat. I never expected anything like this. But when I first got [to Mulberry Gardens], some of the other fellows talked about it. It was quite an experience. I really enjoyed it."

Virginia Waterloo did not serve in the military, but she served an important role during World War II nonetheless that made her eligible to go up; she was an inspector of B-29 bomber parts at a plant in Brook Park during the last two or three years of the war. She received a proclamation from the Ohio House of Representatives in the mid-1990s, signed by then-District 11 Rep. Jane Campbell and House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, honoring her for her service.

"I worked [at the plant] until the day it closed. It closed when the war ended," said Waterloo. "I inspected the work that Rosie the Riveter did."

Waterloo, whose late husband Bob served in the Navy during the war and became a firefighter afterwards, said her uncle got her the job, which included six months of training before she went to work.

"I lived in Pennsylvania and there wasn't any work for me," she said.

She said "everyone was very nice," in connection with her flight.

"I loved it. I wish I could have gone around one more time," she said. "[Fisher] signed my hat and said, 'You are a sweetheart.'"

Kahl served in the Airforce from 1963-69 and was on the front lines of the Cold War. He went through navigator training in Texas and electronic warfare training in California before being stationed at Homestead Airforce Base in Florida. While there, he was part of a crew flying B-52 bombers on 24-hour flights up north, then across to and around Europe and back, flights that required three in-air refuelings. Later, he was stationed at Wright Patterson Airforce Base near Dayton, making similar flights, although then to Canada and around the Arctic Circle.

Even when not flying, there was some tension. Kahl was living the 1960s movies "Dr. Strangelove" and "Fail-Safe," albeit with a happier ending.

"We sat on alert," said Kahl. "Each crew sat on seven-day alerts. If we were called on a war thing, we would go to bomb Russia."

In the hangar, Fisher summed up why Ageless Aviation was there again.

"We're here to say thank you," he said.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9431

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