Ron Holdsworth, a British WWII veteran, turned 100 in September.
But Holdsworth, who has lived in Bakersfield since 1954, made it clear Thursday morning that he was not too old to climb into the open cockpit of a 1940s Boeing Stearman biplane and fly over Bakersfield.
After Holdsworth gave a thumbs up, pilot Molly Littlefield lifted the vintage plane off the tarmac and gave Holdsworth what she hoped would be the flight of her life.
âIt has been a privilege to bring these flights to members of the larger generation,â said Littlefield, who flew approximately 60 veterans aboard the restored open-cockpit biplane.
âYou look into their eyes and hear their stories,â she said.
It is important for us to honor the WWII generation and always remember what they did, what they sacrificed, she said.
“Because it’s soon gone. “
Thursday’s flight from Bakersfield Jet Center to Meadows Field Airport was just one of hundreds of flights flown on behalf of Operation September Freedom, Dream Flights’ latest non-profit mission to honor members of the larger generation with free flights aboard several restored WWII Boeing Stearman biplanes.
Since 2011, Dream Flights has honored over 4,200 seniors and veterans with these and similar flights.
For Holdsworth, a resident of Brookdale Riverwalk, the flight was remarkable, but probably not as exciting as the 32 combat missions he served as a rear gunner aboard a four-engine Halifax bomber for the British Royal Air Force.
Holdsworth had already served three years in Africa as an aircraft mechanic before joining combat missions in 1944 as a bomber crew member.
“I left England in April 41 and came back in January 44,” he said. “I spent time in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Kenya, Madagascar, Egypt.”
But the war changed for him in 1944, when he began carrying out six bombing missions over France and 26 over Germany.
On Christmas Eve 1944, Holdsworth and his teammates were on a daytime bombing mission to target an industrial section of the Ruhr area of ââGermany.
âWe were going to an aerodrome in the industrial Ruhr area,â he recalls. “I believe we were flying over Duisburg when we got hit by the flak.”
Duisburg is a city in western Germany, at the confluence of the Rhine and the Ruhr.
âMe being in the back, and the only one facing each other, I didn’t know what had happened,â he said with an English accent that hasn’t left him for 100 years.
âI felt the initial shock,â he recalls of the metallic flak that hit the plane’s fuselage and detonated an oxygen canister.
âAt the time, I thought I was going to be Adolf’s guest,â he said, referring to the infamous Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and the terrible possibility he has to bail out.
But that didn’t happen and the plane and crew made it back to England in one piece, but not before dropping their payload.
Deb Johnson, who runs the California Veterans Assistance Foundation and is closely associated with Veterans of Foreign Wars 10859, was there Thursday to witness the flight.
As a Gulf War veteran who has been deployed to Saudi Arabia, Johnson said it was an honor to be involved in any way with WWII veterans.
She and the junior vice-state commander of VFW California. Tim Bryant, who was also in attendance, stressed the importance of making young Americans understand the importance of knowing our history.
âI have two young daughters,â said Bryant. “It is important that they know what our veterans have done and what our allies have done.”
With Thursday’s leg of Operation September Freedom over, the centennial guest of honor was asked if he had any advice for other veterans who might be reluctant to step on one of these. dream flights.
Holdsworth didn’t skip a beat.
âGo ahead,â he said. “I would tell them to go.”
And when asked what it was like to add his autograph to the rudder of the Stearman, where dozens of other vets had already signed, he paused for a moment.
âIt was something else,â he said. “It really was.”
Journalist Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @semayerTBC.