In early 1943, 19-year-old James Shipley of Tipton was training for military service with other African Americans at a military base in Tuskegee, Alabama. In his biography, “Together as One”, he recalls looking up to the sky during his basic training to watch planes such as the PT-17 Stearman being used to train black air cadets who would soon receive the iconic title. of “Tuskegee Airmen”. “
Almost eight decades later, Shipley had the experience of a lifetime when he flew a similar aircraft. The event was a partnership between nonprofit Dream Flights and organizations such as Sports Clips and Veterans United Home Loans, seeking to recognize World War II veterans in a program called “Operation September Freedom.” .
According to the Dream Flights website, the organization is “dedicated to honoring military veterans and seniors with the adventure of a lifetime: a flight in a Boeing Stearman biplane.”
They added, “As we make these heroes’ wishes come true, our Dream Flights inspire them to share their stories. We collect, preserve and share these stories about how they survived times of great conflict to remind us of our shared humanity, our connection to each other and the value of listening. “
Nearly a dozen WWII veterans took to the skies on Saturday for a free flight experience at Jefferson City Memorial Airport. The crews took great care in helping the veterans get on and off the plane, as many of them developed mobility issues in their later years.
The flights were part of the “Flying into the 1940s” event open to the public. The WWII-themed event included live musical performances from Kapital Kicks, demonstrations of modern and historic parachutes, and displays of several types of aircraft.
Shortly after arriving at the airport, Shipley was elated when he had the opportunity to take a closer look at a P-40 Warhawk and a P-51 Mustang – two planes he helped to “set in motion” and which he maintained during their deployment to Italy during the war.
“I remember when our equipment got the P-40s; they were worn out but we kept them in working order as best we could so our pilots could carry out their missions,” he said. “When we got the P-51s, it was like having a new high performance sports car after driving old cars.”
He proudly added: “I was a crew chief for three different pilots while on duty, and each of them came home safe and sound.”
With dozens of spectators leaning against a temporary fence to watch the historic event, Shipley was tenderly loaded into the open cockpit of the biplane and adorned with an aviation flight helmet. Slowly taxiing towards the runway as Shipley grinned broadly, the plane took off for a 10 minute flight.
After returning to the airport, he still kept his smile on as the plane stopped near the flight hangar. When he was disembarked from the front seat of the biplane, the pilot thanked him for his service. Next, Shipley was asked if he would be willing to sign the tail of the plane, forcing the request before he was surrounded by media wishing to interview him about his flight.
The 98-year-old veteran stayed at the event for several hours, signing copies of his biography and visiting members of the public demanding the opportunity to meet one of the few surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Reflecting on her flight, Shipley demonstrated the selfless and humble nature that is now recognized as the defining characteristics of the men and women known as “the greater generation”.
“The flight was great and I didn’t expect it to happen to me,” he said. “During the war, we had some pretty tough experiences, but we were all just doing the job we were supposed to do. “
He added: “Guess I don’t understand all the attention – I’m just proud to have been able to serve my country and to return safely to Tipton after the war.”
For more information on Dream Flights or to donate, go online at dreamflights.org.
Jeremy P. mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.