By Becky Maxedon
A special event in Lake Havasu City Tuesday brought smiles and memories to some local World War II veterans when Dream Flights Operation September Freedom came to town.
Dream Flights September Freedom brings flights for select veterans, sponsored mostly by Sport Clips to cities large and small piloted by volunteers and donor funded.
Dream Flights volunteer pilot Molly Littlefield said the purpose of the Dream Flights foundation is to give back to those who have given.
“This summer we are focusing on giving Boeing-Stearman flights to World War II veterans. We are hoping to give 1,000 free rides to veterans before the end of September,” Littlefield said.
Six veterans from Prestige Assisted Living were selected to fly Tuesday.
Molly Littlefield and her husband and crew chief Keith have been “on the road” for a month and have probably given about 60 flights.
Littlefield said there are six planes around the country providing the veteran flights.
“We are really enjoying honoring the World War II veterans. It’s the time. They’re all in their mid-to-late-90s and older. Without our World War II veterans, we wouldn’t be able to be here to do this,” she said.
Both of the couple’s fathers were pilots in World War II.
“I learned to fly in one of these airplanes because my father was an instructor in Stearmans, so this mission is pretty close to my heart.”
Littlefield said she is flying Dream Flights founder’s father’s plane. The founder is Darrell Fisher, and his own personal plane is also flying on the tour.
Littlefield said she has many memorable moments of the tour so far.
“I gave a ride in Aurora, Ore., to a 101 1/2-year-old. I asked him what he did in the war, and he said he learned to fly a Stearman.
“My father being an instructor, I asked him where did you learn and he said in Oxnard, Calif., and I said at Mira Loma Flight Academy and he said, ‘No one knows that.’ And I said my father was an instructor there, so we haven’t really decided if my father taught this gentleman, but they were there at the same time. “But we are going to try to get together after the tour and look at some of his flight logs to see if my father taught him,” she said.
The flight actually lasts about 10 minutes airborne and then it’s back to the staging area.
Pictures are taken, hats are presented and each veteran signs the rudder of the airplane.
“The foundation will then take that fabric off and frame it. We will have one of the largest collections of World War II veteran’s signatures,” she said.
Sport Clips manager Hannah Lapham was on hand to assist with the flights.
“Sport Clips helps Dream Flights by volunteering with the flights and we also set up the veterans who get selected. This is the first year we’ve actually been able to do it here in town,” she said.
She heard about the flights when her fiancé’s grandfather was taken on a flight in Washington state this year. “It’s an emotional journey for everyone and the veterans get to fly one more time in a plane they have flown. It’s going to be an exciting day for sure.”
Lapham’s fiancé Cody Smith said his grandfather Robert Johnson lives in Ellensburg, Wash., where he has lived his entire life.
“He was a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and three weeks ago Dream Flight was there and took up four veterans and my grandfather were one of them,” he said.
Smith pointed out Johnson’s signature on the plane’s rudder in Havasu Tuesday. “He had just turned 103 when he took the flight. He’s still alive and kicking and up until about five years ago, he was pushing his own lawnmower. He’s a true Marine,” he said.
Helen Shelenberger, 98, was a Navy Corpsman during World War II.
She said she was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Hospital and worked with the medical examiner there to assist with autopsies for fallen military personnel.
“We would take the tissue samples and place them in Petrie dishes. It was hard,” she said.
“The flight was terrific. I enjoyed every minute. Usually, I have pressure in my chest, but it was perfect. It was like standing on the ground. I can’t stay too long in the air, but this trip was great. I felt fine,” she said.
Roz Naylor, also a veteran, enjoyed her flight.
“It was exciting and wonderful I had a smile on the whole time It was wonderful,” she said.
The same could be said of Richard “Dick” Couch.
“It was very nice, very smooth. It brought back a lot of nice memories. I loved it,” he said.
The veterans and the volunteers alike enjoyed the day, thanks to the Dream Flights Foundation.
To view a short video of the flights, visit our YouTube Channel. https://youtu.be/xqdvdEFP3JM