The day began with total uncertainty because of expected stormy weather. Jan looked at me and said “ I love you and maybe we will be able to go to the Fly-in. With a last look at radar and a call to La Belle to assure that I would be able to get a hanger if things went sour, Jan and I left for the airport.
The Stearman would only fly about 80 mph at 1900 rpm and the ground speed was a paltry 68 mph. I can’t be sure but a cub may have passed me. Turbo Eddie showed up on my wing and headed the other way. A large storm was on the other side of the airport about 10 miles away. As we landed it was apparent that weather was moving quickly toward the La Belle Airport.
With a drizzle beginning to fall I moved the airplane (Denny Harrels PT-17) into a hanger and watched as most of the airplanes flew away. Thirty minutes later as the storm passed an elderly gentleman came to see me. Dennis Wyatt RAF Class of 22 5BFTS of Riddle field asked if I would bring the Stearman out for some pictures with his fellow aviators. After buckling him in I took him for a ride around the field and a low pass for the cadets and veterans. He was beaming as he climbed out of the cockpit and I asked if any others would like to go. He said they had to leave in twenty minutes. After about two and half hours I had flown all that could get up front. About twenty-three in all had a chance to feel a prop blast that was their introduction to flying 60 years ago. Each were presented with a P cap of the British Service style with the inscription “Honor Squadron Riddle Field 5BFTS”
It was such a privilege to fly them and they made me an honorary member with the presentation of one of the P caps. Tears of joy and strong healthy handshakes greeted me as they stood on the wing walk of an airplane that was the birth of their combat flying careers before heading off to war.
While I flew the cadets Jan rode in a T-28 for about 45 minutes and she hasn’t a chance of wiping that smile off for a month.
My sweety and I had a nice dinner at Flora’s and spent the night hiding from the La Belle nightcrawlers until sunrise. We were too tired to care and the room could have been in the Ritz. Then Monday, on Memorial Day, we flew the Waco and circled overhead the Arcadia Cemetery at 10 am for the opening ceremonies of the 23 British flyers that died while training at Riddle field during the war. The 24th gravesite is of John Paul Riddle who asked to be buried with the men who perished while in his charge at Clewiston, Riddle Field.
The turnout for this was overwhelming and each of the British pilots gave me a smile of thanks for their last time aloft in a Stearman. With a small tremble in their shoulders we watched as they signed a large photograph of the Stearman I had flown them in. One of the original Flight Instructors, Roscoe Brinton, told me that we arrived overhead just as the ceremony was to begin. All watched the biplane in steep turns and lazy eights as a tribute to honor the fallen soldiers at their feet. He said the opening prayers began as the sound of the radial engine floated away.
Wing Commander Robin Chambers gave an eloquent, reverent speech and spoke how these men where no older that his sons at the time of their death. One of the local pilots at Arcadia airport had driven us over and I was able to enjoy the Memorial Services and hear this thoughtful speech. He quoted the poem “High Flight” and we listened to bag pipes play a soulful Amazing Grace to end the eulogy as a salute to all who have fallen.