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WWII pilots reunite in Douglas to take one final ride

Four former WWII pilots came to Douglas for their annual reunion. / Mary Green

Thousands of men gathered during World War II in Douglas, where they learned to fly as pilots before heading off to fight.

In the years since, many of those former pilots from the 63rd Flight Training Detachment have met up each year for an annual reunion, the last 15 of which have been held in Douglas.

But this year, just four of those former cadets made it out for what could be their final ride.

“Their average age now is 95 years old, so it’s getting very difficult for them to come," said Don Brooks, the founder of the 63rd Preservation Society. "They keep saying, ‘This might be our last year.’”

That's what 1st Lt. John Herrmann is saying. He is one of the four former cadets that made the trip this year, along with Lt. Col. Paul Hawkins, 1st Lt. Guy Alley, and Flight Officer Airplane Commander Bill Manchester.

“Unfortunately, good things have to come to an end, and this is probably our last trip down to Douglas," Herrmann said.

With a little more help this time than they needed 75 years ago, the former pilots took the seat they've held so many times before, riding on Wednesday in plane built in 1942, which is one of the planes they used while learning to fly.

But for Herrmann, there was an extra challenge: the 96-year old mostly spends his time in a wheelchair these days.

“The legs don’t bend like they used to, and so it’s a real job to get to do that," he said.

What wasn't hard for Herrmann was his decision to become a pilot in the first place.

“I felt a little bit more safe if I was the pilot instead of riding with somebody else," he said.

It's not like the pilot never faced a challenge before, having completed 101 missions in Europe over the course of World War II. Herrmann noted that he was in London on VE Day.

“I don’t think many people could do everything he did," said one of his daughters, Arlice Bell. She and her sister, Connie Glover, completed the 10-hour drive from Cincinnati with their dad to be at the reunion.

But on Wednesday, John had just one mission: to make one more flight on the open-air plane.

This one might have taken some extra steps and a few extra hands, but John eventually found his familiar seat and took off with the familiar wave to the crowd and his daughters.


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