SIDNEY — If you had the opportunity to help shake away the decades for our remaining World War II veterans for just a little while, would you take it?
As we go through our daily grind it’s far too easy to overlook our elderly. We’re all guilty of assuming they’re too old, too tired, or would have no interest in driving to a quiet airstrip for a flight, just for fun. What about their stories? It’s okay if you forget to ask them. Because we now introduce you to someone who refuses to put them aside and has made it his mission to thank our WW2 veterans by gifting them with a flight in a 1942 Boeing Stearman, and open cockpit biplane.
Third generation aviator, founder and president of Dream Flights, Darryl Fisher will bring his grandfather’s plane to Ohio to extend the gift of flight to those who helped shape world history at a time when our country’s efforts were desperately needed. Fisher and his team are all volunteers who use their retirement and vacation time to honor our vintage soldiers, sailors, and airmen with vintage planes. Their motto is, “Giving back to those who gave.”
Fisher started his Dream Flights foundation in 2011, with his first flight on March 29 in Oxford, Mississippi, using his dad’s airplane. His dad had asked Darryl to ferry him from Missouri to Oregon in the Stearman and Darryl noted that that would be around 20 or so gas stops en route. Working in the senior living business, Darryl mused, why not stop and offer the WW2 veterans a flight while they were there at each fuel stop along the way?
“It was just such a magical experience,” he shared with a smile as his eyes lit up. Talking to Sidney residents Army veteran Frank Thaman and Army Air Corp pilot Bill Deam, he admitted, “I called my wife every night, I was just so excited, telling about the guys and flying. When I got back, she said, ‘you’ve got to keep doing this. Why would you stop now’? So she formed the non-profit.”
Thanks to this non-profit, Darryl and his team, the two Sidney WW2 veterans will have their Dream flight in the 1942 Stearman at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio, Aug. 9-10. Frank and Bill were brought to the Dayton Air Show behind the scenes for the opportunity to meet Darryl and his biplane prior to their August flight.
“Two years ago I got to thinking,” Darryl continues, “I’m flying less and less WW2 guys. We need to dedicate a special mission, just for WW2 veterans.” So they are doing just that- Operation September Freedom runs Aug. 1- Sept. 30 and currently has 950 veterans signed up in 49 states, using six Stearmans.
The biplane that Darryl showed Frank and Bill will be shipped to Hawaii so the foundation can fly the two remaining survivors of the USS Arizona for the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. He escorted Frank and Bill around it, allowing them to run their hands along the wing as they circled, and shared details of the Stearman.
Still think the elderly are too old for a joy ride? Darryl had flown Norma from Lawrence, Kansas for three years in a row, ending at 104 years old. He’s also flown a gentleman in San Antonio at 104. Once a veteran reaches 100, they are invited back to fly every year. He takes exceptional care of his charges, and even the wheelchair bound are carefully ensconced in the front seat for their flights, age be damned.
Being color blind, Darryl was unable to fly in the military, but that has perhaps heightened his appreciation for those who served our country in good times and bad. The non-profit allows him to serve, in a different way. He told Frank and Bill that when he gets into the airplanes with these guys, he’s in the presence of greatness. “They probably would argue with me,” he insists to the rest of us, “but it’s true.”
Darryl told Frank and Bill that he didn’t fully understand how precarious the world stage was eighty years ago. When he gets to meet the guys who served, hear their stories and understand what they all sacrificed, “…it’s unbelievable!”
“I’m not independently wealthy, so I have to work. But,” he admitted slowly, “if someone ever put a wedge between me and working with the foundation, I would quit work.” He chuckled softly, “I’d live out of a suitcase!”
There’s no playbook for what they do with Dream Flights. They have two people on the payroll, and everyone else is volunteer.
This guy. Darryl has restored my faith in humanity, one flight at time for the often forgotten, to whom we owe so much, but are losing far too quickly.
“We get paid in satisfaction,” his eyes laughed along with his good hearted chuckle. “And I think we’re overpaid.”
Pleases join Darryl, Frank, Bill and other WW2 veterans at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio, Aug. 9-10. For more information, and if you’d like to donate to this worthy cause, please contact DreamFlights.org .
Calling herself a “nerd,” the writer is a graduate of Lehman Catholic High School and has been employed for 26 years at FOX19 in Cincinnati, Ohio. An aviation enthusiast thanks to her dad, Bill Nuss, who is an Air Force veteran. For the record, she’s also a Navy, Army and Marine aviation enthusiast thanks to family veterans!