Dinner at Rowan airport a swinging celebration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The peppy sound of World War II-era tunes from the Salisbury Swing Band set the tone for a special evening honoring veterans from all services at the Rowan County Airport’s newest hanger on Tuesday evening.
More than 250 tickets were sold for an evening of ribeye steaks, desserts, music and dancing. The event was organized by Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1083.
A contingent of eight veterans from the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center had seats near the band and enjoyed the time out in the community.
“This music will bring back some great memories,” said Terri Gilbeau, a recreation therapist at the hospital. “We have a few dancers, so they will enjoy that part of the evening. But it is best that our veterans can be honored here in the way that they should be.”
Charles Hux, a pilot and armorer in the Army Air Corps, flew from 1942 to 1945 in China, Burma and India. He flew AT-6 and B-25 bombers.
“One time we had a bomb hang up, and I had to pry it out with a crowbar. We often had holes in the plane when we got back, but we always did come back. I came back to the United States on a hospital ship once the war was over,” Hux said.
Other members of the VA group were Ronald Manges, Gary Richardson, James Lashmit, Tom Kane, Roy Johnson, Richard Hogsus and Chris Lymscer.
With plenty of aviators around, Jack Kepley was still very proud to wear his U.S. Army 24th Division, 34th Infantry jacket. He fought as part of an initial landing unit, experiencing 262 days of combat during his service from June 1943 to January 1946.
Kepley made beach landings in New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines. He recalled several special memories of the war. Once, while clearing a road for General McArthur to pass through, Kepley spotted a banana tree. He climbed the tree, only to be shot at. The shot came close enough that it cut the strap on his helmet.
“I got down out of that tree and we got away from there,” Kepley said. “We never did find who was shooting at us.”
He also remembered seeing McArthur come ashore in Leyte, Phillipines, but his worst memory was of seeing the destruction in Hiroshima about two months after the bomb flattened the city. Kepley served as part of the occupation force in Japan. He brought his daughter-in-law, Anna Kepley, to help celebrate the evening’s events.
While the EAA was very proud to have the “Aluminum Overcast” B-17 bomber just a short distance away, one of its local members had plenty of memories of other planes used in World War II. Bill Howard served as an instructor pilot, after supplemental training allowed him to sharpen his own flying skills.
“When we graduated flight school, we had to choose the type of plane we wanted to fly,” he said. “Being too tall to fly fighters, I wanted to fly A-20 or B-17 bombers. But they picked me as a flight instructor.”
Howard went off to twin-engine school in Stuttgart, Ark., then was transferred to Freeman Air Field in Indiana.
“The country was really united then. We may never see it like that again,” Howard said. “I became a commander of a B-29 at McDill Field in Tampa, but along the way I flew B-17s, B-24s, C-47s and Martin Marauders.”
Memories of his friends from service included Ed Barrier, a decorated B-17 pilot from Concord, Earl Allen of Landis who flew P-47s, and Paul Tibbets whose plane dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“Aviation has been a part of my life. I bought two training planes after the war, but had to give all of that up till my three kids finished college,” he said. “Then my wife, Sarah Jane, allowed me to have a plane. I had her permission. We have been married 63 years.”
Howard credited EAA 1083 President Jack Neubacher for making the events surrounding the “Aluminum Overcast” visit a success.
“Jack has a leadership ability that is rare,” he said. “He is soft and easy, but the man makes it tick. Jack is certainly dedicated.”
“I want to thank the members of EAA 1083 for making this event successful,” he said. “Thad, Tonya, Sondra and Dusty of the airport staff have jumped in and done everything possible to help us. Thanks to Rowan County for their support and the use of the hanger.”
Latest word on the flight schedule of the “Aluminum Overcast” came from Dale Ensing, tour coordinator.
“We made the repairs to the engine, and will take her up for a test flight on Wednesday morning about 8:30 or 9,” he said. “We are optimistic that everything will go well and we can do our scheduled flights starting at 10 a.m. Seats are available at this time.”
For more information, call 704-232-0714.