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Ageless Aviation returns for Memorial Day flights

Florence Starnes last flew in a Stearman biplane when she was 8 years old in Highland Park, Michigan.

A barnstorming pilot landed in a nearby field and plopped down a sign offering rides for $3.

“I begged to go, and my mom said no way, but my stepdad was OK with it,” Starnes remembers. “I got to fly. Today, it didn’t cost me a thing, 80 years later. I did this as a memorial to Grover Dolan Starnes, and I know he knew I was up there.”

Grover Starnes served with the Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War ll.

In what has been become an annual tradition, Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation returned with one of its historic biplanes to Mid-Carolina Regional Airport on Monday, when veterans and widows of veterans were taken on 20-minute flights over the Memorial Day ceremony at Salisbury National Cemetery and downtown Salisbury.

Jack Livingston, an Army veteran of the Korean War who is now 89, served from 1948 to 1951. He was joined at the airport by his daughter, Jackie Meseroll. Both are originally from Piscataway, New Jersey, and now live in Salisbury.

“My dad’s entire platoon was wiped out and left for dead,” Meseroll said. “All were shot again to make sure no one survived. Dad had his arm covering his heart and the arm caught the intended final bullet. He was groaning when other Americans arrived and was the only survivor, requiring a year for recovery. Just in the last 10 years has he started to talk about his war experiences.”

“That flight was perfect,” Livingston said of his biplane adventure. “The pilots made it so easy to get in and out of the plane. I was worried about that, but I would do it again.”

Another Army veteran who served in the Korean War was Harvey Pord, originally from Boston. At age 88, Pord had six family members and his wife, Marcia, on hand to see him fly.

“The flight was absolutely awesome,” Pord said. “I saw things from the air and realized how beautiful Salisbury really is. I looked for our old house on Maple Avenue but couldn’t find it. This was something to look forward to, but I still think about Memorial Day and all those who didn’t come back. I think about my parents too.”

Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, headquartered in Carson City, Nevada, has four World War II-era biplanes that give free flights across the country. President and founder Darryl Fisher of Carson City shared flying duties Monday with Tim Dick of Reno.

The primary sponsor of the foundation is Sport Clips, well represented for the Memorial Day flights by six staff members.

“I have been with Sport Clips for 12 years, but it was my first time at these dream flights and it won’t be my last,” said area leader Casey Lackey. “It’s nostalgic, so honorable for the veterans and its not even work. We’ll have even more here next year.”

Joining Lackey were dream flight veterans C.J. McClary and Shannon Madden of Salisbury, Samantha Parsons of Hickory, and Brittany Majka of Huntersville.

Air Force widow Ann Marie said said the flight was “fabulous.”

“It left me thinking of the ’40s, girls on the wings,” she said. “This was an experience I always wanted to do. We flew over Oak Park and, oh, I would do it again in a minute.”

Most of the veterans and widows were residents at Oak Park Retirement community. Activities Director Karen Leonard has been successful in getting Ageless Aviation to make the Memorial Day stop in Salisbury for the past six years, although bad weather grounded last year’s flights. They were made up later in the year.

“Nothing is better than seeing the face of someone who has just landed from a dream flight,” Leonard said. “Many of those who flew today thanked the crew from AADF multiple times. What a perfect reflection on Memorial Day and what these veterans and their families gave their country, and us in return.”

Other veterans from Oak Park taking part included Alvin Best, who survived several harrowing experiences in Vietnam, and Tom Pollock, who served wounded soldiers on evacuation flights during the Korean War. Other widows were Kathy Gray, whose husband, James, served in the Air Force during World War II, and Lorraine Davis, whose husband served in the Army during the Korean War.

Becky Lowery has a large group of close family members who served in the military.

Also flying were current National Guard Black Hawk crew chief Mike Richards and disabled veteran Charles William Beaver, an Army aircraft mechanic who served in Vietnam. Richards won a raffle for a flight at Sport Clips.

“This was pure joy, seeing aviation for what it once was and as a building block for today’s high-tech aircraft,” said Richards.

Beaver said he came last year to see what the flights were all about, then I applied for this year.

“I had never flown in a small plane,” Beaver said. “During Vietnam, the (Viet Cong) shot up our planes and I’d repair the ones that made it back. And I would be glad to serve again today if needed.”

For more information about Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, go to agelessaviationdreams.org.

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