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Veterans Flight 2023

Saturday’s Three-Ship SNJ/T-6 Lima Bravo Flight Enroute to Pensacola Beach

Thank you everyone for your support. In addition to record crowds at Pensacola Beach, Veterans Flight 2023 had more veterans, family members, sponsors, and supporters at Pensacola Aviation Center than any previous Veterans Flight.


We flew more than 50 flights Friday and Saturday. In addition to flying four World War II veterans who earned Lima Bravo recognition by celebrating their 100th birthdays and flying with us, we flew other World War II veterans who are closing in on the century mark.


Adding Vietnam era aviators this year was a nice addition as these veterans have not received the recognition they deserve. Regardless of your feelings about America's involvement in Vietnam, we should recognize that thousands of young Americans answered their country's call and performed in the highest traditions of the branches of the military in which they served. We hope more will join us for Veterans Flight 2024. 


A highlight of Veterans Flight 2023 was Saturday’s three-ship SNJ/T-6 flight with 103 years old Navy F6F Hellcat pilot Art Leach (Lima Bravo #6), 100 years old Army B-24 pilot Howard Levinson (Lima Bravo #8), and Navy F9F Panther pilot Royce Williams who is only 98, but who shot down four Russian MiG-15’s in November 1952. The three are shown in the photo above in SNJ/T-6 advanced trainers like the ones in which they trained during World War II.


Veterans Flight 2024 and the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show will be Friday, 12 July, and Saturday 13 July 2024. Put those dates on your calendar and join us at Pensacola Aviation Center to help us celebrate Navy veteran “Cash” Barber’s recognition as Lima Bravo #10.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

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CAPT Royce Williams, USN (ret.)
American Hero and 2023's Special Guest 

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John Mollison's Drawing of the F9F-5 Panther Flown by LT Royce Williams

Veterans Flight was honored that Navy Cross recipient retired Navy Captain Royce Williams came from San Diego to Pensacola for Veterans Flight 2023. This would not have happened without the wonderful folks at American Airlines who provided round trip flights for Captain Williams.

If you follow Ward Carroll’s YouTube channel, or John Mollison’s “Old Guys and Their Airplanes” website, you recognize Royce Williams’s name. If you haven’t heard of Royce Williams, but joined us at Pensacola Aviation Center, you had an opportunity to meet an American hero who as a young Naval Aviator distinguished himself during one of the most amazing and least known events in the history of Naval Aviation.

On 18 November 1952, LT Royce Williams was a Navy F9F Panther pilot assigned to Fighter Squadron VF-781 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, which was part of a task force operating off the east coast of North Korea in an area south of Vladivostok, Russia. When an NSA listening post radioed a warning that a flight of four Russian MiG’s was inbound toward the task force, the Oriskany launched four F9F Panthers to intercept the MiG’s. LT Williams was leading the flight’s second element of two Panthers.

The F9F Panther was the Navy’s first carrier-based jet fighter. Although a tough product of Grumman’s legendary “Iron Works,” it was a straight wing jet better suited to a ground attack role than air to air combat against the much higher performance MiG-15.


Soon after the four Panthers took off, the pilot of the lead aircraft reported a fuel pump problem and was ordered to return to the Oriskany. Lead’s wing man returned to the carrier with him, which left LT Williams and his wing man, a new and inexperienced member of the squadron, to deal with what they had been told were four MiG’s. They believed it would be a difficult “two vs four” encounter, but after visually spotting the MiG’s contrails LT Williams realized there were seven MiG’s, making this an almost impossible “two vs seven” fight he was unlikely to survive.  

Ward Carroll's and John Mollison's interviews explain what happened during Royce Williams's encounter with the Russian MiG's, and links to their web pages are below. You will enjoy the story and be surprised it remained a secret for many years. 

Ward Carroll: (45) Secrets of a Soviet MiG Killer - YouTube

John Mollison: OGTA Debrief with CAPT. Royce Williams on Vimeo


On Friday Royce flew with Veterans Flight pilot Pete Jones in a two Stearman formation led by Veterans Flight pilot Carey Hardin who was accompanied by the CAPT Terry "Village" Shashaty, the Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola. 


Carey Hardin, Pete Jones, CAPT Royce Williams and CAPT Terry "Village" Shashaty


2023 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show

Honoring Their Service

Veterans Flight 2015's Stearmans Ready for Takeoff for Friday's First Fight

Veterans Flight 2023 was a great success. In addition to flying four World War II veterans who were more than 100 years old, we did more than fifty flights Friday and Saturday.


USMC Corsair pilot Lowell “Red” Truex, Lima Bravo #7 (right), who at 101 is the oldest USMC veteran to fly with Veterans Flight, flew with us again this year. 

Navy Corsair mechanic Margie Stone (left, center) also joined us again. Margie's age is classified, but she climbs into a Stearman more easily than some of our Veterans Flight pilots.

The loss of Pearl Harbor Survivor Frank Emond, Lima Bravo #2, (above, with Stearman pilot Carey Hardin) reminds us we have few future opportunities to honor the World War II veterans whose sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great country. At 104, Frank was the oldest veteran to have flown with Veterans Flight.

If you joined us at Pensacola Aviation Center to honor these great Americans, you saw Veterans Flight could not happen without the great folks at Pensacola Aviation Center. There is no way Veterans Flight can adequately thank PAC owner Bill Hudgens and his hard-working staff. 


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Pearl Harbor Survivors Frank Emond, USN, and Bill Braddock, USMC, before Veterans Flight 2018.

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Julie Thomas - Navy Stearman #67

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Veterans, pilots, family members, volunteers and supporters gather at Pensacola Aviation Center before the flights

Sam Hardin - Navy Stearman #469


Veterans Flight pilots John Laughter (515), Carey Hardin (470), Vic Syracuse (719) and Sam Hardin (469) over Pensacola Beach during Veterans Flight 2018

Carey Hardin - Army Stearman #470

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World War II Stearman instructor Norman Cockman and pilot Roy Kinsey before the first Veterans Flight in November 2010

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John Rettick - Army Stearman #845

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World War II veterans Jerry Yellin (Army Air Corps), Cass Phillips (Navy) and Jay Carraway (Navy) during Veterans Flight 2016

Phil Webb - Army Stearman #42

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Roy Kinsey - Navy Stearman #708

Phil Webb (Army #42) leads the Stearmans for takeoff on runway 35 at Pensacola International Airport

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Stearmans on the flight line waiting patiently for the first flight of veterans.

Army Air Corp B-25 Pilot John Beard and Phil Webb During Veterans Flight 2014

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If you know World War II, Korea, or Vietnam era aviators, email their contact information to

so we can invite them to fly with us next July

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2022 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show
Friday, 8 July and Saturday, 9 July

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Retired Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad Presented Lima Bravo Recognitions to World War II

Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Art Leach (Lima Bravo #6) and World War II

USMC Corsair Pilot Lowell “Red” Truex (Lima Bravo #7)

Lima Bravo #4, Frank Emond, who is 104, is Next to Admiral Cozad

Veterans Flight 2022

Was A Great Success

Although we had only eight Stearmans, two T-6/SNJ’s and one T-34 this year due to a variety of medical, business, and mechanical problems, we still flew 25 veterans, plus numerous sponsors and volunteers.


The highlight of our operations was Saturday’s five Stearman Lima Bravo flight, which was led by Veterans Flight pilot Julie Thomas. Three 100+ years old World War II veterans, plus retired Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad and photographer Steven Stopler, flew in a five Stearman formation over Pensacola Beach. In addition to new Lima Bravo recipients Art Leach and “Red” Truex, we were honored to have Pearl Harbor Survivor Frank Emond, who is 104 years old and holds the distinction of Lima Bravo #2, in the front cockpit of Navy Stearman 708 during the flight.

After the flight Admiral Cozad, President & CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, presented Lima Bravo recognitions to World War II Navy F6F Hellcat pilot Art Leach (102), Lima Bravo #6; and World War II Marine F4U Corsair pilot Lowell “Red” Truex (100), Lima Bravo #7.

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Retired Rear Admiral Kyle "kc" Cozad in the Front Cockpit of Howard Thomas's Super Stearman "Queen of Memphis" with Frank Emond, Lima Bravo #2, and Roy Kinsey in Navy Stearman #708

On Their Wing During Saturday's Lima Bravo Flight

In addition to the three Lima Bravo recipients who flew during Veterans Flight 2022, the four World War II veterans pictured below, all of whom are now deceased, earned Lima Bravo recognition by flying with Veterans Flight and celebrating their 100th birthdays. The passing of these four great Americans is a reminder we have few remaining opportunities to honor and thank the World War II veterans whose sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great country. 


Lima Bravo #1, Army B-29 Pilot Paul McClain, with Veterans Flight Pilot Carey Hardin 


Lima Bravo #4, Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Dick Pace, with Veterans Flight Pilot Roy Kinsey


Lima Bravo #3, Army B-25 Pilot John Beard,

Climbs into Phil Webb's Army Stearman


Lima Bravo #5, Navy PBY Pilot Cass Phillips, with Veterans Flight Pilot Carey Hardin

Although each passing year means there are fewer living World War II veterans to honor and thank, the support Veterans Flight receives has made it possible for us to bring more out of state veterans to the Pensacola Beach Air Show. In recent years veterans from Virginia, Illinois, and Alaska have traveled to Pensaco­la to fly. We are working to include more in the future, so please plan to join us July 7 & 8 for Veterans Flight – 2023 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show.

In addition to the 8 Stearman primary trainers that came to Pensacola for Veterans Flight 2022, the Stearmans were joined by 2 SNJ/T-6 advanced trainers and a T-34. This gave us an opportunity to fly veterans in the first two military airplanes many flew during World War II. (For many World War II aviators, a Stearman was the first airplane in which they had ever flown). 

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T-6 Pilot Phillip Grice on the Wing of Dave Robinson's SNJ as the Advanced Trainers roll in on Pensacola Beach during Veterans Flight 2021. Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Art Leach is in the aft cockpit of the T-6 and Dan Peterson is in the aft cockpit of the SNJ. Photo was taken by Jeff Rease from Tony Diez's T-34.

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If you know World War II, Korea, or Vietnam era aviators, email their contact information to

so we can invite them to fly with us in July.

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