VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show

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Air Group 16 Officers Aboard USS Lexington - South Pacific 1944

TBF Pilot Harry Minarik Is Far Right In The Front Row

You Can Read Harry Minarik's Story In The Veterans' Stories Section 

Countdown #1 – 21 August 2020

Only 321 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

The Heritage Project 

Unfortunately, the increase of COVID-19 cases forced cancellation of the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show and Veterans Flight 2020. We were disappointed as 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of America's and its allies victory in World War II and Veterans Flight was to open the air show with a formation of six Stearmans with a 100+ years old veteran in the front cockpit of each airplane. 

We appreciate the many emails we received that supported the difficult decision. We and the Santa Rosa Island Authority are working to make sure Veterans Flight and the 2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show take place as scheduled 9 & 10 July 2021.

Good ideas often arise from disappointments and this year is no exception. Rather than waiting until next July's air show, Veterans Flight and Hellcat Productions are launching The Heritage Project. Most World War II veterans are in their late 90's, so we have limited time to honor and thank these national treasures whose courage and sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great county.

 

We also recognize the importance of educating our fellow Americans how these veterans, who are universally regarded as America's "Greatest Generation," gave up the best years of their youth to serve their country and defeat Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. Today's Americans of all ages owe these veterans a debt that can never be repaid.

There are only two Stearmans in the Pensacola area, so The Heritage Project will not be a quick or easy process. The need to continue "Social Distancing" means we cannot have the large gatherings of veterans and their families, sponsors, volunteers and Stearman pilots at Pensacola Aviation Center that we have had for past Veterans Flights. 

Veterans on this year's flight schedule will be scheduled for flights and interviews on specific dates and times. Prior to their flights we will ask the veterans to provide background information for interviews that will be recorded by Hellcat Productions professional videographers. After the videos are edited, we will post them on the Veterans Flight website. 

We are excited that veteran TV professional Jeff Weeks has volunteered to interview the veterans featured in The Heritage Project. Jeff has been behind a microphone or in front of a television camera since he was 15 years old and began his broadcasting career while a junior in high school.


Jeff has been a disc jockey, talk show host, television weather anchor, television and radio news reporter and anchor. In addition he has voiced many commercials and videos. He is also an accomplished speaker and emcee.

He has interviewed personalities from all walks of life, business, politics, science, arts, entertainment, literature and sports and says, "There is nothing in broadcasting I enjoy more than a long form one-on-one interview. I am naturally curious, and I love a good story."

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Jeff Weeks

Jeff hosts "Conversations With Jeff Weeks," a weekly program on Pensacola State College's Public Broadcasting station WSRE-TV, which in July 2015 featured "Veterans Flight 2015 - The Final Mission."  

https://www.pbs.org/video/conversations-jeff-weeks-roy-kinsey/

In addition to being a media star, Jeff also enjoys flying -- he is a private pilot -- working out, skiing and traveling.

Hellcat Productions  https://www.hellcat.productions/

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show

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Army B-25 Pilot John Beard & Veterans Flight Pilot Phil Webb – Veterans Flight 2014

Countdown #2 – 30 December 2020

Only 191 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Lt. Col. John Beard – American Hero 

Received sad news this morning that Army B-25 pilot Lt. Col. John Beard (102) passed away last night. John was one of two World War II veterans (Navy pilot Dick Pace is the other) who had flown in every Veterans Flight since we began formation flights in 2014 as part of the Pensacola Beach Air Show.

 

John earned Veterans Flight’s “Lima Bravo #3” recognition in December 2018 when he celebrated his 100th birthday. Despite his age John constantly amazed us by climbing into a Stearman more easily than many of our pilots.

 

One of Veterans Flight’s missions is to educate our fellow Americans how the World War II veterans, universally regarded as America’s "Greatest Generation," gave up the best years of their youth to serve their country. By defeating Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire they made it possible for us to live in this great country. Americans of all ages owe them a debt that can never be repaid. The attached story of John Beard’s early life and military service should be required reading for any Americans who do not appreciate that they have more opportunities in America than anywhere else in the world.

(You can read John Beard's story in the Veterans' Stories section)

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show

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Veterans Flight Stearmans Over Pensacola Beach During Veterans Flight 2018

Countdown #3 – 22 January 2021

Only 167 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Navy PBY Pilot Ron Mason – Happy Birthday #102!! 

Wednesday afternoon I received a call from the son of Navy PBY pilot Ron Mason who told me his father was celebrating his 102nd birthday. He said when he asked his father what he wanted for his birthday his father said, “I want to go to Pensacola and fly in the Pensacola Beach Air Show.” My immediate response was, “Veterans Flight will be honored to make that happen.”

 

Ron Mason was one of six 100+ years old veterans scheduled to fly in a six Stearman formation to open last year’s Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the Santa Rosa Island Authority and the Blue Angels, last year’s air show was cancelled due to COVID-19.

 

Veterans Flight learned about Ron who lives in Des Moines, Iowa when the Pensacola New Journal published an article from the Des Moines Register that featured the SKYDIVE Ron made to celebrate his 100th birthday. Reporter Shelby Fleig kindly connected Veterans Flight with Ron. The link below will take you to that story, which has photos and a video.

While COVID-19 is still a concern, Florida is one of the leaders of America’s recovery. Florida state government recognizes the importance of returning Florida’s economy to pre-virus levels. Because many older Floridians have been vaccinated and the rate of vaccinations is increasing rapidly, we are optimistic the air show will take place as scheduled July 9 & 10.

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If you know World War II aviators, please email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net

and we will invite them to fly with us.

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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Veterans Flight Stearmans Head to Pensacola Beach During Veterans Flight 2018

Countdown #4 – 19 February 2021

Only 139 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Art Leach

Shortly after Countdown #3 was published I received an email from Navy Hellcat pilot Art Leach’s granddaughter letting me know Art and several members of his family will join us for Veterans Flight 2021. This is great news as Art, who will celebrate his 101st birthday in May, was one of six 100+ years old veterans who were scheduled to fly in a six Stearman formation to open last year’s Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show which was cancelled due to COVID-19.

 

Art, who lives in Odell, Illinois, was attending Illinois Wesleyan College when he received a draft notice. The Navy allowed him to finish college. He graduated 8 June and was in uniform two days later. He was accepted into flight training and received his wings in May 1943.

 

The links below will take you a 2018 article about Art that was published in the Dwight, Illinois newspaper and a video of Art being interviewed at the Livingston County (Illinois) War Museum.

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COVID-19 is still a concern, but Florida is leading America’s recovery. Many older Floridians are being vaccinated and we are optimistic the air show will take place as scheduled 9 & 10 July.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

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2021Pensacola Beach Air Show Is A GO!

Countdown #5 – 2 April 2021

Only 97 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Last week the Santa Rosa Island Authority hosted the “Annual Winter Visit – Blue Angels” that takes place three months before every Pensacola Beach Air Show. This year we met via Zoom, but that was due to closure of the Three Mile Bridge rather than COVID-19. The Blue Angels made it clear they are looking forward to the Pensacola Beach Air Show and putting on another great performance.

History:

 

Yesterday was the 76th anniversary of the invasion of Okinawa. The last major battle of World War II, the battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific campaign. The battle lasted three months and more than 12,000 American soldiers, sailors and Marines died. Japanese Kamikaze attacks on the invasion fleet sunk 26 ships and damaged another 168. More than 100,000 Japanese soldiers were killed.

 

America needed to capture Okinawa to provide a base for Operation Down Fall, the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands which was planned to begin in November with an amphibious landing on Kyushu, the southern most of the Home Islands. Estimates of American casualties for conquest of the Home Islands ranged from 1.7 to 4 million killed or wounded.

 

Fortunately, Japan’s unconditional surrender after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Operation Down Fall unnecessary. While the morality of the use of atomic weapons can be debated, I have not met a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific who did not thank President Truman for saving his life by authorizing use of the atomic bombs.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021Pensacola Beach Air Show

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WCOA Radio Personality Don Parker Ready to Fly in Navy Stearman 708

Countdown #7 – 14 May 2021

Only 56 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

A Great Friend Gone Too Soon

Today is a sad day for Veterans Flight and Pensacola. WCOA radio personality and staunch Veterans Flight supporter Don Parker lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday at age 74.

 

A Vietnam era Navy veteran, Don retired from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in 1989 to pursue a career as an author and professional speaker. His first book, “You’re Under Arrest: I’m Not Kidding,” published in 1989, was based on his experiences as a law enforcement officer and was so well received that he was interviewed on Good Morning America and The Larry King show.

 

After authoring two more successful books Don joined WCOA (Pensacola’s first radio station founded by World War II Marine Corsair pilot Colonel J. McCarthy “Mac” Miller). Don hosted WCOA’s morning show for 28 years and always publicized Veterans Flight in the weeks leading up to the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show. He also did WCOA’s live coverage of the air show and made sure his listeners learned about the veterans we honor, our Stearmans, and Veterans Flight’s pilots.

 

Don had a wonderful, self-depreciating sense of humor and a great perspective on life. All these qualities were on display when he sat down with Veterans Flight supporter Jeff Weeks for a wonderful interview that you can access and enjoy using the YouTube link below.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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