BEATRICE - A Navy Ace combat aviator who served in World War II got a chance to step back in time, Sunday, with a visit to the Beatrice Municipal Airport, to see a fighter like the one he flew in the Pacific.
99-year-old Don Mcpherson, of Adams, was a Hellcat F6F fighter pilot aboard the Aircraft Carrier Essex. He recalled how the single-seater was easy to fly.
"Of course we had a lot of hours in smaller planes. In final squadron the SNJ which is like the Texan...that was our main airplane...so, it was real easy to transfer from that into the Hellcat."
The restored Hellcat was a project of Evan Fagen, who runs Fagan Fighters World War II Museum in Minnesota and spent the past three years restoring the aircraft. He flew in Sunday in a P-51 Mustang, prior to the Hellcat’s arrival. Family members, friends and observers….some 200 in all, came to the airport to see a part of aviation history and honor McPherson. He served from September 1942 to September 1945 as a Naval combat pilot.
"We started with kind of the mop-up of Iwo Jima, the Philippines and then banging on Okinawa...and then we started working back and forth on all of the little islands...the whole chain. Actually, for six months it was pretty much all in the area of all of the hundreds of Japanese islands, working back and forth."
The last duty for McPherson’s unit was to fly cover for General Douglas MacArthur’s occupation forces, up until the war ended.
McPherson said a detail he remembers about the Hellcat is its markings….something that was rare for Navy planes lined up on a carrier.
"In the Navy, you didn't have your own airplane. You had to fly what was spotted forward because of (carrier) space. But, we did get one or two airplanes that had nose art like the Air Force, which was strong for that. I flew, and two other pilots I knew of flew this plane that had the skull and crossbones painted on it....called death and destruction. This plane that is coming is painted with that. And also, what we called the diamond glass markings on the tail and the wings are our air group's markings."
Members of the Legion Riders were part of the ceremony to honor McPherson and the public had a chance to see up close, the Hellcat and P-51 Mustang. Several visitors flew private aircraft into Beatrice Municipal, to take in the history of aviation in the Pacific, during World War II.