BEATRICE – Seventy-six years ago, he flew over Tokyo, Japan as a U.S. Army Air Corp members, as World War Two was ending. He was taking a flight of a different kind at Beatrice Municipal Airport, Tuesday.
99-year-old Franklin Damrow was getting a free plane ride as a thank-you for his service to his nation….and it just happened to be on the anniversary of that flight over Japan.
"On the 30th of August, we flew into Tokyo with some supplies for the occupation troops which had just arrived that day. But, they didn't get us unloaded until the middle of the night. So, the next morning the 31st...which would be 76 years ago today...when we took off we flew over Tokyo and right over the Emperor's palace."
Damrow served In the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to the end of 1945. He climbed aboard a restored Stearman open cockpit biplane at Beatrice Municipal Airport, piloted by Scott DeLong… one of the all-volunteer pilots for Dream Flights and their project, Operation September Freedom. In August, the organization began giving free flights to all World War Two veterans who want one, around the nation.
"They'll be telling stories, because one guy is in the Army, one guy is in the Navy, another guy was in the Marines. Navy guys are giving the Marines a hard time because they had to take them into the shore...and, it's just fun to listen to their stories."
Dream Flights uses six restored Stearman biplanes to give the rides and gets a big boost from the sponsorship of SportClips and American Airlines, helping to keep the program going. DeLong talks about the reaction from veterans taking the rides.
"That was awesome...that was so cool, why'd you have to quit....they all want to go for two hours...and they get a twenty minute ride, is what we give 'em."
Damrow, who lives at the Kensington in Beatrice, will turn 100 next March….and Trudi Spicer of the Kensington says he was anxious to take to the skies. DeLong says the Stearman aircraft was actually a trainer familiar to wartime pilots.
"What's significant about this airplane, especially with the World War Two Veterans....is all the pilots would have trained in this, at one time. The average pilot coming through their course...if they didn't solo in six hours, most of them washed out, then. This is an amazing airplane to fly, but you can see the landing gear is very narrow...and it's a little tricking landing and taking off. That's where you got to be on your Ps and Qs."
Damrow took a ride in a 450-horsepower, 1952 Stearman. Afterward, like other veterans have done, he signed the tail section of the aircraft noting that he was among those who taken a flight of appreciation.
Said DeLong, "We can't say thank you enough to SportClips and American Airlines. American Airlines has donated a million free miles to take us from point A to point B. I live in Nebraska and if this is in Wisconsin, I can get on American Airlines and fly up there, for free. That's really helpful in keeping the cost of running one of these, down."
Twenty-two volunteer pilots of six planes have given about 500 flights this year across the U.S. The American Legion riders provided an escort for Damrow and other members of the Kensington on the retirement center’s bus to Beatrice Municipal Airport, to watch Franklin take the front seat of the two-seater Stearman….and take to the air.