A dream comes true for some seniors

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Soaring seniors

Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

There's a restaurant in Northeast Ohio called The 100th Bomb Group. It's a great place to dine al fresco in the summer while watching jets arrive and depart from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, which is right across the street. The restaurant's parking lot is the scene of a weekly classic car show in the summer that my husband occasionally likes to browse. But above all, the eatery is a vehicle meant to honor veterans, especially those who served in World War II. In fact, it was founded by David Tallichet, who was a B–17 co-pilot for the 100th Bomb Group during the war.

Across the country, the Carson City, NV-based Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation is prompting remembrances of wartime aviation from a different vantage point: the cockpit. And the beneficiaries are military veterans living in long-term care communities.

Earlier this month, five World War II and Korean War veterans took to the skies in a 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane at the Fullerton Municipal Airport in Orange County, CA, courtesy of the nonprofit AADF. Four of the five “Dream Flyers” live at Rowntree Gardens continuing care retirement / life plan community, in Stanton, CA.

“We, our senior flyers and their families are all thrilled to have had this fantastic opportunity,” said Rowntree Gardens CEO Randy Brown. “It was amazing watching these incredible folks take flight and witness the immense joy it brought them.

“Senior communities are often thought of being places folks go to live out the rest of their lives,” he continued. “However, we want Rowntree Gardens to be a place people go to continue to live life.”

One of the residents who participated in the flights, Colin Jones, 94, served in the 8th Army Air Forces' 93rd Bomb Group. Not only was he wounded at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941; his plane also was shot down during a mission over Germany almost two years later, and he was held for 17 months in a German prisoner-of-war camp before escaping. Jones earned two purple hearts during his service.

“I just enjoyed it very much,” he said after his April 7 flight, adding that he had learned to fly in the same model of plane.

Also enjoying the rides were Chuck Iverson, 83, who served as a corporal in the U.S. Army; World War II veteran Ed Willems, 95, who was an aviation machinist's mate, second class, in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946; Korean War veteran Al Rosenthal, 85, who served in the Navy from 1952 to 1956; and Ann Seufert, 89, whose husband was a commander of the Seabees for 25 years.

“This was my first time flying in a small plane,” Iverson said. “What an incredible feeling.”

As incredible as the day was for Iverson and his fellow participants, the event was a moving experience for community employees, too. Brown, in fact, was inspired to make a donation to the foundation that covered the organization's costs for the flights that day and also will cover a similar event for veterans elsewhere in the future.

So far, AADF has provided free “Dream Flights” to more than 1,500 U.S. military veterans living in LTC communities. “These amazing folks are among the Greatest Generation and have given so much to our country,” said pilot and AADF Founder Darryl Fisher. “We created the foundation and do this as our way of thanking them.”

It seems a worthy program to consider if military veterans live in your community, and inspiration for other programs that pay tribute to the contributions that older adults have made to our society. I suspect we'll be hearing about more such programs as older adults and their families increasingly have appetites for life-affirming and life-enhancing experiences and view senior living communities as places to, as Brown said, “go to continue to live life” rather than “go to live out the rest of their lives.”

See the slideshow for photos from the event.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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