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Military veterans take to skies in WWII-era biplane; ‘bucket list’ trip for one

NewsMilitary veterans take to skies in WWII-era biplane; 'bucket list' trip for one

MARTIN COUNTY — Carl Cole, 99, smiled wide Thursday seated in front of pilot Darryl Smith in a World War II-era biplane at Witham Field in Stuart.

The propellor engine on the blue-and-yellow Boeing Stearman fired up, and they were off for a brief flight around the area.

“It was an amazingly smooth ride … just beautiful,” Cole said. “It was better than I expected.”

Cole, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard during WWII, was one of a number of veterans at Discovery Village at Stuart, an assisted living facility, taken up for a ride through Drespanm Flights. 

Dream Flights is a nonprofit organization founded in 2011 by Darryl Fisher, a third-generation aviator, based in Carson City, Nevada, according to Wendy D’Alessandro, director of public relations for the group.

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The group uses six Stearman biplanes, the same type used in training many military fliers in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Cole said there was no wind in his face, noting the seating was low and a shield was in front of him. He just heard the wind going by.

“With the engine right in front of my face, it had to be noisy, but it wasn’t,” he said.

After the flight, Cole signed the plane’s tail, something asked of the WWII vets. 

Another entry under a signature appeared to read “33 missions” and B-24, which was a four-engine bomber used extensively in WWII. Yet another read, “With Patton in ’45!” Gen. George Patton was referred to as “Old Blood-and-Guts,” and was among the most storied military leaders during WWII.

Cole said he was assigned to a destroyer, and was involved in running convoys between the United States and Europe. He noted they were involved in sinking a U-boat, the feared submarine of the German navy. 

Pilot Darryl Smith (left) and crew chief Melanie Smith help World War II veteran Carl Cole, 99, into a 1940 Stearman biplane, Thursday, April 6, 2023, at Witham Field in Stuart. Cole served in the U. S. Coast Guard and crossed the Atlantic Ocean 22 times during his service. "It was amazingly calm," said Cole. "It was interesting being up there and seeing all the spots I'm familiar with." Dream Flights, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring veterans, gifted Cole and five other veterans a flight in the WWII-era plane.

“We had brought one to the surface and then had a surface battle and sunk it,” he said.

Before the flights, Smith spoke to the men about the program, saying the mission of Dream Flights is “to give something back to you for what you’ve done for our country.” 

Smith said he’d been flying since 1986 and piloted F-16 fighter jets and U2 reconnaissance planes. 

Before he made his way to the biplane, Ronald Tousignant, 89, said the experience is on his “bucket list.” 

“That was the last thing on my bucket list. And instead of me searching it out, it came to me,” Tousignant said. “Flying in an open cockpit, double winger or biplane was on my bucket list.”

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Tousignant said he was apprehensive until he got to the airport, but got relaxed.

He entered the Army in July 1955, and wound up in Europe. He spoke French and was an interpreter in Berlin. He said he left the service in July 1957.

“I was an interpreter between the American army and the French forces. I worked every day with the French people, and the French soldiers,” Tousignant said. “It was the best time in my life, but I didn’t know it.” 

Daughter Terese Ternullo, 64, of Stuart, was excited for him. 

“This has always been on his bucket list,” she said. “I think I have more anxiety than he does.”

Veteran Ronald Tousignant, 89, gives a thumbs-up before heading to the sky in a 1940 Stearman biplane, Thursday, April 6, 2023, at Witham Field in Stuart. Dream Flights, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring veterans, gifted Tousignant and five other veterans a flight in the WWII-era plane.

Crystal Collier, director of memory care and celebrations at Discovery Village at Stuart, said a resident in 2022 participated in one of the flights and “talked it up.” 

The flights Thursday marked the second time residents there went up with Dream Flights, she said.

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“We knew who we wanted to invite. Not all of our veterans chose to do it,” Collier said. “Some were a little fearful, and others were up for the adventure.” 

James “Jim” Hoshowsky, 89, was up for the adventure. 

Pilot Darryl Smith (right) and crew chief Melanie Smith (left) help Korean War veteran James Hoshowsky, 89, into a 1940 Stearman biplane, Thursday, April 6, 2023, at Witham Field in Stuart. "The purpose of Dream Flights is to give back to those who gave, and you all are the ones who gave," said pilot Darryl. "It's our mission to give something back to you for what you've done for our country." Dream Flights gifted Hoshowsky and five other veterans a flight in the WWII-era plane.

He said he was drafted in 1953 and served two years in the Army, stationed in Japan. He was in charge of about 30 amphibious landing craft.

Hoshowsky seemed to enjoy the flight, saying they could communicate with the pilot and the landing was smooth.

“Beautiful scenery,” Hoshowsky said. “You see actually what Florida looks like with the lakes and the bridges connecting it … really nice.”

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