For six World War II veterans and their families, Vital Life’s 2021 Spirit of ’45 event was a celebration they’ll never forget.
With ages spanning from 93 to 101, and on one of the hottest days of the year, they all managed to climb into the open cockpit of a Boeing Stearman bi-plane and took to the skies. The rides were provided by Dream Flights, a Vital Life charitable partner.
“It was a wonderful flight and I’m glad I got this opportunity,” said Ted Yeamans, 94, a Navy veteran who entered the service at age 17. “I’m overwhelmed with the love and kindness people showed.”
When I was up there flying, I got to thinking that this is something I’ll never, never forget for the rest of my life. 98-year-old Air Force veteran Bill Hahn
“I don’t know if I deserve all this,” added 93-year-old Larry Rykken, a Navy veteran. “I didn’t realize I was that important.”
Congress established Spirit of ’45 Day to pay tribute to the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, and their contributions to the Allied victory. The Vital Life Foundation has commemorated the event since 2016.
This year’s celebration was even more meaningful than usual, since the pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020. “We had this amazing group of veterans, and we knew that if we weren’t able to do it this year, they might not get another opportunity,” said April Diaz, Vice President of Clinical Services. So rigorous safety measures were put in place that allowed the event to go forward.
For 101-year-old Air Force veteran Bud Millard, flying in the Stearman bi-plane was an incredible experience. It was the plane he learned to fly in, and he hadn’t been back in one for 80 years. “It was an awesome ride,” he said, “and I’m indebted to this organization for providing it.”
Nurse Consultant Vicky Nordby remembered one veteran in particular, who had been very reluctant to participate, fearing he wouldn’t be able to get in the plane. But with the help of volunteers and the Dream Flight team, he had the time of his life. “It was a phenomenal day,” she said.
Other highlights of the event included a ceremony honoring the six participating veterans and telling their stories, followed by an all-American lunch.
For all who were involved, it was an incredibly meaningful and moving experience. “It’s my passion point, and the reason I’m a nurse,” said April. “When you see these veterans and their excitement, you get reenergized about why we do what we do.”
Reflecting on his exhilarating flight, 98-year-old Air Force veteran Bill Hahn summed it up best. “When I was up there flying, I got to thinking that this is something I’ll never, never forget for the rest of my life.”
More photos from the event can be viewed here.