“We were blessed by wonderful weather. Attendance was a record high,” Dean said. “I saw smiles in the eyes of the veterans we honored.”
He said that in preparation for the show, some of his group’s T-6 pilots had an opportunity to fly with WASP women pilots from World War II.
“After the flight, one of our pilots commented: The opportunity we had today will probably never happen again and will be benchmarked as one of the greatest highlights in my aviation career,” Dean said.
“I had a great time flying from Sweetwater back to Ft. Worth, when Steve dove down and pulled up for a big roll, my WASP went crazy!” the pilot said. “From that point on it was Katy Bar The Door (it felt like we just went to the bar together, had a few toddies and everyone loosened up)—she said ‘let’s do a roll, then a slow roll, then a 4-point roll, then a chandelle, then a lazy 8, etc.’ It was like flying with a 20-year-old in an 86-year-old body. We had the best time you can have.”
Dean said he heard shrieks of delight from the youngsters who were thrilled at the sight and sound and smell of the performing planes.
What a privilege it was to share with family members some of the personal war stories from long-deceased veterans, Dean said.
“World-class performers visited Gilmer and were impressed with our community,” he said.
He said the the pilot of the B-25 Crew had this to say about Gilmer:
“I would like to thank you and all of the folks who made this air show a huge success and enjoyable at the same time on behalf of the Pacific Prowler crew and myself. We were treated as family from the time we landed through departure by everyone.
“It was such a pleasure meeting many folks for the first time and others for whom I only get a chance to see at events such as this. The hospitality was a welcome breath of fresh air not often found at larger shows. Please extend this thank you to all.”
“All who witnessed the B-52 from Barksdale AFB fly-over were in awe at the mighty force of power it represents,” Dean said.
After a 10 a.m. reception at the Airport Terminal building for the group of men who were selected to represent World War II Pacific theater veterans, the honored group proceeded in vintage military vehicles to a nearby reviewing stand.
Dean, who served as emcee for a brief program, commented that world War II veterans “don’t like to talk about what they did,” but their service was invaluable. He turned the podium over to Jim Eitel of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Eitel in turn introduced and gave a brief resume of each honored veteran (these were listed in the Nov. 1 Mirror), and additionally introduced and paid tribute to Ruth Vick, chosen to represent “Rosie the Riveter” for her work in building warplanes during WWII.
Gilmer Mayor Buck Cross spoke briefly, saying that the airport board wanted to ask for a federal grant to improve Fox Stephens Field facilities, but it didn’t have the matching money required.
“A group of men on the Industrial Foundation board said they’d raise the money, and they did,” the mayor said.
Also on the program was State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), who presented to the Flight of the Phoenix Museum a letter of congratulations from Gov. Rick Perry, a resolution passed by the Texas House of Representatives and a flag that had flown over the state capitol.
U. S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, (R-Tyler) also paid tribute to the veterans and presented the museum a flag that had flown over the capitol in Washington D. C.
Dean said it felt good watching the dozens of volunteers working in unison to make the show safe and enjoyable: Junior AFROTC, High School Economics class, International ALERT Academy cadets, Explorer Scouts, Air Show and Museum Committees, community volunteers, even the adult probationers earning credits for community service.
“Thank you volunteers,” he said.
Thanks to its sponsors and underwriters, there is never an admission charge to Flight of the Phoenix events. Instead, they rely on donations.
“We consumed almost 2,500 gallons of aviation fuel and 100 gallons of smoke oil at $5 per gallon, and had many other expenses to cover. This week and next the museum will be paying bills to cover show expenses, from portable toilets to performers to aviation fuel.”
If you would like to make a donation in support of the show and the museum, you can still be counted as a supporter by sending your check to Flight of the Phoenix Aviation Museum, P.O. Box 610, Gilmer, TX 75644.