Eight veterans who served their country with pride received an airplane ride they’ll cherish the rest of their lives Wednesday (May 6).
The eight men — seven from the Tennessee State Veterans Home and the eighth a former military member from Tullahoma, Tennessee — were flown in a 1952-53 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver by MTSU chief pilot Terry Dorris.
Starting in 2009, Dorris, an aerospace department faculty member, and School of Agribusiness and Agriscience professor Tony Johnston have collaborated on veterans’ flights once every one to two years.
“This is a way we can appreciate military veterans late in their lives,” said Johnston, who is a veteran himself and former member of the MTSU Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
“Many of them have not flown in a plane since they left the military,” Johnston added. “For many, this is a lifelong objective to fly one more time.”
Kent Ervin, 66, of Tullahoma, last flew on a Beaver 47 years ago. He was a crew chief on 16 Beavers while serving in Vietnam, but only flew one time.
“I heard about these veterans’ flights and saw it on YouTube several years ago,” he said. “The Beaver has been a pretty hard plane to find, except in Alaska and the Florida Keys. This is where the real connection to want to fly began.”
After waiting for the seven Tennessee State Veterans Home vets to fly, Ervin and part of his family — son Anthony Ervin of Tullahoma, daughter Kristi Deaton and her children Lucas and Sarah, all from Murfreesboro, were transported across the city by Dorris.
“It makes for a good day to be together and spend a little time with family,” he said.
William Ellis, Riley Howard Jr., Albert L. Powell, James Brown, Larry Blankenship, Lee Bickford and John Hockaday enjoyed their moments to bask in the flying spotlight.
“This is one great plane,” said Blankenship, a native of Huntington, West Virginia, who moved to Murfreesboro about a year ago.
Jill Coble, daughter of John Hockaday, a member of the Army Air Force, brought her 9-month-old granddaughter AnnaFaye Woodward, to be a part of 90-year-old great-grandfather John Hockaday’s flight with Lee Bickford.
“The honor flight he made to Washington, D.C., was very important to him and this one was, too,” Coble said of her father’s desire to fly one more time. “This is sort of the culmination for him. Fortunately, his mind’s still good.”
A number of veterans’ family members attended the special flights.
Ervin is well aware of the quality of service given to veterans by the staff at the Tennessee State Veterans Home. His in-laws, R.H. and Bea Carr, lived there.
“They do some mighty fine things over there,” he said.
For more details about future Veterans Honor Flights, call Johnston at 615-898-2421 or email Tony.Johnston@mtsu.edu.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)