WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is used to receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, but none more special than groups of veterans.
The museum is where 18 veterans from World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam and Iraq gathered Dec. 1 to tour the World War II gallery, reminisce about their service and have lunch.
The gathering was sponsored by Honoring Our Promises for Veterans, a project of Charles Keith Jr., a former U.S. Army explosives engineer and 100 percent disabled combat veteran who lives in Fairborn. Keith, his wife, Rebecca, and two stepchildren, Mark and Zera, plus several veterans who served recently, escorted the group.
“I made it a goal in life to make sure that no veteran, no matter which branch, active or reserves, wartime or peacetime, is ever forgotten, because we made a promise to them that we would never forget them,” Keith said.
One aspect of the project’s mission is to take older veterans to places they have never or rarely been, like the museum.
“It gives them something to look forward to so they know we have not forgotten them,” he said.
Meeting food, clothing and bill assistance needs also is included.
William Wilmer, 93, a retired Air Force pilot and lieutenant colonel who flew stateside during WWII and lives in Middletown, said he had not been to the museum in 20 years.
“I really appreciate this,” Wilmer said. “This is a good bunch of guys to be with.”
He recalled flying P-51 “Mustangs” and P-47 “Jugs” early in his career, plus training in a Stearman PT-13D Kaydet like one in the museum’s collection. He also flew the actual Republic F-84E Thunderjet the museum displays.
Maxwell Moore, 86, of Middletown, served from 1949 to 1955 in the Air Force during the Cold War in Germany but recalled being a child during WWII and the effect the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders had on the American people’s spirits.
“The war was going badly – so badly that even we kids knew that we were losing badly, everywhere. Then this raid came about. Boy, it was a big thing,” Moore said.
He served as a Russian language technician and volunteered for multiple assignments, including testing motion sickness drugs.
When he first started visiting the museum, it consisted of one building with most aircraft outdoors. Inside were just parts, Moore remembered. He said he would like people to become more educated about the Cold War years.
“We lost hundreds of people during that time,” he said. “There were 5 million people serving during that time.”
Delbert Sharrett, 94, was stationed at Pearl Harbor starting Dec. 2, 1941 — a mere five days before the attack in Hawaii. The retired Navy veteran said he was enjoying his museum visit, but that it was bringing back sad memories of Pearl Harbor. He fought fires in the boiler room of a submarine rescue vessel and wielded an antiaircraft gun on deck.
Army veteran Phil Caplinger of Germantown served in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief and maintainer from 1968 to 1971.
He said he particularly enjoys the WWII Gallery because “World War II guys are my heroes.”
Despite the passage of decades, the memories of liberating Jewish concentration camp Gunskirchen Lager in Austria are fresh in the memories of Larry Reynolds, a 91-year-old WWII Army combat medic.
“I want people to know the truth,” he said. “We didn’t know what a concentration camp was when we came upon it.
“I think Charles Keith is great for bringing us here,” Caplinger said.
For more information about the group, contact www.honoringourpromise. com, email@example.com or 513-804-7599.