World War II vets from Salem get to soar in vintage aircraft

Cleo Goodman waves to friends and family after completing her flight over Salem on Friday, Aug. 6. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

The Salem Municipal Airport buzzed with activity on Friday, Aug 6, as four World War II veterans from Salem took to the air in one of the most iconic aircraft of the war.

Dream Flights, a nonprofit, honored the military service of the four, who are residents of Prestige Senior Living, by flying them in a restored 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane. 

Dream Flights coordinates with senior living facilities to offer these experiences to veterans. 

“These flights are an emotional experience for the residents. It takes them back in time,” said Teresa Dinsmore, director of community relations at Prestige Senior Living.

Blaine Kuhn, 95, a U.S. Navy veteran, wears goggles purchased by his family for his flight over Salem in an open cockpit of a Boeing Steerman. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Blaine Kuhn, a 95-year-old WWI veteran, served in the Navy as a radioman stationed on the USS Hamul in Okinawa, Japan.  Kuhn is known in Salem for serving in an executive position at the local Boy Scouts Council and as the long-time secretary at Salem Downtown Rotary.

Kuhn’s great-grandchildren, teens Paul and Clay Watter, came to watch.

Kuhn just kept saying, “thank you, thank you, thank you,” the family said.

Cleo Goodman is 97. She served in the Marine Corps as a cook after enlisting in 1947. She said she joined the Marines because she “loved the uniform,” and it looked best with her bright red hair.

Fascinated by planes, Goodman would sit at the airfield, read a book, and wait for someone to offer her a ride.

As a farm girl, she was one of the few women who knew how to cook. The four female Marine cooks served meals to 2,000 men a day.  She said they ”liked meat, all medium-rare.”

One St. Patrick’s Day, the cooks dyed the eggs green.

“The Marines wouldn’t eat them. We made it into green potato salad the next day,” she laughed.

Goodman “loved her trip” in the biplane. “I could see so much. I could see for miles,” she said. 

Ninety-four-year-old Robert Perry served in the Navy as a fire controlman. He spent much of the war on a ship, and his job was to aim the guns. After the service, Perry served as an engineer at the naval shipyard on California’s Mare Island.

 In advance of his flight, he was calm and simply said, “I’ve been on a plane like that before.”

Oscar Krissel is a  93-year-old who served in the Navy as a member of the Seabees.  He was responsible for unloading ships and lost his hearing during combat.  

After the flights, the veterans autographed the plane.  Pilot Carl Geisert autographed hats for all the veterans who flew.

The Salem flights are part of Operation September Freedom. The program focuses on the 16 million Americans who served in WWII.  Sept. 2 will mark 76 years since signing the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, a document that effectively ended the war.

This year, the youngest veteran will be 95. Less than 100,000 WWII veterans will be with us in 2021.

In 10 years, Dream Flights has given the flying experience to 4,200 veterans and seniors living in long-term care communities. Flights are free and funded by donations and volunteer pilots, crew, and maintenance staff.

If you want to nominate a veteran or senior living facility, visit here.

About Dream Flights:  Dream Flights (formerly Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation) was established and dedicated to seniors and the U.S. military veterans living in long-term care communities who have always had a burning desire to soar like an eagle. For these “Golden” individuals, we provide the opportunity to experience the thrill of riding in the cockpit of a Boeing Stearman, the airplane used to train many military aviators in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Cleo Goodman is assisted back onto the runway after her flight (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Ninety-five-year-old Navy veteran Blaine Kuhn waves to his friends and family after completing a flight over Salem (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Wearing a leather flight jacket belonging to her son, a retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot, Cleo Goodman, 97, smiles as she awaits her flight in an open cockpit Boeing Steerman biplane. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Blaine Kuhn, 95, is all smiles as he waits for his flight over Salem (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

A WWII era Boeing Steerman biplane, carrying Blaine Kuhn, 95, taxis down the runway of Salem Municipal Airport (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Cleo Goodman signs her hame on the tail of a WW II Boeing Steerman biplane. The signature is a tradition of the Dream Flight organization. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Ninety-seven-year-old former Marine Cleo Goodman, gets help entering the cockpit of a Boeing Steerman biplane for a flight over Salem.(Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Ninety-five-year-old veteran Blaine Kuhn is helped down after his flight (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Mary Louise VanNatta is a Salem public relations professional, writing regularly for Salem Reporter. 

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