Dayton, Ohio —
Many aboard a pair of buses from Ashland to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last week had never seen some of the historic aircraft on exhibit inside the National Museum of the USAF. Others among them, however, looked at the airplanes and remembered their own time making sure America’s planes were ready for action.
Launching from Ashland’s Mid-Town Plaza, the tour, hosted by the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society, arrived at the Air Force Museum around lunch time and everyone immediately pursued their own aviation interests, ranging from the early days of open-cockpit fighters to modern military jets and space exploration. For Virginia Keeton, 92, it was a chance to revisit the place where she worked more than seven decades ago.
“I worked in the control tower. I was secretary for Captain Lamar,” she said, recalling her duties included taking shorthand dictation and taking care of other correspondence for the captain.
“I was about 22 then. I moved here from Ashland after my husband, Karl, went overseas with the Navy to North Africa in Algiers,” she said, noting she moved there with her 2-year-old daughter, Delores, as well as her mother-in-law and a sister-in-law. “We all got jobs there. Jobs were plentiful then.”
Keeton recalled her late husband had come home on furlough, and they were in Ironton when they heard an announcement proclaiming the second world war was over.
“We heard it over a speaker,” she said, smiling. “Oh, my gracious, was I ever thrilled!”
Keeton made the trip with her neighbor, Mary Tatterson, as well as daughters Delores, Charlotte and Tonda, son-in-law Danny and niece Arminda, “to see how much change there was and just how much it has changed.” Being surrounded by friends and family “was wonderful,” she said.
Friends Tom Williams and Bob Forte agreed they were surprised at “how small people were,” after getting an up-close look at some of the jet-fighter cockpits, and also enjoyed a few of the museum’s hands-on exhibits.
“I really enjoyed the section about te U2 plane,” said Williams, of Summit, as Forte added his own appreciation of the information presented regarding the famous spy plane’s camera systems.
“I also tried the space shuttle simulator they had,” said Forte of Ashland, who added his performance as a simulated shuttle pilot left much to be desired. “Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Both said they were impressed by the amount of aviation memorabilia at the museum, as well as a B-2 bomber display.
“I was amazed at how big it was,” Forte said.
Williams said he would have enjoyed a chance to tour the museum’s collection of presidential aircraft that was closed because of the ongoing government sequester, although he quickly found a silver lining. “That just calls for another trip up here,” he said with a smile.
Opal and George Spurlock made the trip while celebrating her recent 93rd birthday.
“I enjoyed all of it,” she said, explaining her 92-year-old husband is an Army veteran.
Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society President Matt Potter said the expedition was a complete success, and the group itself was made up of outstanding people from Ashland and surrounding areas.
“It’s a tremendous group of individuals. They come from all walks of life and today we had this opportunity to bring them together,” he said, adding he often heard the phrase “I haven’t seen this plane since I was in the service,” as he visited with local residents along the way. “I witnessed some very emotional experiences with some of them today.”
At the end of the day, Potter said everyone agreed the military history trip was something worth repeating.
“The unanimous decision is, everybody wants to do it again,” Potter said, noting the local group included “veterans from every conflict, WWII to present, as well as members of every branch of the armed forces.”
For more information about the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society, visit the group’s Facebook page or call (606) 547-2607.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2651.