WWII veteran soars again
By 2nd Lt. Darren Domingo, 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 22, 2016
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When you think of a birthday party, what comes to mind? Perhaps streamers, balloons, decorated cakes and a boisterous celebration?
But would you imagine a birthday celebration 10,000 feet in the sky?
For Jack Woods, World War II veteran, on Feb. 29, 2016, it became reality.
It all started in early January with a chance encounter at the supermarket, when Karen Woods, Jack's wife, saw the young daughters of Majs. Bryan Kim, 4th Space Operations Squadron assistant operations officer, and Jackie Kim, 21st Medical Squadron group practice manager.
"I noticed their little bouncing angel girls and I thought 'they are so cute I just want to pick them up and run away with them,'" Karen laughed.
Upon striking a conversation with the Kims, Karen found out they were active-duty personnel at Schriever Air Force Base.
An avid supporter of the military, Karen thanked the Kims for their service and explained that her husband was a pilot who flew Beechcraft AT-11 bombardiers during his time in the military.
"She told us he wants to fly again. His birthday is actually in February and he's turning 92," said Jackie. "We wanted to do something nice for this man. She was just so cute and excited and she knows a lot about his [military] career, so I could tell it was very important for her."
Karen laughingly believed her husband was up to the challenge of flying, because technically he would only be 23 years old due to his leap year birthday. Jack also has a twin brother who celebrates a new year every leap day.
Gears began to turn in the Kims' heads as they figured out how to make Jack's dream come true. After exchanging numbers, they got to work.
The Kims reached out to many of their aviation friends on behalf of the Woods. Due to their leap day deadline, every person they turned to didn't have the resources and availability the flight required. Time was ticking.
Running into dead ends at every turn, Jackie finally found success through Melissa Hermosillo, 21 MDS administrative assistant, who had the connections to get Jack in the air once more.
"The reason I wanted to help is because regardless of when someone serves, we are still a community and the fact we were able to help him [fly] - that brings us together," said Hermosillo. "I personally think I got more out of learning from Mrs. Woods as her time as a spouse and their service than the flight itself. We just wanted them to know that we still care and honor and value their service."
Hermosillo, through the American Legion, eventually found retired Lt. Col. Monty Lee, who owns a private plane. Lee was also a pilot in the Air Force who flew F-4s during his time of service and then continued to fly commercially after retirement.
Jack's impromptu birthday committee worked through fly over restrictions and tight deadlines to ensure Jack could get in the sky again. The final piece of the puzzle fell to authorities at Fort Carson, to allow Jack and his team to get the green light to do a fly over at Butts Army Airfield.
Jackie explained the approvals and coordination from Army authorities were done incredibly fast, and it gave her goosebumps seeing how much they cared for Jack.
Despite the tense battle against time, Jack finally found himself on a flight line strapped to Lee's Cirrus SR27.
It was his moment to soar.
"It was good to get back in an airplane again," Jack smiled. "We bounced around, went down to Pueblo and we turned and flew back into the mountains. We also saw the Royal Gorge. It felt great. I've always loved to fly. It's always good to have memories."
"What I remember most from that day, is when Monty was helping Jack get into the plane, and they were taxied onto the runway waiting for permission to take off, watching Karen she was just so teary eyed and happy," said Bryan.
Jackie insisted that opportunities like this were impossible without the help of many, but worth every effort.
"When you hear about a World War II veteran who's done so much for our country, I mean why not lend a hand?," she said. "This was just a little, small part we all could play in his life. But when I heard he wanted to fly, I knew we had so many resources, and there's so many people that want to give back to veterans who've done so much for us in the past."
To say Karen was grateful is an understatement.
"A lot of times from his perspective like other World War II vets that we've talked to, they just don't want any attention. And to them the heroes are the ones who didn't come back," Karen said, fighting tears. "So it was incredible to have so many young people come around and be a part of something that [Jack] never thought would happen, and to have their happiness and excitement, giving him gratitude for his service. It just warmed my heart, I couldn't believe it. I consider them all wonderful friends."