When Bill Seitzinger first flew in a Boeing Stearman biplane, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the average American home cost about $3,000, and Duke Ellington was on tour.

On Friday afternoon, during an event organized by nonprofit organization Dream Flights, he ascended the skies in the training plane once more, nearly 80 years after his first ride. When he landed, he flashed a big smile and gave a thumbs up.

"It was absolutely a dream flight," said Seitzinger, 96, of the 1,000-feet-high, 15-minute flight.

Seitzinger was one of three World War II veterans at Lancaster Airport Friday for the occasion; Rodney Stauffer, 95, and Jay Patton, 93, also took part in the event. Stauffer took a separate ride in the plane, while Patton decided to remain grounded. All three men reside at Garden Spot Village in New Holland.

The flight was part of Operation September Freedom, a mission sponsored by Dream Flights to honor WWII veterans. The mission covers 300 U.S. cities and continues through Sept. 30.


Return to the skies

Nearly 80 years have gone by since Seitzinger flew the now famous Boeing training plane as an aviator cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Like all the WWII veterans at Friday’s event, he had a story to share about his military service. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army, inducted at New Cumberland Army Induction Center. He trained on the Boeing at Maxwell Field (Maxwell Air Force Base) in Montgomery, Alabama.

"My solo flight was going well until the pancake landing," he said with a chuckle. An undiagnosed depth perception deficiency caused him to belly-flop his plane.

This earned him additional training at an U.S. Army Air Corps navigation school in Biloxi, Mississippi. After he suffered hearing loss as a result of an ear infection, his six months of training ended and he was given an honorable discharge.

"I was disappointed," said Seitzinger. He says getting to soar the skies again in the now famous Boeing rekindled fond memories.

A thrilling honor

Rodney Stauffer's enlistment to serve in the U.S. Navy in 1943 was rejected due to his poor eyesight. Four months later, he tried again, and was accepted with a special restriction to serve only in the states.

His two-and-a-half-year service as a pharmacist mate, third class, was at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, and then the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

"Being in the Navy, I was only on a ship once for 15 minutes," said Stauffer. The limited time at sea suited the self-described serious landlubber.

Stauffer said taking the dream flight was thrilling. He grinned and waved as the plane taxied down the runway. Jokingly, before take-off, he asked the pilot, Marcus Smith, if he had a license. (He does.)

One day after he graduated from high school in 1946, Jay Patton left for Parris Island, South Carolina, having enlisted earlier in the U.S. Marine Corps Air Wing. He served a one-year tour of duty as a staff sergeant and aviation mechanic working on the American Corsair fighter aircraft. Though he did not fly in the Boeing Stearman biplane on Friday, the 93-year-old thought the event was "wonderful."

"Being honored was appreciated, but not necessary,” Patton said. “I'd serve again in a heartbeat.”

Dream Flights is a nonprofit organization based in Reno, Nevada, dedicated to honoring military veterans.

Wendy D'Alessandro, spokesperson, said the special mission was to honor the estimated 100,000 Americans out of 16 million still living who served in WWII. Those who can't or didn't want to fly were still asked to attend and be recognized for their service.

After the flight, the three veterans signed the rudder on the tail of the plane, joining other veterans who had taken the Dream Flights journey.

For Smith, being a volunteer pilot for Dream Flights is a privilege.

"It's great to give back to the greatest generation for all they gave us," Smith said.

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