BLAIR, Neb. (KMTV) — Of the 16 million Americans who answered the call to serve in World War II only around 100,000 of those veterans are still alive today.
An organization is doing its best to honor those veterans, including one right here in the Omaha area.
94-year-old Eugene Ellefson is a World War II veteran that served in the infantry and for the military police.
Wednesday morning, he had the opportunity to turn back the clock.
Dream Flights has honored more than 4,200 seniors and veterans across the country with flights since 2011.
They have only flown World War II veterans in 2021 because it is the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor
“The youngest we’ve had is 93,” Dream Flights Pilot Scott DeLong said.
What makes these flights even more special is the aircraft they use.
“This is a 1942 PT-17 Stearman, and this is what all your fighter pilots, bomber pilots — everybody in World War II would’ve trained in this,” Scott said.
Dream Flights reached out to Vetter Senior Living, the parent company of Papillion Manor where Ellefson lives, to see if he would be interested.
Let’s just say he’s been waiting for this day for weeks.
“I told him about it and he said, ‘Yeah that would be good.’ So, every time I would go visit him, he would ask, ‘So when is that? What are we doing?’” Papillion Manor Enrichment Coordinator Barb Skaff said. “So I typed a sheet for him so he knew what we were doing and what was going on and every day I would go by his room and he would be reading that paper.”
“Oh, this was awesome. He was looking so forward to this for so long,” Eugene’s daughter, Jane Peters said.
An experience that Dream Flights enjoys just as much.
“When they get out of that airplane, they look like they’re ten years younger,” said Crew Chief Jann DeLong. “They love it and we love doing it for them.”
“We’ve had guys that basically cannot stand, but when it comes to this airplane, they’re like, ‘I’m going to get in there I am going to get in there somehow,’” Scott said.
After about 20 minutes in the sky, the plane landed — but there was still one thing left to do.
“All our veterans, every ride in this airplane, have signed their name on our tail. So would you walk around, and would you be so kind to sign our tail for us?” Scott asked Eugene.
“I’ll try,” Eugene said.
An incredible honor to the greatest generation who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“It’s all about Eugene and I’m just glad to be fortunate enough to have the skills to give him a ride,” Scott said.
Dream Flights says that they hope to take 1,000 World War II veterans up into the skies before the year comes to an end.
Learn more at dreamflights.org