COLUMBIA— Navy veteran Ed Brown, 90, craned his neck skyward as pilots made practice runs with rolls, climbs and other acrobatics in preparation for the 22nd annual Salute to Veterans Airshow.
Brown, who lives in Columbia with his wife, Judy, was a Navy pilot in WWII, from late 1943 until the end of the war.
“If you’ve ever been a flier, you’re always a flier,” he said.
Salute to Veterans Corp. invited veterans and their wives from 45 different nursing homes and veterans hospitals within a 150-mile radius to watch pilots for the weekend show go through their routines.
“It just made sense,” Nancy Fields, Salute to Veterans media chairman, said. “They have to do a demo, and some of these guys used to fly these planes.”
Brown’s dentist, Kevin Ryan, brought him to the event at Columbia Regional Airport along with Ryan’s father-in-law, Hershel Bell, who is also a Navy veteran.
Ryan knew Brown for years, and when Brown would come in as a patient, Ryan would ask him about his time as a pilot.
“He’s pretty open about his experience," Ryan said, "but you have to ask.”
Brown didn’t want to go to war.
“I didn’t want to go and kill anybody,” he said.
But he did want to fly. He had wanted to fly since he was 7 years old. Knowing that he’d be able to finish his senior year of college before entering, he joined the Navy.
“The Navy is remote from the killing process,” Brown said. “I didn’t have to see people and shoot them and kill them.”
While in the Pacific, some of the missions Brown and his squadron went on were to search for survivors of planes that had been shot down. One particular mission stuck out to him. He was the pilot, but he said that flying those missions takes a crew.
One of those 10 crewmen managed to spot a man in the water, something Brown described as a difficult task. They managed to rescue one survivor from the ocean. To do so, they had to take off and land on the water. He said it was his best experience in the war.
Because of the crew’s work, the whole crew received a Navy Air Medal.
Even though he loves flying planes, Brown hasn’t flown since the war.
“After all the power and excitement out there, to hop in those little planes at the airport isn’t much of a thrill,” he said. “When all the WWII soldiers came back…there were no parades, no yelling, no celebrations, and all the people who came back took off their WWII hats and put on their civilian hats and never talked about it.”
Ryan sees the air show preview as a nice tribute to the veterans for what they’ve done.
“For us, it’s a way to remember and honor their service to our country,” he said. “The world we know today is the result of their sacrifice and their service.”
Those sacrifices are the reason Mary Posner started the Salute to Veterans Corp.
Posner said her father, a WWI veteran, told her the reason she was able to enjoy a career in the corporate world was “because brave men and women risked their lives to give me that freedom. If I could ever figure out a way say ‘thank you,’ I should do it.”
Posner’s family is full of military personnel. Her grandfather even fought in the Spanish-American war, so getting to put on the air show is "very personal" to her.
Mary Posner’s nephew Michael Posner is a commander in the Navy and has been on active duty for 23 years.
“I always wanted to fly jets for the Navy, ever since I knew what it meant,” he said. “It’s something I was born with.”
For the past 10 years, Michael Poser has been helping his aunt with the air show.
“I think it gives them a sense of pride and recognition they are certainly due and previously may not have received,” Michael Posner said.
Brown is happy to see veterans being recognized.
“I’m rather amazed that after all these years people are finally realizing what a tremendous job they did,” Brown said.