Civilians get glimpse of military history at annual air show

Saturday, May 28, 2011 | 6:35 p.m. CDT; updated 7:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 28, 2011
Truman Varns, 4, of Columbia and his father, Curtis, get a moment in the cockpit of a P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft during the 23rd annual Salute to Veterans Airshow at Columbia Regional Airport. Truman told the plane commander, Lt. Kyle Vannatta, that he wanted to take the plane to Alaska.

COLUMBIA — Generations of families and friends gathered at Columbia Regional Airport on Saturday afternoon to honor veterans, check out airplanes and see aerial acrobatics.

Parachute teams from the U.S. and Canada were unable to jump because of low cloud cover, and the event was cut short by about an hour. Sunday's show is still on as scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., air show representative Nancy Fields said.

The weather didn’t dampen the creativity of young ones at the show. Truman Varns, 4, of Columbia climbed into the cockpit of a Navy P-3C Orion bomber on display and was immediately in character.

“Navigator Truman here, I’m gonna fly this plane to Alaska,” he said.

Jefferson City native and Air Force Col. Bernard Schwartze was honored with a retirement ceremony as part of the Salute to the Nation Solemn Ceremony, which is a staple of the air show that honors veterans from World War I to the present.

Schwartze graduated from Helias High School in 1977 and began his 34-year military career at the Air Force Academy.

He said the highlights of his career include dogfighting Soviet planes over the Baltic Sea during the Cold War and with Iranian planes over the Iraq-Iran border about 10 years ago. Schwartze said training young personnel to fly and commanding a squadron have also been rewarding.

Schwartze and his family will move back to Missouri to farm. He has a couple hundred acres of mostly forest near Meta, just south of Jefferson City. In the next year, he plans to build a house and probably start an organic apple orchard. He will continue to fly as a civilian and is becoming certified to teach high school math.

Schwartze said there was no better place for the ceremony than on an airfield while surrounded by family.

“I wanted to do it here because it is home,” he said. “It’s also something that a lot of people don’t ever see ... this is really a beautiful ceremony.”

Ellis McSwain of Jefferson City has no ties to the military but came to the show with his son and father-in-law to support veterans and the military.

"It's really intriguing to see some of the planes that are still in commission and how old they are," McSwain said. He said it's not something most people get to see often.

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