COLUMBIA — Three thousand volunteers have been working tirelessly on this weekend's Memorial Day Salute to Veterans air show in an effort to serve those who have served them in the military.
The air show, which begins at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Columbia Regional Airport, is a two-day free event funded by private and corporate donations. The celebration, in its 25th year, will feature displays of rare aircraft, parachute and aerobatic aerial team demonstrations and drill team performances at Columbia Regional Airport.
Back in 1987, there was no such thing as the Salute to Veterans air show. Mary McCleary Posner, in a reflection written for the Salute to Veterans website, recalled that she asked her mother that year what Columbia residents did to celebrate Memorial Day.
"The same thing they have been doing for 50 years," her mother told her. "Five men gather at the courthouse for five minutes of speeches. If it rains, they hold it in the garage of the funeral home."
Two years later, Posner organized a parade.
Every year, the celebration grew a little bigger and a little better through the efforts of impassioned volunteers. A small parade with two World War II Warbirds in 1989 evolved into a two-day celebration featuring a full schedule of events, displays, aerial demonstrations, ceremonies and, of course, the parade.
The Salute to Veterans show has developed a national reputation and benefits from the work of volunteers, some of whom work year-round. Volunteers have all different sorts of backgrounds: There are veterans, police, firefighters, the sons and daughters of veterans and people who have an interest in aviation. Although a diverse group, they share the motivation of honoring those who have served the country.
"I don't think you'll be able to find a volunteer here who doesn't do the work to show their appreciation for their veterans," volunteer Ann Merrifield said.
Patty Clark, chair of hospitality for the Pilots' Ready Room at the air show, has been volunteering with the air show for 24 of its 25 years. She calls her work a "small contribution to the men and women who have served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."
On Friday, veterans from World War II to the present day were able to view a small aerial demonstration of aircraft. For some, it was an opportunity to reconnect with their past and hear the sounds, smell the smells, and once again lay eyes on the planes that defined their lives as young men and women, Michael Posner, retired Navy pilot and volunteer, said.
The air show festivities will officially begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the airport and will continue through 3:30 p.m. A schedule of events is available at the Salute to Veterans website.
Organizers expect high attendance at the air show this year, given that air shows in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield have been canceled as a result of federal budget cuts.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.