The weather forecast for Saturday, which called for cloudy skies and scattered thunderstorms, may have made some people think twice before visiting the outdoor Memorial Day Salute to Veterans Air Show at the Columbia Regional Airport. But, as luck would have it, the cool breeze was refreshing and it did not rain, at least during the show.
Some people even preferred the absence of the sun compared to previous years.
“The weather has actually done us a favor because last year it was difficult, it was hot and steamy,” said police Capt. Mike Martin, who oversaw security for the seventh year.
“From a security and medical standpoint, I think it helps us,” he said.
Nearly all the planes that were scheduled for the show were able to make an appearance, with the exception of smaller World War I planes that are part of the dawn patrol. They need to fly early in the morning before the ground heats up, but the strong morning winds prevented the lightweight aircrafts, which are built with polyester fabric stretched over aluminum frames, from performing.
Five members of the “Black Daggers,” formally known as the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team, jumped out of a C-130 Hercules from the Missouri Air National Guard. They each had a canister that dispersed red smoke into the air, which made them easier to spot. They started as a unit and then scattered, making red smoke creations in the sky.
“It’s a beautiful wind for a skydive,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mike Rook, a member of the Black Daggers.
Signing autographs was Col. Charles Edward McGee, 87, who is the highest decorated retired Air Force officer alive.
McGee, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, greeted a line of spectators. On the table in front of him was his Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded to him in March 2007 for his service as a Tuskegee airman in World War II. It is the highest honor that Congress can give to a civilian. The thick, gold-plated bronze medal sat on a red ribbon in a blue velvet box. With a beaming smile, the colonel repeatedly tugged on the ribbon, picked up the medal and placed it in people’s hands, encouraging them to take note of the weight and slickness.
One side of the medal has the profiles of three anonymous Air Force men with the words “Outstanding Combat Record Inspired Revolutionary Reform in the Armed Forces.” Each time a person finished looking at the medal, McGee delicately placed it back on the red ribbon in its blue velvet box and continued to sign autographs.
“It’s an honor to meet someone who served our country during that time, and we’re really appreciative of that,” said Matthew Lamar, a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
A 20-minute salute to the nation ceremony started about 10:30 a.m. A 21-gun salute was followed by a short parade of honored guests, including Lance Cpl. John McClellan of the Marine Corps. He graduated from Hickman High School in 2004 and is now celebrating his first Memorial Day since he was wounded in Iraq.
The Women Air Force Service Pilots were also honored for having flown finished aircrafts from the factories to different Air Force bases during World War II.
The children seemed the most excited as the thunderous engines roared past the crowd.
“It’s excellent!” Harlie Tapley, 11, said, as she tilted her head back toward the sky so she wouldn’t miss anything. “We’re proud of our military.”
Although this is not her first year at the air show, she seemed anxious as ever to spot the next plane.
While most of the crowd enjoyed the sights inside the air show, protesters were outside the gates.
Jared Hoft, from Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, handed out neon green leaflets seeking a more solemn observance of Memorial Day.
“You can shred it later if you want,” Hoft joked, as an air show attendee took a leaflet.
Ten feet ahead, Rita Preckshot and Bill Vaughn of a counterprotest group, Operation Simply Shred, held battery-operated shredders and trash bags, offering to shred those leaflets.
Members of Peaceworks have protested the show for more than 10 years. The shredders have been at the air show since 2005 with “Support the Troops” signs.
Both sides were a small presence Saturday. Operation Simply Shred had seven shredders, and Peaceworks had about 12 people handing out leaflets.
While both sides said there had been confrontations in the past, Capt. Mike Martin of the Columbia Police Department said there were no issues with either group Saturday.
Missourian reporters Liz Langton and Steve Remich contributed to this report.