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Taking to the skies

Female WWII vets get ride in biplane

Posted: September 12, 2017 12:19 p.m.
Updated: September 12, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

C-I WEB EXTRA: Although she ultimately decided not to climb aboard, 99-year-old Anne Kate Womack and her daughter, Patty Roberts, posed in front of a 1940s Boeing Stearman biplane that ferried at least two female World War II veterans into Kershaw County’s skies on Sept. 1. Womack’s husband, Marshall, served in the Army, including a year-long tour as part of occupational forces in Japan immediately after the war.

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There had been threatening clouds earlier -- and would likely return -- but by the time Barbara Francisco and Ruth Hoyt were ready to fly on the morning of Sept. 1, the sky was a mostly clear blue.

Francisco, 83, and Hoyt, 95, were among eight to 10 female residents of various Morningside Senior Living locations who traveled to Camden’s Woodward Field for the chance to ride in a fully restored, 1940s-built Boeing Stearman biplane. None of the women reside at Morningside of Camden, instead coming from the senior living center’s Sumter and Georgetown facilities. Hoyt and Francisco were also the only two of the women who actually served in the military during World War II.

The women got to fly thanks to a partnership between Morningside and Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation (AADF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization, based in Carson City, Nev. Mike Winterboer served as the pilot for the morning; his wife, Diane, as a member of the ground crew. Both spoke with the Morningside contingent before their flights.

Diane said the AADF maintains three planes, including the yellow and blue one at Woodward that morning, which is used primarily up and down the East Coast. Another one is used mostly in the Midwest and the third out west.

“Our founders, William Fisher, and his son, Darryl, were picking up a plane in the Southeast to take back to Oregon when they came to an assisted living center,” Diane Winterboer said. “They asked the director if some of their residents would like to take a ride.”

She said when Darryl Fisher saw the smiles the residents had after their flights, he and his wife, Carol, established AADF as a tribute to seniors and U.S. veterans.

She joked that the Stearman biplane was quite a bit “younger than some of you.”

Mike Winterboer came into the terminal announcing there’d be a delay as he needed to charge the plane’s battery, and ended up flying for a short time so the engine could do just that.

During the wait, 99-year-old Anne Kate Womack sat in a wheelchair, her daughter and son-in-law, Patty and Allen Roberts, nearby. Although she lives at Morningside’s Sumter facility, Womack lived in Camden for more than 60 years. Originally from Nashville, Tenn., Womack spent 40 of those years as Bethesda Presbyterian Church’s kindergarten director and teacher.

While she did not serve in the military herself, Womack’s husband, Marshall, served in the Army, including spending a year as part of the occupation forces in Japan following World War II.

“He brought home a neat samurai sword,” Patty Roberts remembered.

They moved to Camden some 63 years ago when Marshall Womack was transferred by DuPont. They lived in the city’s Kirkover Hills neighborhood. In addition to directing and teaching kindergarten at Bethesda, Womack served as the chair for the Hospital Auxiliary Board’s scholarship committee.

“She was also in a lot of bridge groups,” Patty Roberts said, adding that her parents traveled a lot.

Womack confirmed for herself that while she had flown many times with her husband, she had never been in a biplane. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to go up now.

Nevertheless, she allowed herself to be wheeled outside so she could watch Hoyt and Francisco’s plane rides.

Hoyt served in the Air Force as a nurse from 1943 to 1946. She started her training in Montgomery, Ala., then moved around, serving in Ohio, Florida and Texas. Her service was limited, she explained to Diane Winterboer, because she and her husband weren’t allowed to serve at the same time.

“I flew on B-24s, with patients three deep on each side,” Hoyt said. “My husband was part of the Berlin Air Lift.”

Using a walker, and with Morningside staff and the Winterboer’s assistance, Hoyt made her way to the biplane on the tarmac. At the plane’s side, Diane Winterboer told her husband a little about Hoyt and then the couple assisted her on the plane.

That process included helping Hoyt onto a ladder to reach the lower of the plane’s two wings. From there, and with Mike Winterboer right behind her, she leaned back to stretch one leg into the front cockpit; Mike would pilot from the rear. Once inside the cockpit, Hoyt waved and gave a thumbs-up to her fellow residents and their families. Soon, the propeller spun into action. Hoyt waved again. Mike Winterboer executed a U-turn to head down the tarmac to the actual runway.

A few moments later, those at the terminal could hear the engine get louder and then -- take-off. Hoyt was in the air.

Each flight lasted about 12 to 15 minutes, flying over the terminal and out over part of the city and county.

“It was great!” Hoyt exclaimed when they rolled up to the terminal again following the flight. “It was real smooth.”

Francisco was next. She, too, served in the Air Force and said she enjoyed her service. She was a sales clerk and then a stockbroker clerk, starting her training in Illinois after which she was sent to San Antonio, Texas’ Lackland Air Force Base. Sometime later, the Air Force moved her to Cheyenne, Wyo., but she didn’t like it back and Francisco was allowed to return to Texas.

She remembered a particularly funny experience having to do with making sure she got fed one day.

“I saw all these men heading to the mess hall to eat, so I cut through the barracks so I could get ahead of them,” Francisco said with a laugh.

Womack watched as Francisco went through the same process as Hoyt and got aloft. Diane Winterboer, learning that Womack might not want to go up after all, came over to talk to her just outside the terminal’s doors to the tarmac.

“If you need someone to go up, I’ll go up,” Womack said.

She told Diane Winterboer how she met her husband in high school back in Nashville and how they had taken their four grandchildren -- two at a time -- on trips to Europe.

On one trip, two of the grandchildren, a boy and a girl, managed to go out a window of their bedroom in one of the cities they visited and ended up on the roof of the building next door.

“It almost gave me a heart attack,” she said.

Some of the places they visited included England, Scotland, France, Italy and Sweden.

“She’s always been a kid at heart,” Patty Roberts said of her mother.

After Francisco’s flight, it was Womack’s turn. Patty and Allen Roberts and some of the Morningside crew, including Morningside of Sumter Executive Director Gary Brown, also from Camden, wheeled her out to the plane. Diane Winterboer talked to Mike about Womack. She pointed out that Brown and KershawHealth Marketing Johnny Deal, who was on hand, had been two of her Bethesda kindergarten students.

“Which one was the meanest?” Diane asked.

“They were both precious,” Womack answered, eliciting laughs from those gathered at the plane.

When the time came, Womack got up from her wheelchair, took a look at the ladder and sat back down. She decided she couldn’t do it. Diane Winterboer said that was OK, and quickly arranged for Womack’s picture to be taken next to the plane.

Whether it’s veterans like Hoyt and Francisco, other seniors and even those, like Womack, who elect not to fly, Diane Winterboer said it is a lot of fun to work with her husband and the AADF.

“It’s fulfilling, but it’s not about us. It’s about them,” she said, waving a hand at the gathered women. “Some of them can’t feed themselves or go where they want to, but this is something that they can do, mostly. It honors them; it lets them know they are still vital.”


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