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CNATT Unit North Island honors living legends, war heroes

02 March 2023

From Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class Liam Winter

EL CAJON, Calif. – Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit North Island (CNATTU NI) honored five living legends from World War II to Vietnam Era during an event at Gillespie Airfield Feb. 7.
EL CAJON, Calif. – Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit North Island (CNATTU NI) honored five living legends from World War II to Vietnam Era during an event at Gillespie Airfield Feb. 7.

Our nation participated in many historical conflicts and through the Dream Flight’s foundation, five Veterans from World War II to the Vietnam War were given a unique opportunity soar the skies of San Diego, California. The Dream Flight’s foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2011 by Darryl and Carol Fisher that is dedicated to honoring military veterans.
The foundation provides flights in a restored Boeing Stearman biplane, an aircraft used to train military aviators during the late thirties and early forties. Dream Flight’s main goal is to preserve and share the stories of how our nation’s veteran military aviators survived through great times of strife.

CNATTU NI staff had the pleasure and opportunity to meet and listen to the stories of the five Veterans from their times during World War II and Vietnam War.

Fred Taylor, a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, flew the Boeing Stearman during World War ll. Mr. Taylor,101 years old, still remembers being initially trained to fly the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in the Army Air Corps, precursor to the U.S. Air Force.

One such story he recalled was a training accident involving his friend and wingman over Colorado during training. Taylor explained that he and his wingman’s P-40 experienced an oil line rupture forward of the cockpit, causing oil all over the canopy, reducing visibility to near-zero. Taylor and his wingman took a precautionary landing at a nearby field without injury. Taylor, successfully completed flight training, and was then assigned to the “Yellow Tails” of the U.S. Army Air Corps 52nd Fighter Group based in Italy. He flew the North American P-51 Mustang, providing American bomber escort and fighter support over Europe for the remainder of the European Campaign during the war. After the Dream Flight, Fred Taylor nimbly climbed out of the Stearman biplane with a grin on his face from ear to ear and a gleam in his eyes.

Dudley “Deadly” Gladding was another U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who served during Pacific Campaign of World War ll. Gladding joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 where he received flight training in Idaho and later assignment to the Pacific Theatre as a co-pilot of a consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber with the 494th Bomb Group from 1943 to 1945. The 494th Bomb Group was the final heavy bomber group formed and trained by the Army Air Forces before the formation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.  At 102 years old, “Deadly” easily remembers flying bombing and cargo missions over Saipan, the Philippines, and Japan clocking well over 1,200 hours of flight time in his B-24. “Deadly” also recalled an incident over Leyte when his B-24 Liberator suffered an engine failure forcing the crew to bail out of the aircraft; everyone survived the accident with no major injuries. As of 2023, Dudley “Deadly” Gladding is the oldest and last surviving member of Bomber Crew 746, the bomber crew he flew with in his B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. As of 2022, there are less than 167,000 surviving veterans of World War ll in the United States.

A veteran of World War ll, Korea, and the Vietnam War, Capt. Royce Williams was also among the veterans being honored with a flight over San Diego. One of his missions during the Korean War was shrouded in secrecy until after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992. On Nov. 18, 1952, Lt. Royce Williams singlehandedly engaged seven Soviet Mig-15’s in his F9F-5 Panther in a dogfight over the Sea of Japan.

Throughout the 35-minute dogfight, Williams’ skills and instincts in the cockpit were being put to the test at every moment, but he would prove victorious by shooting down four of the seven Soviet Mig-15’s that ambushed him. With no ammunition left, little fuel remaining, and failing hydraulic systems, Williams landed his aircraft back on the deck of the USS Oriskany (CV 34). To his and his squadron’s astonishment, his aircraft had 263 bullet holes throughout the airframe; the aircraft was subsequently pushed over the side of the USS Oriskany.

Williams was then sworn to secrecy and would not be able to tell such an amazing story for another 50 years. For his actions on Nov. 18, 1952, he would receive a Silver Star which was upgraded 70 years later to the Navy Cross.  Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro presented Williams with the upgraded award in a ceremony held at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Jan. 20. The Navy Cross is only awarded to service members who distinguish themselves for extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force, and is the U.S. Navy’s second-highest military decoration.

All of the Veterans at Gillespie Field that day were eager to tell their stories and share their wisdom. Military service especially during times of great conflict has the ability to impart wisdom on all those taking part in it. The men who took to the skies on Jan. 7 with the Dream Flights Foundation are all heroes. Each with their unique storytelling abilities can inspire those who take the time out of their day, sit down, and listen to them. They were all extremely humble and compassionate about their sacrifice to our great nation.
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