(Reprinted by request from 2014)
The old man quietly surveyed his surroundings as his mind carried him back 71 years to World War II and his first trip to Kentucky.
He remembered the stately terminal building at Bowman Field and the two large hangars seemed familiar.
But the barracks and other wooden buildings from the war years were long gone from the little airfield that had been Louisville’s first airport and a bustling training center for the Army Air Corps.
His eyesight is dimming as he approaches his 90th birthday but his memory is keen as he shares stories about being a GI in Kentucky.
He and several other young men from the west had arrived in Louisville by train to start their basic training.
He had assured them that the bitter cold of the Rocky Mountains in late November would be forgotten when they reached Kentucky.
After all, Kentucky was in the South where the weather was warm, said the 19year-old who had never been east of Utah.
He laughed as he recalled the teasing he received each time he and the other young soldiers went out into the snow or cold rain for physical training, especially the runs around the perimeter of the field.
That triggered another memory he said he had never shared before – about the only time he had goofed off on duty and how it had changed the course of his life.
He dropped out of one of the morning runs and managed to sneak back to the post exchange, the “PX”, for hot chocolate and a donut.
By lunchtime, one of his buddies told him his absence had saved him from being among 20 men arbitrarily pulled from their ranks to be trained as military policemen. Soon thereafter, he was moved to Chanute Field in Illinois, the next stop on a two-year journey that eventually would take him to England as the command pilot of a B-17 bomber.
But fate would intervene one more time in the life of this gentle man.
The war in Europe ended before they could fly their first combat mission. Instead of dropping bombs on Germany, they dropped food to the starving Dutch.
That, he says proudly, is his best memory of the war years.
Keith Kappes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 356-0912.