BLAINE, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s a dilemma many of us have faced before when we ponder gifts to older parents: What to buy them?
But for the family of a 90-year-old World War II vet, an item up for a church charity auction was just the ticket. They bid on and won a flight aboard a restored Navy T-6 trainer plane flown by former space shuttle astronaut and commander, Curt Brown.
With his military service spent aboard a destroyer escort, Don Rustad’s view of World War II was from the water. On Monday morning, he got the chance to feel what it must have been like flying high overhead.
“I’m very honored to go fly with you today,” Brown said with a smile.
Rustad was getting some instructions as he prepared to ride co-pilot from the rear seat of a vintage T-6 Navy trainer. The ride was a Father’s Day gift from Rustad’s six children.
“You get excited and start bidding and when I saw the plane ride I thought, my dad would just love that,” Julie Lahammer, his daughter who bid and won the auction item, said.
But first, his kids and their spouses would have to get dad in the plane. It’s no easy task considering that most who flew in these planes back in the 1940s were still in their 20s.
Once settled and secured, it was time to fire up the 400-horsepower radial engine and go fly.
Pilot and airplane owner Brown has flown six space shuttle missions and continues to fly commercially for Sun Country Airlines. But Brown admits that giving a ride to an aging war veteran aboard his vintage plane is a good way of expressing thanks for their service.
“They didn’t have the cosmic equipment we have today – they did it with what they had and did a wonderful job,” Brown said.
With family cheering their approval from the ground, Curt and Don were soon airborne. Climbing towards the clouds, the expressions on Don’s face captured his sheer joy and exhilaration.
Daughters Barb Wigstadt and Ruth Grant imagined their father’s feelings.
“Joy, freedom, he’s thinking I could die now and I’d be so happy… Yeah, he’s very, very happy,” they said.
After a few low passes over the Anoka County Airport – smoke billowing for effect – Curt and Don flew off into brilliant summer skies. A half-hour flight like none he’s ever taken, rekindling Don’s Naval memories of so long ago.
“We went all the way to Stillwater and I said to him, you still want to fly? He said, yeah, I want to fly, keep flying,” Brown said once back on the ground.
However, before Don arrived there was some last-minute indecision.
“I almost didn’t come because when I woke up this morning, I thought, I’m not going to go,” he said.
Fortunately, Don changed his mind and received the time of his life. For a brief moment he was transported back in time to his buddies in the Pacific. Only this was a much friendlier mission – with nobody shooting back.